The Waihopai spy base is very much in the news. Last month the Waihopai Three were acquitted of charges, provoking a storm of controversy (and congratulations). Yesterday came the news that the Government is considering further action – “‘Bad losers’ eye $1.1m suit” – probably not the headline that the Solicitor-General would have hoped for, but it’s the way it’s going to be seen if the action goes ahead.
But this post is about another interesting article that appeared yesterday:
Security agency refutes Waihopai claims
New Zealand’s intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), has taken what it calls a “very unusual step” in making a public comment on the case of the Waihopai spybase saboteurs.
The base, in Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley, was not “a United States spybase in our midst, contributing to torture, war, and the use of weapons of mass destruction and other unspeakable evil,” director Sir Bruce Ferguson and his predecessor Warren Tucker, said in a statement today. … “The Waihopai station is not a US-run ‘spybase’. It is totally operated and controlled by New Zealand, through the GCSB as an arm of the New Zealand Government.”
… Waihopai was not being used to contribute to torture, war, and the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as depleted uranium as claimed, the directors said. “It was not – and is not – contributing to ‘unspeakable evil’. Quite the reverse.” They said they would make no further comment.
Clearly this “very unusual step” is driven by the heat from the recent publicity. Which incidentally was exactly what the Waihopai Three were trying to achieve (and why further action against them will be even more self defeating!). But what of the substance of these denials? Well, I’m sure we can believe that Waihopai is fully owned and operated by NZ via the GCSB. Of course what hasn’t been denied is that the intelligence collected by Waihopai is passed on to America. So second, I hope we can believe that the GCSB has been told that the intelligence collected is put to only benign and fluffy use, no war, torture, or other unpleasantness. Of course, we have only America’s word for this.
Some history. It was Owen Wilkes (RIP Owen) who alerted the public in 1983 to the first radio intercept spy station at Tangimoana beach: “Finding out about that station, Wilkes worked out that NZ had a major spy agency which no one had been told about.” The next major development was Nicky Hager’s remarkable 1996 book Secret Power – New Zealand’s Role in the International Spy Network (now available online, and Hager tells the story of the book here). The facts that Hager uncovered are now widely accepted, a recent article in The Herald sums up:
Both Waihopai and the Tangimoana radio listening post near Palmerston North have been identified as key players in the United States-led Echelon spy programme. Though they are run by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), the bulk of the bases’ intelligence is believed to be fed to the US and the other Echelon member nations: Canada, Australia and Britain. Echelon began life during the Cold War, but has been modified to search for evidence of terrorist plots, drug deal plans and diplomatic intelligence. However, it has also been accused of carrying out industrial and economic espionage for its member nations. …
Peace activist Nicky Hager first exposed the inner workings of the Echelon programme in his 1996 book Secret Power: New Zealand’s role in the international spy network. “The Echelon system has created an awesome spying capacity for the United States, allowing it to monitor continuously most of the world’s communications … “Since the Echelon system was extended to cover New Zealand in the late 1980s, the GCSB’s Waihopai and Tangimoana stations can be seen as elements of a United States system and as serving that system. The GCSB stations provide some information for New Zealand Government agencies, but the primary logic of these stations is as parts of the global network.”
In the Foreword to Hager’s book, ex Prime Minister David Lange wrote:
We even went the length of building a satellite station at Waihopai. But it was not until I read this book that I had any idea that we had been committed to an international integrated electronic network … an astonishing number of people have told him things that I, as Prime Minister in charge of the intelligence services, was never told. There are also many things with which I am familiar. I couldn’t tell him which was which. Nor can I tell you. But it is an outrage that I and other ministers were told so little, and this raises the question of to whom those concerned saw themselves ultimately answerable.
Hmmmmm. So, who are we to believe? I would like to be able to give the GCSB the benefit of the doubt and accept that they believe their disclaimers. I would like to be able to believe that (if these bases must exist on our soil then) the intelligence is put to benign use, such as preventing terrorist attacks. But are there other, unacceptable uses too, as so many have claimed? Here we have only America’s word, and I’m afraid that it’s a word that only a fool would trust.