Government Communications Security Bureau bill – Second Reading

The Green party will be opposing the Government Communications Security Bureau Bill.

The bill is very relevant today, in the light of the revelations in the Observer a couple of days ago that the National Security Agency of the United States is spying extensively and intensively on UN delegates. A National Security Agency section head, Frank Koza, was quoted in the Observer as sending a memo advising senior National Security Agency officials that the agency is “‘mounting a surge”‘ against Security Council members to try to get their votes for a UN resolution giving authorisation for an invasion of Iraq.

That is relevant to us because the Government Communications Security Bureau’s main asset is the Waihopai satellite communications interception station, which is part of the National Security Agency- run Echelon network. That involves Waihopai drawing down all the faxes, phone calls, and emails from two communications satellites in the Pacific over the equator.

All of the data drawn down is available to the National Security Agency, using keyword filters, key phone recipients, or destination phone numbers or email addresses that are put into the system by the five Echelon partners, which are the Government Communications Security Bureau, the National Security Agency, and the other three partners in Australia, Canada, and Britain, including the Defence Signals Directorate in Australia.

There is no way that the Government Communications Security Bureau can check the rationale for all those key-word filters and phone numbers. So there could easily be a situation whereby the Governments of countries like Chile and Pakistan – Security Council members that the National Security Agency has declared it is trying to spy on the communications of–communicate from their countries to their UN delegations in New York over those two Pacific satellites. It could be over the two Pacific satellites because the Echelon system spies on satellites right around the Equator. We could be complicit in helping the Bush administration get the information to be able to twist the arms of those Security Council delegates, particularly in the case of poorer countries that are subject to pressures like Pakistan, Angola, or Guinea, and thereby serve its interests, which would make a mockery of our anti-war stand.

That is the problem with the Government Communications Security Bureau and the Waihopai system. It is clear from other examples that the Echelon system, and our participation in it, undermines our relations with Governments around the world. They know that Echelon is spying on them, their citizens, and their companies and they do not like it. There have been critical news reports in European and Japanese newspapers, and the European Parliament has conducted its own inquiry into Echelon.

There have been several incidents where American companies such as Ratheon have been accused of undercutting their Japanese or European rivals, because those American companies use the information coming to them through the Echelon system, which involves Waihopai. Within the Echelon network, as Nicky Hager’s book Secret Power points out, the Government Communications Security Bureau has been assigned the task of analysing intercepted communications from Japanese diplomatic posts. That is not going to endear us with the Japanese Government and people.

Likewise, concern has been expressed by Pacific leaders about Echelon, including the Waihopai station spying on them. New Zealand is a small country – a trading nation – whose interests’ lie in having good relations with all countries, particularly our Asia-Pacific neighbours. Our reputation suffers by being part of the five-power Anglo network spying on the electronic communications of the rest of the world. We are not at war with any country in our region. We don’t have enemies here. We do not need to invade the privacy of Governments and countries in that way.

Sure we want to be well-informed about our region, but we would get much more useful information from a single competent journalist specialising in the Pacific-like the New Zealand journalist, Michael Field, arrested in Fiji yesterday – than from a battalion of Government Communications Security Bureau analysts poring over intercepted conversations between politicians in Samoa or Tahiti. We are against this bill.

Of course, one might say that the bill has a positive function, and that is putting the Government Communications Security Bureau on a statutory foundation, but it is damning that that secret agency has operated for 26 years – since 1977 – without a statutory basis. For many years it operated in the dark without the public being told even of its existence. It was a secret agency of the State spying on citizens without their permission and without any accountability to them.

Under this bill people will find out a little bit more about the Government Communications Security Bureau, but not very much. It will still be largely unaccountable. Of course, any intelligence agency operates with a certain degree of confidentiality, but secrecy surrounding the operations and targets of the Government Communications Security Bureau goes well beyond any reasonable secrecy. The reason for that is that if New Zealanders really knew what the Government Communications Security Bureau was doing and who it was targeting, they might well be upset.

This bill claims that the Government Communications Security Bureau is gathering intelligence on foreign organisations, but the Government Communications Security Bureau itself is primarily a foreign organisation operating primarily at the behest of the National Security Agency. Of course, that does not mean that it may not secondarily collect some information of genuine use to New Zealand.

The Government Communications Security Bureau is also a subversive organisation, acting today primarily for the signals intelligence agency of a foreign power, namely, the US National Security Agency, and undermining both the sovereignty of New Zealand and our national interests. In signals intelligence matters, successive New Zealand Governments have had a colonial mindset that somehow New Zealand gains something from being an American intelligence dependency, even though they have never advanced any real evidence to prove it.

There is also a problem in that the Government Communications Security Bureau intrudes into the privacy of New Zealanders. The bill supposedly specifically prevents the Government Communications Security Bureau from spying on New Zealanders. But that does not work, for several reasons.

The first is that electronic communications, particularly those intercepted wholesale through Waihopai, do not have passport details attached. Often it will be only after the communications are transcribed and followed up that analysts will be able to work out whether it was a New Zealander or a foreigner at the New Zealand end, or even the overseas end of the communication. There is also an out in that the Prime Minister can authorise his or her officials to survey the communications of New Zealanders in special circumstances.

The second problem is that tens of thousands of New Zealanders are part of foreign organisations or international organisations, as defined by the bill, and the Government Communications Security Bureau is authorised to spy on such organisations. The number of those organisations increases as foreign firms take over more and more of the New Zealand economy. If a New Zealander acts as a representative of a foreign multinational or an international organisation like Greenpeace, Oxfam, or the Red Cross, under this bill he or she can be spied upon. In fact, there is evidence that Greenpeace has been targeted by the Echelon network overseas.

Unfortunately we have no way of knowing who has been targeted by the Government Communications Security Bureau, and whether the targets include legitimate political dissenters like Greenpeace, anti – genetic engineering (GE) campaigners who may indulge in some non-violent civil disobedience.

The Government Communications Security Bureau is authorised to spy on those who are deemed to undermine “New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being”, which would authorise spying on either anti-GE protesters or biotech multinationals, depending on one’s political stance, and how one defines “international well-being” or “economic well-being”.

We do not know who the targets are because the Government will not tell us. The oversight Intelligence and Security Committee will not tell us, and is not allowed even to give operational details from the Government Communications Security Bureau. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will not tell us. The electronic spying is of such a nature that it is very difficult for any New Zealander targeted to spot it, let alone question whether it is misdirected.

The annual report of the Government Communications Security Bureau under this bill needs only to state whether there have been interception warrants or computer access authorisations, without any further elaboration. Also, under the bill interceptions and computer access can take place without a warrant.

It is all rather confusing, because under clause 16 the Government Communications Security Bureau has to have a warrant to “install an interception device”, but clause 17 authorises interception without warrant on foreign communications through an interception device. The only difference seems to be that one device is installed to spy at a particular location and the other is not.