Struth, another sleuth on the phone

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 09:24 23/11/2013

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: Australian spy agencies targeted the personal mobile phone of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and his wife, Bronagh, documents leaked by United States intelligence renegade Edward Snowden reveal.

The disclosures are contained in a leaked slide, dated November 2009, from Australia's electronic eavesdropping agency, the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) - motto Hide our Secrets, Steal Theirs.

A diagram shows the DSD monitored 62 calls from Key to his wife and others between November 9 and 12. A footnote on the slide says the eavesdropping was terminated on November 13 and contains the tag, "nothing of interest, as usual, why do we bother?"

An excerpt from the transcript of November 9 communications suggest Key may have suspected he was being snooped on.

Key: You there Barnsey?

DSD: Yeah still here mate.

Key: Brony sounds a bit tetchy tonight.

DSD: Yeah not good Johnno; maybe you need to use more I statements.

Key: How's that Barnsey?

DSD: Well like, "You make me feel anxious when you say you're going shopping" instead of, "You always spend far too much in Sydney".

Key: Could work Barnsey.

DSD: Yeah give it a whirl mate.

Key joins an elite list of world leaders whom Edward Snowden, a former US defence contractor, has identified as being monitored by the US or its allies such as Australia. This week relations between Canberra and Jakarta were tense after Snowden leaks revealed Australian spy agencies targeted the personal phone of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife, Kristiani Herawati.

While Prime Minister Tony Abbott declined to comment on the reports, New Zealand Opposition leader David Cunliffe said the Australian agency had betrayed the Anzac spirit.

"This is the worst thing Australia had done to New Zealand since the underarm incident in 1981. Now I sympathise with the Australians for having to listen to Mr Key going on and on but New Zealand is a sovereign nation and an ally for Pete's sake. If I am elected prime minister, I certainly will be giving the Aussies something far more interesting to listen in to."

Former Government minister and leader of the UnitedFuture Party, Peter Dunne, who this year had private emails released to an inquiry by the Parliamentary Service, said the monitoring was disgraceful and would change the trans-Tasman relationship.

"Can we ever trust the Australians again? I don't think so. Certainly the prime minister doesn't trust me anymore and I did nothing."

NZ First leader Winston Peters said he was in constant contact with Edward Snowden, whom he regarded as a friend, hero, patriot and fellow traveller.

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"Let me tell you this. Frankly, I am appalled that I was not mentioned in any of the calls monitored. If the prime minister thinks I can just be ignored like this, he has another thing coming. I now know the Australians were also monitoring my mobile and I can tell you I didn't mention Mr Key either."

However Key made light of the revelations, joking he had always wondered how the Australian prime minister in 2009, Kevin Rudd, had known how he liked his steaks cooked and that is favourite vegetable was asparagus.

"This is not ideal but we have to be grown up about it and take what has been a great relationship forward again.

"Now I know we are being listened to I will be able to drop all sorts of useful information into the conversation so we might not need those bilateral talks or mini- summits. I can also say I'm not a great fan of kangaroo meat and they won't need to take offence because they shouldn't have been listening.

"In this day and age, we have to operate on the basis someone somewhere is listening to our private conversations and act accordingly. Look we spy on people all the time. I don't expect to be immune from what good, hard- working New Zealand families are subjected to every day."

If he really wanted to communicate with his wife in secret, he would send her an encrypted letter through New Zealand Post, a Crown-owned business marked for possible privatisation. This made it difficult to ensure quickly that she had called the pool man and had booked the travel to Hawaii but sacrifices had to be made.

Intelligence expert Joel Cooper, of the Magellan Research Group, based in Brisbane, said the exposures showed governments tended to spy on each other.

"The new aspect is that governments can no longer pretend they don't know. Before they knew and didn't really care. Now they have to make a big stink about it."

- The Press

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