US journalist Glenn Greenwald says the Government's stance has continually shifted since he arrived in New Zealand last week, and particularly after he took his evidence to the US National Security Agency on Sunday.
Prime Minister John Key says Greenwald's reports are wrong and he's here as a guest of Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom, in a bid to skew Saturday's general election.
Here's how the details dripped out:
• Saturday, September 13 - In a television interview, Glenn Greenwald raises questions about how how truthful the Government was about new spying laws, passed in August last year, and the insistence that the Government Communications Security Bureau does not engage in mass surveillance.
He said the the foreign spy agency engages with ''extraordinary amounts of analysis of metadata - meaning who's talking to whom for how long, where they are when they speak - on a massive, indiscriminate scale, not just internationally but of New Zealanders as well''.
Later that day Prime Minister John Key hit back, saying Greenwald did not have ''all'' the information. He admitted for the first time that GCSB spies, with the help of the NSA, looked into ''mass protection'' - which could have be seen as wholesale spying - after two cyber-attacks on private firms in late 2011 and early 2012. However, he said this didn't get past the ''business case.'' He promised to declassify top-secret documents proving his assurances.
• Sunday, September 14 - Greenwald re-iterates his claims, and says his investigations are close to completion. ''Any politician in New Zealand who has made statements like that that there's no mass surveillance been taking place aimed at New Zealanders is a politician who has been deceiving the public. And that's what our reporting will show.''
As with all his previous reporting, he takes the documents to the NSA for a response, although they declined to comment.
Key goes on the attack, opting to insult Greenwald. ''Dotcom's little henchman will be proved to be incorrect because he is incorrect....there never has been mass surveillance and there is not mass surveillance.''
At the launch of National's children and family policy, he gives reporters further details. But he said he now wouldn't release any declassified material until he sees what Greenwald has got. Key said Cabinet signed off a proposal for the GCSB to investigate a business case for widespread ''cyber protection.''
He stopped the work in March, as an internal review of the GCSB was taking place, because he thought it went "too far. ''
"In the end, that never even got to a business case,'' he stressed. The top-secret papers he would release would show the proposal to look at a business case, the decision to put it on ice, and about the new ''bespoke'' GCSB programme is, which two companies have signed up to.
''It's very much about, in a non-invasive way, making sure that information or emails coming into the company are analysed for any digital signatures that would indicate a virus or malware,'' he said.
Greenwald responded to Key's personal attack, tweeting: ''Does the Prime Minister think that bizarre ad honimen attacks against me will make the facts - and the documents - disappear?''
• Monday, September 15th - The day of the ''Moment of Truth'' arrives. In the late afternoon, Greenwald's news site The Intercept publishes its investigation and the relevant NSA documents, as well as an article from Snowden. The former NSA analyst confirms the GCSB had shared access to XKeyscore, a controversial data harvesting tool, and that he personally sifted through the private communications of New Zealanders.
''If you live in New Zealand you are being watched.'' Greenwald's report says the GCSB worked in 2012 and 2013 to implement ''a mass metadata surveillance system.'' With NSA co-operation, the GCSB implemented Phase I of project ''Speargun,'' either in late 2012 or early 2013, which involved the covert installation of cable access equipment to New Zealand's undersea Southern Cross cable link.
Phase II was to be the insertion of ''metadata probes,'' the report said. It was backed by NSA documents that said this was scheduled for ''mid-2013'' but needed new legislation to pass. They also reveal senior intelligence official Roy Ferguson, based in the department of prime minister and cabinet (DPMC), travelled to Washington in March 2013 to update NSA officials on progress of the law.
Within a couple of hours, Key's office released four declassified documents, three Cabinet minutes and Project Cortex Business Case Cabinet paper. They show that in September 2013 Cabinet formally rescinded a request for business case for ''initiative 741'8'' (what NSA called Speargun) and gave notice of new, ''narrower'' project. In July 2014, Cabinet agreed to Cortex, a narrower cyber security programme.
At the MOT event, organised by the Internet Party, Snowden appears from Russia by videolink. He goes further than his article, saying that there are two NSA facilities in New Zealand. He explains that while working in Hawaii as an infrastructure analyst he could opt out of running searches on countries in the Five Eyes alliance with a checkbox, known as ''Five Eyes Defeat.''
• Tuesday, September 16th - Key hits back, saying Greenwald and Snowden are making unsubstantiated claims. He denies there are NSA bases in New Zealand, although NSA staff are seconded here, and said the Five Eyes parties had an agreement not to spy on each other. ''Yes there are databases that New Zealand intelligence agencies might be able to access, but the information that would be in that database would be for legitimate and legal reasons.'' He refuses to talk about XKeyscore.
In an interview with Fairfax, Greenwald reveals he will soon report that New Zealand is involved in spying on its Pacific neighbours, allies, and other Western democracies, sometimes at the behest of the US.
And he says Kiwis were duped over the GCSB legislation passed last year.
•Wednesday, September 17th - Spy watchdog Cheryl Gwyn issues a statement, saying she hasn't identified "indiscriminate interception" of Kiwis data, but Greenwald challenges what the GCSB has told her. In a radio interview, Key appears to concede that Snowden ''might well be right'' that Kiwis data is accessible through XKeyscore system. ''What I can say is the GCSB does not have access to any information through X-Keyscore or any other database, unless they basically comply with the New Zealand law, and the New Zealand law forbids that - unless there is a warrant to do so,'' he told reporters.
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