Our spies passing on information to Bangladesh agencies with terrifying reputations.

New Zealand's spies are scooping up intelligence material on terrorists in Bangladesh and passing it to local security forces with a reputation for murder and torture, according to secret documents.

The link between intelligence gathering by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and foreign security agencies, which engage in widespread killing and torture, has sparked concern among Opposition politicians.

The connection came in documents taken by whistleblower Edward Snowden when he walked out of his job as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA).

The US news agency The Intercept, which has access to the documents, has researched New Zealand material with investigative journalist Nicky Hager and the Herald.

Advertisement

In an April 2013 top-secret "information paper", the NSA highlighted intelligence gathering in Bangladesh as one of the GCSB's "success stories".

It stated counter-terrorism work by the GCSB "provided unique intelligence leads that have enabled successful CT [counter-terrorism] operations by the Bangladesh State Intelligence Service, CIA and India over the past year".

Bangladesh has three main security agencies - the military's Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, the civilian National Security Intelligence and the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). All three have been cited for involvement in extra-judicial killing and extreme torture.

The top-secret Snowden papers showed that intelligence gathering included penetrating Bangladesh's security structures, including the RAB. They stated it could be of "high interest" in future should security in the unstable country "deteriorate".

Prime Minister John Key's office issued a similar statement to those it has previously sent out on Snowden-sourced stories. A spokeswoman said Snowden documents were "old, out of date" and "could be fakes ... New Zealand's intelligence agencies have been, and continue to be, a significant contributor to our national security and the security of New Zealanders at home and abroad."

The media spokesman for GCSB acting director Una Jagose also issued the same statement the agency has previously relied on, saying its job is to spy overseas and it does so with authorisation.

Labour leader Andrew Little said he was not concerned about the GCSB's work in Bangladesh but would be if intelligence material was "being used to deal with people in a barbaric, extra-judicial way".

"No matter how barbaric they are, it doesn't help that we reduce ourselves to their level or below. I think we should be more discriminating about who we co-operate with."

Greens co-leader Russel Norman described the abuses by Bangladeshi agencies as "systematic and widespread" and said any information provided by New Zealand would probably contribute to further abuses.

Australia National University terrorism expert Dr Michael McKinley - a Kiwi - said New Zealand prided itself on placing a high value on human rights. "I don't think we have even the imagination or the courage to say we won't co-operate on this one. They may cut off some intelligence to us we need."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the spy agency was "dragging" New Zealand into human rights abuses, and the Government should stop providing intelligence assistance to Bangladesh.

"All three key anti-terrorism government agencies in Bangladesh have been implicated in horrendous human rights abuses, so it is impossible to guarantee that the information passed on did not lead to innocent people being killed or tortured," Dr Norman said.

"John Key has always justified the GCSB on the basis that it is there to protect the good guys, but these documents reveal that it is helping the bad guys.

"Most New Zealanders would find this deplorable and agree that this is not within the mandate of the GCSB."

Spy revelations

March 5:

Secret papers say New Zealand has moved to "full take collection" from the Pacific, with information made available to the US National Security Agency's XKeyscore system, which allows the material to be searched.

March 8: Documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's trove shows NZ's GCSB uses the same systems as the NSA and is listed on US documents as part of its global spying network.

March 11: The GCSB's spying is shown to extend to trade partners including Iran and Vietnam. Its systems include the ability to push "malware" on to targets' phones and computers to gain access to information.

March 15: Pacific spying includes targeted surveillance on leaders, with the then-Solomon Islands Prime Minister and inner circle targeted for email harvesting.