David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher: Another spy bungle exposed

A Google search for spy legislation took you to the GSCB website - but with a copy taken from 'The Daily Blog'. Photo / Daily Blog
A Google search for spy legislation took you to the GSCB website - but with a copy taken from 'The Daily Blog'. Photo / Daily Blog

Now is the time for the GCSB to let loose a secret which illustrates its competence.

Until now, the only secrets the public has enjoyed so far are those which show an accidental and bumbling bureau in which we invest great trust.

Bunkered, law-breaking, employing less-than-competent staff for fear of security breaches - its faults were laid bare in a report by Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge which sought to clean-up the bureau.

The clean-up doesn't seem to have happened yet.

Another bungle has been exposed.

This time, it was a small display of unnecessary silliness at a time when Parliament is being asked to trust the GCSB with greater and more intrusive powers.

In May, the bureau's proposed new legislation was released. Blogger Selwyn Manning, who writes critically on intelligence matters for The Daily Blog, downloaded a copy and considered readers of the left-wing blog would be better informed if they had access to a copy.

He saved a copy for the website, carefully marking it with "The Daily Blog" in the metadata - the embedded file information which is gold dust of intelligence harvested by the GCSB's spy partners in the Five Eyes network.

Then, the government decided to set up a special website for the New Zealand Intelligence Community, which includes the GCSB and the Security Intelligence Service, among others. To better inform citizens - and presumably to confirm or win their trust - they included a copy of their proposed legislation.

For some bizarre reason, the spies bypassed the copy on Parliament's website and the copies mass-distributed by the Prime Minister's office to take the copy uploaded by Mr Manning to The Daily Blog.

Anyone Google searching for the legislation would find it on the spies' website - carrying the metatag stating: "The Daily Blog." A gleeful Mr Manning blogged: "I uploaded to The Daily Blog database in May what has now become the GCSB's official version of the legislation. I do realise The Daily Blog is a most excellent source of information and analysis, but I never realised the GCSB had become so dependent on us as a source of official information."

It is such a small thing, but such a casual and unnecessary mistake for a government agency which wants the right to infiltrate our lives and all our digital secrets.

And while this error was exposed on Google, what of the other bumbles we don't see? New Zealand has no oversight mechanism for intelligence agencies to match those in the United States or the United Kingdom - where those are being shown to be hopelessly inadequate.

When does the Bureau stop being casual? With your secrets? Or with mine?

- NZ Herald

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David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher started as a journalist in 1989 and has worked in community, provincial and national newspapers in New Zealand and abroad. He has won a number of journalism awards, twice been named New Zealand’s Reporter of the Year and been made a Press Fellow to Wolfson College at Cambridge University. PGP Key here.

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