Snowden documents: NZ spied on Pacific Island neighbours
New Zealand is spying on its Pacific neighbours, sweeping up all information from the region and passing it to an American spy agency, documents released today show.
United States fugitive Edward Snowden worked at the US National Security Agency (NSA) before turning whistleblower in June 2013, releasing documents to the mainstream media showing spy agencies were conducting mass surveillance.
Documents released today with NZHerald.co.nz refer to the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, Nauru and Samoa as targets of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
Information collected from across the Pacific is then shared with New Zealand's Five Eyes partners - the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia.
The documents say New Zealand's spying in the South Pacific has expanded greatly since 2009, when the GCSB moved its Waihopai intelligence base near Blenheim to "full-take collection".
According to Snowden, the scope of "full-take collection" is vast - it means the content of messages sent online is collected, as well as metadata showing who contacted whom, and when.
Prior to that, mass surveillance involved the GCSB searching through individual messages, and saving anything that New Zealand or one of its allies was interested in, investigative journalist Nicky Hager said.
"What's changed in the Key [government] years, is they now just grab everything - it all gets put into these American National Security Agency databases, it gets processed by these big intelligence computers and things."
The change in 2009 had come about "because the Americans asked us," Hager said.
"Technology had moved on enough that they were moving to what they call the 'collect it all' approach in their intelligence gathering around the world, and so New Zealand is doing it's bit in that."
Another document showed that the GCSB received a visit from NSA XKeyscore trainers to "train users in anticipation of full-take collection and 2nd party sharing".
XKeyscore is the computer programme which collects nearly everything a user does online.
The NSA programme allows analysts to search – with no prior authorisation – through vast databases of emails, and the browsing histories of individuals.
* Opinion: NZ right to spy on Pacific Island neighbours
* Diplomat: GCSB must have a really boring job
* Live coverage
* NZ spied on Pacific neighbours - Greenwald
* Nicky Hager: Kiwis will be 'shocked' by spy claims
* Q&A - Spying and NZ
Prime Minister John Key refused to say in 2014 if the GCSB used the programme, but former spy boss Sir Bruce Ferguson said GCSB agents were trained in using snooping software.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald last year compared New Zealand's "harmless" image to that of Canada, which was revealed in other Snowden documents to have spied on the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy.
New Zealand's value to the Five Eyes alliance was its relationship with other countries the United States may not have access to, Greenwald said.
The journalist warned of diplomatic implications for New Zealand following further Snowden leaks.
Australia became embroiled in a massive diplomatic row after having been found to have snooped on Indonesia's president and government officials.
Pacific Island leaders last year supported New Zealand's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, which New Zealand won after campaigning as a voice for smaller countries. Key described the win as "a victory for small states".
The revelations may raise questions about whether New Zealanders living in the Pacific are subject to the mass surveillance operation.
It it illegal for the GCSB to spy on New Zealand citizens.
The release of Snowden's documents has been ongoing, with some in October 2014 suggesting the GCSB used New Zealand embassies to snoop on foreign powers.
Other snippets relating to New Zealand also suggested the NSA could be using the GCSB, as a Five Eyes partner, to hack into other nations' systems.
One classification refers to "second-party partner-assisted network infiltration operations."
Information leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed the Five Eyes countries had been spying on each other's citizens, sharing the information to circumvent domestic restrictions on spying on their own citizens.
A spokeswoman for Key said the Government would not respond to claims made in the documents stolen by Edward Snowden.
"As we saw during the election campaign, misinformation was put before New Zealanders in an attempt to damage the Government," the spokeswoman said..
"The Snowden documents were taken some time ago and many are old, out of date, and we can't discount that some of what is being put forward may even be fabricated."
Investigative journalist Nicky Hager collaborated with news site The Intercept, and newspapers the Sunday Star-Times, the New Zealand Herald, and the Herald on Sunday, to publish stories based on files taken by Snowden from the NSA.