NZ spied on Pacific neighbours - Greenwald

Last updated 16:07 16/09/2014

Fairfax Media political reporter Andrea Vance sat down with American journalist Glenn Greenwald following the 'Moment of Truth' reveal.

THE WORDS: American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first published the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, testifies in front of the Brazilian Federal Senate's Parliamentary Inquiry Committee.
SPIES AND LIES: American journalist Glenn Greenwald claims the Government has misled the New Zealand public over the extent of GCSB surveillance activities.

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The Snowden files will show New Zealand spied on its Pacific neighbours and other Western democracies, journalist Glenn Greenwald says.

Fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden has claimed that Kiwis have been subject to mass surveillance through the contentious spyware XKeyscore. He has also said that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has two facilities in New Zealand - a claim that is denied by Prime Minister John Key.

Greenwald - one the recipients of the vast cache of NSA documents leaked by Snowden - said there were more "significant" disclosures to come about New Zealand's foreign spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau.

"I don't want to give you the reporting before it's ready ... but what I feel comfortable saying is part of the reporting will identify the other nations on which the GCSB spies, either for its own purposes or at the behest of the United States.
"And that list includes adversary countries that most New Zealanders will probably expect and want the GCSB to be spying on. But then it also includes countries which I think will be very surprising, including Western democracies or neighbouring countries or countries that are deemed allies of New Zealand. And if the debate in other countries is an indication, that will be much more controversial."

Documents released by Snowden last year revealed that the NSA intercepted the mobile phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Australia became embroiled in a massive diplomatic row when it emerged it snooped on Indonesia president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife Kristiani Herawati and government officials.  The files also blew open covert interception points at Australian embassies and diplomatic posts across Asia, going as far back as 2007.

Greenwald said he hopes to complete his investigations before the UN Security Council votes on whether to give New Zealand a non-permanent seat.

"I am definitely working as fast as I can to get the reporting done," he said.

Reporting by the Pulitzer prize-winning writer has revealed the NSA and GCSB were waiting for the passage of the controversial GCSB bill last year, before they could go ahead with "phase two" of Project Speargun, installing metadata probes on the Southern Cross cable, the undersea link which carries all of New Zealand's internet traffic.

His news site The Intercept today raised fresh questions about Project Cortex, another programme the Government was forced to reveal yesterday.

Key said he pulled the plug on Project Speargun, a mass surveillance programme. He said its replacement Cortex is less intrusive because it doesn't indiscriminately sift through all internet traffic. 

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Greenwald cast doubt on those claims, however. He said Cortex, by design, has to filter through communications to identify attacks and to function must have access to the Southern Cross cable.

"Even if you believe the prime minister that this programme is limited - as he wants to claim it is - the only way that you could make any progress at all in guarding against cyber-attacks or detecting malware is if you were monitoring vast amounts of traffic, which is a form of mass surveillance by definition," he said.

"It is not targeted at specific people who you think are being targeted or who you think are up to no good. It is watching, keeping an eye on, the flow of internet traffic into and out of New Zealand in order to find things that you say you want to find. That is mass surveillance by definition."

Key declassified documents last night in a bid to disprove Greenwald and Snowden's claims. But Greenwald said they "have almost nothing to do with the programme that the NSA documents that we reported on are describing."

Earlier today, Key dismissed Snowden's assertions that the NSA is operating in New Zealand. But he refused to discuss XKeyscore. However, former director of the GCSB Bruce Ferguson today admitted agents were trained in the data-harvesting technology.

Greenwald said Snowden's disclosures on signals intelligence have never been disproved, and NSA documents were produced as evidence last night.

"I think what is pretty clear [is that] the Prime Minister's strategy is to take complex issues and to confuse and cloud the public to the extent possible so that four days before an election people simply throw up their hands and say 'well I can't really figure out what the truth is and I am going to trust the leader that he is being honest'."

Ferguson's admission backed up Snowden's evidence about XKeyscore, Greenwald said.

"The reason that John Key won't admit what Mr Ferguson himself admitted this morning ... is because XKeyscore by its nature is a system of mass surveillance. That is what it is for. And in 2013, when trying to convince New Zealanders to accept this new internet bill not only did Prime Minister Key vehemently deny that New Zealanders are subject to mass surveillance he vowed to resign in the event that [the GCSB] was involved in mass surveillance on New Zealanders ... And so he can't admit what Mr Ferguson himself acknowledged because to do so would raise that question."

Kiwis were duped by the Government over last year's spying legislation, Greenwald said.

"The Government of this country, and its top political leaders, including Prime Minister Key overtly misled the public about what this new spying bill achieved ... they knew if they admitted what they in private were acknowledging - which is that the bill does indeed provide for the first time the ability to engage in mass surveillance ... New Zealanders would never have allowed that bill to pass.

"That to me is extra ordinary. To dupe an entire country using the authority of the prime minister by making false claims about what this law will really achieve."

- Stuff

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