The identity of a United States spy who mysteriously landed in Wellington last year can be revealed as National Security Agency director General Keith Alexander.
The visit by the senior spook was so top secret that Prime Minister John Key repeatedly refused to name him. The four-star general sparked intrigue when his US army jet landed at the capital's airport late in November.
Mr Key, the minister in charge of intelligence services, initially denied knowledge of the plane, and, despite pledging to find out more, later refused to reveal the identity of the visitor.
Sources say General Alexander visits New Zealand up to four times a year, and Mr Key would have approved the visits.
The shadowy NSA is the US equivalent of the Government Communications Security Bureau. It monitors and analyses foreign communications and protects US government cyber-systems.
General Alexander, a former deputy chief of staff with the US army, is also director of the Pentagon's Cyber Command, which is to be expanded to tackle the growing threat from hackers.
Three years ago, news of another secret visit by General Alexander broke when a reporter spotted him entering a Wellington building accompanied by a security detail.
New Zealand belongs to the intelligence alliance Five Eyes with the US, Britain, Australia and Canada.
At the time, Mr Key said the visiting plane was not carrying officials to a Five Eyes meeting.
"If someone parks a US plane at Wellington Airport, in my opinion, that doesn't count as a secret," he told reporters.
When pressed about the visitor for two days, he agreed to check the paperwork.
Once he learned the identity of the jet passenger, he decided it was not in New Zealand's security interests to reveal it.
A spokeswoman for Mr Key said yesterday: "As the prime minister said last year, he doesn't track every official that comes to New Zealand and he did not believe it was in the public interest to talk about who was on the plane."
A spokesman for the US embassy declined to confirm General Alexander's visit.
The activities of intelligence agencies came under scrutiny last year when it emerged GCSB had been illegally spying on internet mogul Kim Dotcom. It sparked an internal review of the foreign spy agency.
- © Fairfax NZ News