EXCLUSIVE: GCSB collects phone calls, emails and internet data from NZ's closest and most vulnerable neighbours, secret papers reveal

New Zealand is "selling out" its close relations with the Pacific nations to be close with the United States, author Nicky Hager has said.

Hager, in conjunction with the New Zealand Herald and the Intercept news site, revealed today how New Zealand's spies are targeting the entire email, phone and social media communications of the country's closest, friendliest and most vulnerable neighbours.

The revelations, based on documents supplied by United States fugitive and whistleblower Edward Snowden, expose a heavy focus on "full-take collection" from the Pacific with nearly two dozen countries around the world targeted by our Government Communications Security Bureau.

The Snowden documents show that information from across the Pacific is collected by New Zealand's GCSB but sent on to the United States' National Security Agency to plug holes in its global spying network.


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From there, the documents show information collected by New Zealand is merged with data captured from across the world. It is then able to be accessed by the NSA's XKeyscore computer program through an online shopping-style interface, which allows searching of the world's communications.

This morning, Hager told Radio New Zealand that the documents revealed even more countries which New Zealand was spying on, and more information would come.

"The Five Eyes countries led by the US are literally trying to spy on every country in the world ... and what we're going to be hearing about in the next few days is New Zealand in all kinds of very surprising ways playing a role in that," he said.

MORE: Read the Intercept's NZ story here

Hager said New Zealand was "selling out" its close relations with the Pacific nations to be close with the United States.

"The reason we spy on those little Pacific countries ... is not because New Zealand cares ... it's just something to take to the table to belong to the [Five Eyes] club."

New Zealand indiscriminately intercepts Asia-Pacific communications and provide them en masse to the NSA through the controversial NSA intelligence system Xkeyscore. Photo / Screengrab
New Zealand indiscriminately intercepts Asia-Pacific communications and provide them en masse to the NSA through the controversial NSA intelligence system Xkeyscore. Photo / Screengrab

The revelations were dismissed yesterday by Prime Minister John Key, who raised the spectre of terrorism while saying he could "guarantee" the allegations in today's Herald would be wrong.


Hager told 3News that Mr Key's pre-emptive response to the findings in the documents was "sad".

"In every other country, the governments haven't liked the fact that this news has come out, but they have engaged with it, they have debated it, they have talked about it.

"I feel a bit sad for New Zealand that all we have is [the Prime Minister] saying, 'Don't take any notice, it's wrong, don't look at it, we don't have to talk about it'. We can do better than that."

He said the documents didn't show anything illegal in the spying, because international spying was outside jurisdiction.

"These are moral issues," he said.

New Zealand won the support of the entire Pacific in its campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, campaigning with the slogan "New Zealand stands up for small states". These revelations will see comparisons between New Zealand's claimed benevolent leadership role across the region and its actions for the Five Eyes intelligence network.

Similar revelations of spying on friendly nations abroad have caused diplomatic rifts, as it has emerged the US intelligence apparatus is heavily focused on surveillance for economic and political purposes rather than fighting terrorism.

It also raises questions about the GCSB's handling of communications from the many New Zealanders who work and live in the Pacific - and the many Pacific people who also hold New Zealand citizenship. It is illegal for the GCSB to collect the communications of New Zealanders.

This morning Labour leader Andrew Little told Radio New Zealand he was shocked to hear about the mass spying in the Pacific.

"While I accept the need for security agencies ... I'm stunned at the breadth of information being collected."

Mr Little said it isn't a surprise that the GCSB would be monitoring the Pacific nations, he said he couldn't understand the intelligence interest in "hoovering up" all communications.

"This goes way beyond the brief," he said.

At a press conference later today, Mr Little said the spying revelations had the potential to be "very damaging" for New Zealand's relationships with its Pacific neighbours.

"People expect our security agencies to do their job of targeting information and issues that are a threat to us, but not to do a wholesale collection of all electronic information from our South Pacific neighbours," he said.

"Our Foreign Minister and our Prime Minister have some questions to answer."

The Government needed to explain why authority was given to the high level of data collection, he said.

Mr Little was "very surprised" by the revelations.

Intelligence agencies had a legitimate role to play in counter terrorism, counter espionage, and counter industrial espionage, and that the South Pacific could be a flight zone for fugitives, and that China were taking a close interest there, but the wholesale gathering of information was not justified, he believed.

The data of New Zealanders either living in the Pacific, or communicating with family, friends, or business partners in the Pacific, would have been "hoovered up" in the spying network, Mr Little said, which he said amounted to a "breach of privacy".

He accepted that New Zealand had security threats, but couldn't see the justification for the "wholesale scooping up" of information that covered all electronic communication between New Zealand and the South Pacific.

"It must have been authorised by someone - I suspect by the minister in charge - and if so, there has to be an explanation for that," he said.

"I wouldn't allow the wholesale hoovering up of electronic data as it appears to have happened in this case."

Documents that suggested New Zealand was spying on government ministers from friendly nations were "pretty serious" and posed "some real questions about exactly what it is we are doing".

He believed there was a legitimate role for the Five Eyes group but such a "mass intrusion of privacy" was not appropriate.

"Some are saying we seem to be doing the US's bidding in an area of the world where we clearly have a role to play - we shouldn't be putting ourselves in that position."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says the GCSB has broken the law by spying on New Zealand citizens in Pacific nations.

Dr Norman said the Prime Minister must say whether New Zealanders and those with citizenship had been spied on.

People born in the Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau before January 1, 2006 are New Zealand citizens.

"Any New Zealanders who have been working or travelling through the Pacific can be pretty certain their data was taken," he said.

"Unless the GCSB can demonstrate they had an extremely sophisticated filtering system... I think what we can be pretty sure about it is all our data went to the NSA and United States and into their giant database."

Dr Norman said the revelations were "extremely destructive" to New Zealand's relationship with the Pacific Islands and said the GCSB had been "committing crimes against entire nations" at the cost of being a member of the Five Eyes.

He said there was no reason to believe that the documents were false, as every document released by Snowden had proved to be true.

The revelation showed that the Government was breaking the law to allow the spy agencies to operate, he said.

"It means that the laws that say our spy agencies can't spy on us are effectively null and void because the New Zealand government can get around them."

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While the GCSB has always had a role carrying out surveillance on the Pacific, the Snowden documents show it grew massively from 2009.

In July 2009, a GCSB document said there were plans to shift the intelligence base at Waihopai to "full-take collection" (see document at end of article). The phrase is one seen in previous Snowden releases and means everything is collected - the content of messages, internet traffic and the data of communications - including telephone metadata, showing who called who.

Later in 2009, the documents showed the GCSB's Waihopai base expected "full-take collection on Mission carriers running by October". The "Mission carriers" are the satellite dishes at the base.

WATCH: Snowden reveals NSA has Auckland facility

Renegade former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden claimed his former employer spy agency National Security Agency has a facility in Auckland. Snowden, who is sheltering in Moscow from US attempts to extradite him on espionage charges, appeared by video link before a capacity crowd at the Kim Dotcom organised Moment of Truth event at Auckland Town Hall. Footage The Moment of Truth/YouTube

By 2012, a British intelligence document stated the expansion in spying had gone ahead. It read: "GCSB have given us access to their XKS [XKeyscore] deployments at Ironsand [Waihopai], a GCSB comsat [communications satellite] site which is rich in data for the South Pacific region. Specifically, we can access both strong selected data and full-take feed from this site."

Mr Key said it was "bizarre" to reveal details about intelligence at a time when New Zealand faced a terror threat. "We've got the situation where we've Isil reaching out to cause harm to New Zealanders."

He said he would not reveal details of intelligence but said it was done for "really, really good reasons".

When quizzed mid-afternoon he said he had no idea what would be revealed. But, pointing to Hager's election bombshell Dirty Politics, he said: "Nicky Hager was wrong last time. His information is old. I guarantee you it will be wrong this time."

In response to specific questions, the Prime Minister's office dismissed Snowden's "stolen" information, saying the documents could be fakes.

"The Snowden documents were taken some time ago and many are old, out of date, and we can't discount that some of what is being put forward may even be fabricated," a spokeswoman said.

Challenged on claims of fabrication, John Key's office couldn't point to any basis for the claim.

A spokeswoman for the GCSB refused comment on "speculation" about "matters that may or may not be operational". "Everything we do is explicitly authorised and subject to independent oversight."

2009 report from the GCSB's signal intelligence division discussing interception and training on NSA's XKeyscore system (app users tap here to view)