Claims that Australian embassies are involved in intercepting calls and data across Asia will be causing "anxiety and concern" for New Zealand's GCSB and its partners in the United States-led "Five Eyes" intelligence group, a former GCSB adviser says.
Australian embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili, and high commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby operated surveillance collection facilities, in many cases with diplomats unaware of them, Fairfax Media reported yesterday.
Some of the details are in a secret US National Security Agency (NSA) document leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine.
The document reveals the existence of a signals intelligence collection programme codenamed "Stateroom" conducted from sites at US embassies and consulates and from the diplomatic missions of intelligence partners in the so-called Five Eyes intelligence gathering and sharing network, including Australia, Britain and Canada.
New Zealand was not named in the leaked document but while intelligence analyst Paul Buchanan said he had no knowledge that New Zealand embassies were involved, it would be "farcical" to assume this country didn't contribute.
"We simply cannot discount the possibility that as a member of Five Eyes, with all of the responsibilities and rights incumbent in that arrangement, that the New Zealand embassies in certain strategic quarters of the world would not fulfil the same functions as the US embassies, the Canadian embassies, the UK embassies and high commissions and the Australians. To me it would seem farcical to think one of the five is somehow innocent and wonderful and doesn't engage in such things while the other four do."
Massey University lecturer and former senior adviser to the GCSB Damien Rogers was unwilling to comment, beyond saying he was surprised to hear the Stateroom codeword and location of associated sites being bandied around in the media. "It would be cause of anxiety and concern for the directors of those five agencies of the UKUSA [Five Eyes] agreement."
Author and analyst Nicky Hager said he'd never heard of New Zealand embassies being involved, but "embassy collection" work had been done by the spying agencies of the other four countries in the Five Eyes for some time. "There's been information coming out about this for the last 20 years or so." A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said: "We do not comment on security or intelligence matters."
The document leaked by Mr Snowden says the Australian Defence Signals Directorate operates Stateroom facilities at Australian diplomatic facilities. "They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned," the document says.