John Minto: Don't give the GCSB more powers - shut it down

Now caught in the spotlight the GCSB and their minister John Key are trying to claim the legislation was unclear and confusing. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Now caught in the spotlight the GCSB and their minister John Key are trying to claim the legislation was unclear and confusing. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Most school students would be able to read and understand the main points from the 2003 legislation governing the Government Communications Security Bureau. Even an 8-year-old could quickly discern that the will of Parliament prohibited the agency from spying on New Zealanders.

This was no impediment to the GCSB. With contempt for our elected representatives and no accountability they rubberised the legislation - twisting, contorting and massaging it to justify continuing to do what they had always done - spy on New Zealanders.

Now caught in the spotlight they and their minister John Key are trying to claim the legislation was unclear and confusing. Despite this the GCSB never reported their inability to read and they didn't ask politicians to change or "clarify" the legislation.

Instead for 10 years they simply ignored it and only came unstuck when the High Court was pressured for the release of information about who was spying on Kim Dotcom.

The agency made a last desperate attempt to keep this under wraps by getting Deputy Prime Minister Bill English to sign a ministerial warrant to keep their illegal Dotcom surveillance a secret from the public and the courts.

When they were finally outed and admitted the illegal spying on Kim Dotcom the Prime Minister led us to believe this was an isolated incident even when he'd known since July last year that this was not correct. The wider picture only began to emerge with last week's Kettridge report on the GCSB which showed some 85 New Zealanders had been subject to GCSB surveillance since 2003.

Anyone betting that 85 is the limit would be foolish. Judging on past experience it's more likely to be the tip of a large iceberg.

The reason why such a state agency would become a threat to our civil liberties goes back to its primary role as part of a co-ordinated international network providing intelligence to the United States. The network under the UKUSA agreement, signed after World War II, involves the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all operating spybases to collect and share intelligence primarily for the US as the dominant partner.

It is in this role that the distorted loyalties of the GCSB staff have become clear. The approval to build and operate the GCSB's main spybase at Waihopai near Blenheim illustrates this point well.

The $50 million needed was approved by Prime Minister Dave Lange in the 1980s. However it wasn't till 1996 that Lange realised the role of the base when he read Secret Power, Nicky Hagar's book on the GCSB. Lange wrote the book's foreword, saying "... it was not until I read this book that I had any idea that we had been committed to an international integrated electronic network".

This should be hugely worrying. The only democratic accountability for the GCSB is through the Prime Minister who is also the minister who oversees intelligence and security, and yet this agency kept him in the dark from the outset. Most of the agency's staff come through the military so it's safe to assume the spies were livid with Labour's anti-nuclear policy and saw their first loyalty to the US rather than the Parliament of New Zealand.

This goes a long way to explain their eagerness to help spy illegally on Kim Dotcom for US state organisations and large multinational companies. It seems that such industrial espionage for the US is one of the key roles of the GCSB.

In international security the UKUSA countries also played a sinister role in the leadup to the invasion of Iraq. The agencies of the countries in the network, GCSB included, were asked to spy on the members of the United Nations Security Council to find leverage for the US to pressure them to support a Security Council resolution legalising an invasion. The message came from US analyst Frank Koza and we only know because UK analyst Katharine Gun leaked the email to try to stop the war.

So while our Government opposed the invasion the GCSB was assisting the US to prepare for war.

We should be very concerned about the GCSB spying on New Zealanders. We should also be very concerned that the Waihopai base they operate is, in all but name, a US spybase operating on New Zealand soil. It is operated in the US national interest - both militarily and commercially. We don't need the GCSB. It's a threat to our civil liberties and our sovereignty. It should be closed.

John Minto is an Auckland peace and justice activist.

- NZ Herald

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