David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Snowden docs: GCSB links to US spying programmes

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in December. Photo / Getty Images
Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in December. Photo / Getty Images

New documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden show New Zealand's GCSB closely enmeshed with some of the most controversial parts of the United States' spying apparatus.

The documents were released with journalist Glenn Greenwald's new book No Place To Hide, which tells the story of Snowden's National Security Agency disclosures and what they mean.

Among the documents are a cluster relating to New Zealand which show:

* our GCSB spies were shown instructional slides on how to operate the X-Keyscore surveillance program which trawls mass harvested email addresses, phone numbers, online chat, web-based email and attachments sent;

* they were privy to diplomatic espionage by other Five Eyes partners, including spying which was Canadian spies capturing the emails, text messages and phone calls between the Brazilian president and her aides;

* they were briefed on the NSA's efforts to deliberately put backdoors into private companies' computer networks;

* and the were given access to a program called "Homing Pigeon" which allowed in-air communications on passenger jets to be monitored.

One NSA document tells New Zealand and its other "Five Eyes" intelligence partners the ambition is to "know it all", "collect it all", "exploit it all" and "partner it all".

The details were in a slide presented at a Five Eyes conference in 2011, released with journalist Glenn Greenwald's new book No Place To Hide.

He also released another NSA slide detailing new invasive techniques, in which it stated the spy agency was "one step closer to 'collecting it all"'.

The no-limits approach by the NSA is reflected locally in details released to the Herald through the Official Information Act.

Excerpts of a "GCSB Strategy" from 2008 stated "complete mastery of the internet (even if we take this to mean just the internet) is a Nirvana that everyone is working towards".
The document stated it was "an almost impossible vision" but one which was "intended to stretch the organisation".

At the time the GCSB had given itself the vision statement "Mastery of the Cyberspace for the Security of New Zealand". In March last year, as it prepared to release details showing the GCSB had illegally spied on Kiwis, it changed the statement to the less confrontational "Guardianship of the Security of New Zealand".

In his book, Mr Greenwald said "Five Eyes members share most of their surveillance activities and meet each year at a Signal Development conference where they boast of their expansion and the prior year's successes".

The description - and the NSA's desire to "partner it all" - clash with previous comments by Mr Key, who had previously claimed there was limited sharing.

"We share information in isolated cases about New Zealanders with our partners, and we do that when there's a really good reason to do that."

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said "we do not comment on matters of intelligence or national security, but as the Prime Minister has stated in the past, we do not carry out wholesale collection of metadata".

The spokeswoman said the GCSB acted within the law. "The PM does not comment on the GCSB's capabilities or operational activity."

Green co-leader Russel Norman said the Prime Minister's refusal to talk about how spies worked meant the public could not judge the extent of the intrusion.

"You have to talk about the tools that are used to understand the sort of mass surveillance intelligence agencies are engaged in.

"The reason the Prime Minister doesn't want to talk about it and says it operational is because everyone will realise what's going on and then the game is up."

- NZ Herald

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