Snowden revelations: NZ's spy reach stretches across globe

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Documents expose discrepancies between country’s secret agenda and official foreign policy.
China is one of the countries targeted for GCSB spying.
China is one of the countries targeted for GCSB spying.

New Zealand spies on Vietnam, China, India, Pakistan, South American nations and a range of other countries to help fill gaps in worldwide surveillance operations by the United States National Security Agency (NSA), documents show.

Read also: Spy agency's cyber tactic revealed

The documents, obtained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and shared with the Herald, highlight discrepancies between secret and official foreign policy adopted by New Zealand. They expose the extent of Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) contributions to the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance New Zealand is part of alongside the US, Britain, Canada, and Australia.

Edward Snowden.
Edward Snowden.

In April 2013, weeks before Snowden finished gathering NSA documents and flew to Hong Kong, an NSA officer completed a top-secret review outlining what the GCSB contributes within the US-led alliance.

The Herald analysed this document and others in collaboration with US news website The Intercept, which obtained them from Snowden.

Read more:

New Zealand targets trade partners via The Intercept
Snowden GCSB revelations / Russel Norman says GCSB 'breaking the law'
Snowden revelations / The price of the Five Eyes club: Mass spying on friendly nations
#snowdenNZ / How foreign spies access GCSB's South Pacific intelligence

The NSA profile of the GCSB reveals the New Zealand organisation is running spying operations against 20 or more countries, including friendly nations and trading partners.

The eavesdropping stretches from India and Iran in Asia to isolated scientific bases in Antarctica. These countries are listed in the NSA report in a section headed "What Partner Provides to NSA".

The NSA officer's review said the GCSB "continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries ... difficult for the US to access".

It said the "GCSB provides collection on China, Japanese/North Korean/Vietnamese/South American diplomatic communications, South Pacific island nations, Pakistan, India, Iran and Antarctica".

"Collection" means the GCSB conducts active surveillance on these countries and territories. The report also lists French South Pacific territories and Afghanistan as GCSB targets. The document, called "NSA Intelligence Relationship with New Zealand" and given a top-secret classification, was prepared by the NSA's Country Desk Officer for New Zealand based in the agency's headquarters in Maryland.

There are three main ways that the GCSB contributes to the NSA's worldwide surveillance:

Targeting countries using the Waihopai satellite interception base.

Accessing nations' internal communication networks from covert listening posts hidden in New Zealand embassy and high commission buildings.

By GCSB staff helping to translate and analyse communications intercepted by other Five Eyes agencies.

Vanuatu  is one of the countries targeted for GCSB spying. File photo / Martin Sykes
Vanuatu is one of the countries targeted for GCSB spying. File photo / Martin Sykes

A typical example of GCSB operations is spying on Vietnamese diplomatic communications. Vietnam has friendly relations with New Zealand and is a growing trading partner. It poses no security or terrorist threat to New Zealand, the traditional explanation for the GCSB given to the public, but it is still on the GCSB spying list. The only conceivable explanation for New Zealand spying on Vietnam is as part of broader NSA-driven strategy.

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The GCSB surveillance of an unnamed Asean country is described in an NSA document dated March 2013. The document, a monthly report written by the NSA liaison officer at the GCSB, said "GCSB has a Warriorpride capability that can collect against an Asean target".

This means GCSB had been spying either on Vietnam, the only Asean nation named on the April 2013 target list, or some other member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. New Zealand professes to have close and friendly relations with all the Asean nations.

According to Snowden documents, the Warriorpride system uses malware to infect and spy on computers, and to monitor cellphones including iPhones and Androids. The NSA report said the GCSB's "authorisation to use the NSA system had expired" - meaning the Warriorpride spying in the Asean country had been occurring previously but not at that time - and "GCSB is working to reestablish it".

The NSA monthly report said the GCSB was "also working on the data transfer mechanism from GCSB to NSA" for the project. In other words, the operation against the Asean country was being conducted for the NSA, with the intercepted communications sent to the US agency for analysis. Asked why the NSA needed New Zealand to conduct Warriorpride operations, an NSA spokesperson told the Herald: "We do not ask foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US Government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself ... The National Security Agency will not comment on specific, alleged foreign intelligence activities."

The April 2013 profile of the GCSB includes a passage on the US agency's perception of its New Zealand ally. The NSA officer wrote: "The GCSB highly values its relationship with NSA" and the GCSB would "continue to seek and support mutually beneficial efforts that demonstrate its commitment to national and international security through its foreign partnership". The NSA saw the GCSB as a reliable supporter, ready and willing to "demonstrate its commitment".

Antarctica is one of the countries targeted for GCSB spying. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Antarctica is one of the countries targeted for GCSB spying. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Surprisingly, four of the countries listed as GCSB targets are US intelligence allies. Five Eyes is a highly structured alliance. The NSA is the First Party; Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are Second Parties; and, according to another Snowden document, 33 other countries are Third Parties. Of these, the GCSB spies on India, Pakistan, France (South Pacific territories) and Japan. The GCSB is following the US and British agencies' policy of freely spying on the Third Party intelligence allies.

A more predictable-sounding target is Iran, a major target of US intelligence agencies for decades. But in public, New Zealand has had a distinctly different long-term foreign policy on Iran than the US and Britain. Iran is a valuable export market us and New Zealand has not joined in sanctions and confrontation with its Government. It appears a different policy has been applied in secret to intelligence operations, with the GCSB targeting Iran presumably on behalf of the allies.

The GCSB spies on other trading partners, such as unspecified Latin American countries and Japan. This similarly flies in the face of official foreign policies.

GCSB monitoring of nations working in Antarctica also sits uneasily with New Zealand's official policy as an Antarctic Treaty nation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says "involvement in Antarctica offers New Zealand the opportunity to play a constructive and influential role in a region ... which is managed according to principles of international cooperation".

The monitoring is done by intercepting Antarctic satellite links at the Waihopai base. About 20 nations have year-round bases in Antarctica, most of which use the same few satellite links.

The "South Pacific island nations" targeted, as an earlier Herald story showed, include Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, Samoa, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and French Polynesia. Overall, the GCSB mainly targets foreign countries, leaving intelligence operations within New Zealand to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (with occasional assistance from the GCSB).

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The April 2013 report also lists "What NSA provides to the Partner", showing what the GCSB gains from its Five Eyes membership. It says just: "NSA provides raw traffic, processing, and reporting on targets of mutual interest, in addition to technical advice and equipment loans."

Surveillance and analysis are not the only GCSB commitments to the intelligence alliance. GCSB also contributes to alliance code-breaking projects and "network discovery". The latter involves intelligence staff finding and profiling overseas communications networks to identify ones they may want to monitor.

The Snowden documents include a 2012 NSA slideshow on its "Auroragold" project with a world map recording the Five Eyes' success at identifying communications networks in each country.

The map records 100 per cent success discovering networks in the Solomon Islands and Cook Islands, 57 per cent identifying networks in Fiji, 33 per cent in Samoa, 30 per cent in Tonga and so on. It is likely that this was GCSB work, fed into the NSA surveillance-planning system.

Auroragold is run by an NSA team of analysts and programmers who have assembled a database of mobile network operators and networks, and then worked on "target development" against the mobile networks.

The GCSB's network discovery staff likewise study communications networks in the GCSB's areas of responsibility. A July 2009 GCSB report declared: "Increased collaboration across GCSB Units and Directorates, and between Five Eyes partners, within a dynamic communications environment, is making a significant difference in the understanding of networks, and potentially our capability to exploit those networks."

The minutes of a Five Eyes planning meeting in June 2009 said: "GCSB is establishing their first Network Analysis team in October 2009," with an officer from the GCSB's Australian sister agency posted to New Zealand to lead the new team.

"The new team will initially be focused on access development and is aimed at proving the utility of Network Analysis ... which can then increase support to Stateroom [embassy-based listening posts] and CNE [Computer Network Exploitation] realms."

Read more on NSA intelligence relationship with New Zealand


Read more on SIGNIT Development Forum (SDF) Minutes

Read about the 'WARRIORPRIDE' malware

Nicky Hager is a New Zealand-based investigative journalist and an internationally recognised expert on surveillance since the publication of his book Secret Power in 1996.

Ryan Gallagher is a Scottish journalist whose work at US news organisation The Intercept is focused on government surveillance, technology and civil liberties.

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- NZ Herald

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