Revelations that New Zealand spies targeted aides and confidants of the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands are unlikely to damage diplomatic relations, Foreign Minister Murray McCully says.
"I'm sure that politicians in the Solomon Islands, as elsewhere in the Pacific, are smart enough not to believe what they read in New Zealand newspapers.
"But, anything that they want to ask us we will be happy to discuss with them, and obviously if we have got anything to say to them then I will do them the courtesy of saying it directly rather than through the news media."
The Herald on Sunday today revealed the first insight into the GCSB's precise surveillance targets in the Pacific.
New Zealand spies targeted the emails and other electronic communications of the aides and confidants of the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, a top-secret document says.
The document (scroll to end of article to read it) shows the Government Communications Security Bureau programmed a powerful electronic surveillance system to scoop up documents from the Prime Minister's chief of staff, who has expressed concern over the identity of his confidential sources.
Another on the target list was anti-corruption campaigner Benjamin Afuga, who has expressed concern over the identity of his confidential sources.
Asked if his comments meant New Zealand would contact the Solomon Islands over the revelations, Mr McCully said they did not.
"No, I am saying that if I do have something to say to them I will do them the courtesy of talking to them directly rather than through the news media.
"We are in the fortunate position that political leaders in Pacific countries, as in New Zealand, treat carefully statements that are made in the New Zealand news media.
"And we have been pleased to see the measured reactions that have been evident."
The latest document was obtained by the investigative journalist Nicky Hager and The Intercept, a US news site specialising in stories about the intelligence community's surveillance.
Dated early 2013, the document lists names that have been identified as the inner circle of the then-Solomon Islands government led by Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo.
Lilo's Chief of Staff, Robert Iroga, - whose name is one of six on the targeting list - said the revelation would damage New Zealand's image in the Solomon Islands.
"I'm shocked to hear about the intrusion of the New Zealand government into the sovereign affairs of a country like ours. I would like to condemn the [New Zealand] National Government for its actions. This creates a pretty bad image of New Zealand as a friendly government in the Pacific."
He said communications among the Prime Minister's inner circle were considered "highly secret information" that belonged to the Solomon Islands, although largely available to New Zealand if it had sought it properly. "They could have just asked. It is a very important relationship we have and they should be able to get any information they want from us."
Afuga reacted with horror at the prospect of sources who had acted as whistleblowers having their identities known to anyone other than himself.
"People who trust me and have confidence in me reporting unethical practices. They usually send these through email."
Beyond the identity of sources, he said he was baffled why the New Zealand Government would find value spying on his communications. "I'm an open person - just like an open book."
Victoria University associate professor Dr Kabini Sanga, who was born in the Solomon Islands, said electronic surveillance on his birth country was "almost like a betrayal of a friend by another".
Sanga, whose research areas include public ethics and international development, said Pacific Island communities were "relational" in nature which meant speaking to locals would provide anything gleaned through electronic surveillance.
"So the information you could get from this [surveillance] you could get from talking to people on the ground. What is possibly [seen as] hidden is not actually hidden. That's the silliness of this. It's a form of distrust in a relational community. Friends don't do stuff like that to each other or with each other."
The office of Prime Minister John Key issued the same 177-word statement it has done so since questions were raised over the actions of the GCSB 10 days ago, endorsing the value brought by the intelligence agencies while attacking the credibility of the trove of secret files from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
- additional reporting Nicholas Jones