Snowden files: which satellites are targeted by Waihopai?

ON GUARD: Police at the annual protest at the Waihopai spy base near Blenheim.
Anthony Phelps

ON GUARD: Police at the annual protest at the Waihopai spy base near Blenheim.

Visitors to the Waihopai Valley can see several large satellite antenna dotted around the Waihopai operations building.

They tune in to legitimate communications satellites sitting in space above the Asia-Pacific region and intercept the huge volume of communications being relayed between the region's countries.

This includes phone calls, data transfers by companies and banks, and all the types of private and government communications that flow across the Internet.

The technology of spying.

The technology of spying.

The GCSB has refused to say anything about which satellites and countries are being intercepted.


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Secret Waihopai reports in April 2010 and March 2012, provided by Snowden, answer this question. The station's main longterm target has been large Intelsat satellites that provide communications to and from all New Zealand's Pacific Island neighbours and many other AsiaPacific nations.

Waihopai's main target or "prime mission satellite" in 2005, according to the 2012 GCSB report, was a satellite called V4, positioned high above the Kiribati island group. This satellite was damaged and stopped operating after an onboard power failure in mid January 2005. Its work was transferred to another Intelsat satellite IS701 and later to IS18, the main target today.

News reports about the 2005 failure give a good guide to which countries are caught when Waihopai monitors the main Pacific Intelsat satellite. The Herald reported: "More than a million people in the Pacific Islands lost contact with the outside world when a satellite was knocked out by a power failure." These included the Cook Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and Tahiti. This list shows some of the main targets of the Waihopai base.

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The GCSB reports also refer to a second satellite target, called NSS9, which services ships and  isolated communities who use only very small satellite dishes about a metre across. Waihopai snoops on the small as well as the great.

 - Sunday Star Times

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