UKUSA spying agreement continues to baffle

I’ve long been trying to find out what New Zealand has signed up to under the UKUSA electronic spying agreement.

It has been a somewhat Kafkaesque exercise because the government wouldn’t directly admit the existence of the agreement, or whether New Zealand had signed up.

I always received evasive answers to my written Parliamentary questions. So in March 2006 I thought I would ask two extra questions: “is the United States a signatory to the ‘UKUSA’ partnership?” and “is the United Kingdom a signatory to the ‘UKUSA’ partnership?” Prime Minister Helen Clark wouldn’t tell me.

Last week

the British National Archive spilled the beans

, releasing texts of the UKUSA agreement between 1946 and 1956 with a clause reading: “it will be contrary to this Agreement to reveal its existence”.

This is a blatant violation of the principle of accountable government. This year New Zealand taxpayers hand over $70 million to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), mainly to provide intelligence to UK and the USA under an agreement we are not even allowed to know exists.

The extreme secrecy has little to do with security. It is mainly to avoid our government’s embarrassment at helping the United States, through electronic intelligence, advance its political agenda rather than ours. At the Waihopai Three trial the British whistleblower Katharine Gunn explained how Waihopai had been used to spy on nations critical of the invasion of Iraq.

One thing the Archive documents show is that UKUSA has been primarily an Anglo-American agreement, with Australia, Canada and New Zealand acting as bit players. A 1956 document refers to a Defence Signals Branch in Melbourne, which was “to be a joint UK-Australian-New Zealand organization, manned by an integrated staff”, with its tasks determined by the UK Government Communications Headquarters and the US National Security Agency.

Our government’s response to the National Archives’ release of the UKUSA documents has been yet another ‘no comment’. As

I told the media this week

it’s about time the government came clean and admitted what UKUSA is all about and what it commits us to.