William Binney, a whistle blower from the US NSA (National Security Agency) claims that a surveillance device, Thin Thread was sent to spy agencies in places like NZ, Canada,, Australia, Germany and the UK in 2000-2001 for testing. According to author Tim Shorrock, ThinThread monitors the meta data of phone, internet and email communications, at first masking the identities of the participants in the communications. It only reveals these identities when the spies decide they are concerned enough to apply for a warrant.
In this morning’s NZ Herald, David Fisher reports,
Mr Shorrock said the “ThinThread prototype” was installed at two NSA listening posts in late 2000 and at Fort Meade where the NSA is based.
“In addition, several allied foreign intelligence agencies were given the program to conduct lawful surveillance in their own corners of the world. Those recipients included Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.”
The “lawful” aspect was due to the software’s ability to mask the identities of those whose information was being intercepted – a technical work around of the legal barrier which prohibits New Zealand and the US from spying on its own citizens.
Mr Shorrock said ThinThread operated in three phases. It began by intercepting call, email and internet traffic on a network and automatically assessing it for interest. The scale of the traffic was such that it narrowed down targets of interest by focusing on patterns of information rather than the content of the information.
This news has resulted in the Labour and Green parties repeating their calls for an inquiry int the activities of the GCSB.
Greens’ co-leader Russel Norman said the Prime Minister and GCSB needed to explain to the public whether it was spied on by ThinThread.
“It reinforces why there is a different set of rules for the GCSB – they are integrated into this global spy network,” he said.
Another NZ Herald article this morning, provides more details on the possibilities of a surveillance programme like ThinThread. ThinThread monitors meta data, “information about information”. Nicky Hager says that, given modern technologies can monitor huge amounts of data, focusing on meta data is more manageable.
In fact, metadata describes the trails of digital footprints created by anyone in the modern world. It describes all the phone calls and text messages ever sent or made from a phone. It is every email contact point, geographical location recorded, banking transaction, bill paid or medical record transferred. Each of those will have multiple points of data and can be overlaid on dozens, hundreds or thousands of others to find links and patterns.
The result is a 3D model of a life.
ThinThread worked on metadata, creating graphs which described the huge pool of data which it analysed.
“Intelligence veteran”, whistle blower William Binney,
… described how he created in the 1980s a five-nation intelligence network which sounded identical to the Echelon system to which New Zealand belongs. “The whole idea was to share everything,” he said.It would have been the information pool to which the GCSB surrendered Kim Dotcom’s details. Court records show the bureau passed “selector” information to the Echelon/Five Eyes network featuring phone numbers, IP numbers and email addresses.
Mr Hager: “What is selector data? It is a keyword someone can search with. When you pass selector data, you are giving them a target list.”
And all the more reason why John Key’s recent and planned legislation is a step in the wrong direction, failing to provide the necessary safe guards and oversight to ensure information about Kiwi citizens is not being passed on to foreign agencies. This could include information about New Zealanders who are considered to be threats to the “economic security” of the US government. A few days ago the NZ Herald reported,
New legislation which was designed to clarify the intelligence agency’s role was passed under urgency earlier this month.
Green Party leader Russel Norman said the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill should be put on hold until an independent inquiry could be held into the agency’s spying on New Zealanders.
“A law change should be the last step in the process, not the first.