The latest Edward Snowden file spying revelations include evidence the GCSB exploited the Five Eyes network to aid the New Zealand candidate for a top trade job by digging for data on his opponents. That is a grievous abuse of power that should call into question the bland assurances that the GCSB is an agency concerned with protecting our security.
The 1969 Security and Intelligence Act definition of security includes the protection of New Zealanders from "espionage, sabotage, and subversion", and protecting New Zealanders from activities that are "clandestine or deceptive or threaten the safety of any person".
Both the domestic intelligence agency the SIS and the GCSB, with its foreign intelligence mandate, play fast and loose with this definition. When I reviewed my personal SIS file, released to me with deletions in 2008, I concluded so-called subversion and security threats are often used as a smokescreen when the real target is people and movements who disagree with the political status quo.
It is amusing to think the SIS first took an interest in me when I had just turned 10, and to be reminded of long-forgotten "political" events - if you can call attending an Albanian film or a social evening of the William Morris cultural group a "political" event. The SIS began my file because my family (my Dad was a Communist Party member) was of "security interest" but kept on selectively documenting my public activities until 2002. Why were SIS plants sent to observe and record private communications and names of those at meetings of peace groups, anti-apartheid groups and solidarity groups such as the Palestine Human Rights Committee and the Philippines Support Group?
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I am proud to have been part of many campaigns which, while once considered marginal, are now mainstream - support for the independence of East Timor, opposition to apartheid and support for a nuclear-free world. None of these movements fit the description of "subversive" but all involved peaceful dissent, an essential component of any democratic society.
The GCSB website offers a vague description of its role in providing cyber security and foreign intelligence to the Government in order to contribute to "New Zealand's national security". What isn't explained is how we increase our security by mining intelligence from the day to day communications of our Pacific neighbours. There is no indication we are uncovering subversion or terrorist threats in the Pacific. A Solomon Islands listening post - apparently now discontinued - was specifically targeting the emails of the Prime Minister's chief advisers and confidantes. It seems the spies may have wanted to keep track of the domestic debate about whether the Solomons would align diplomatically with China or Taiwan. These actions were despicable and also counterproductive. We have succeeded only in causing Pacific leaders to lose faith and confidence in us and in the process potentially harming our trade relationships with China and Taiwan.
The Snowden expose also indicated detailed spying on a key Solomons anti-corruption campaigner, who presumably receives confidential information from whistle-blowers. Why on earth would we want to spy on this important work? Are other NGOs in the firing line, too?
How will this information be used by the lead partner of the Five Eyes Network, the US National Security Agency? US foreign policy goals in the Pacific are hardly identical with the aspirations of Pacific people for economic sovereignty, climate justice or freedom from nuclear threat.
The hypocrisy is breathtaking as we are doing to others exactly what we say we don't want done to us. We are the ones practising espionage by "clandestine and deceptive" methods, threatening the safety and security of the private communications of governments and citizens' movements for undisclosed ends.
Maire Leadbeater is an Auckland-based human rights activist.