Snowden was the star

Tonight’s Moment of Truth mostly lived up to it billing, with the notable and glaring exception of Kim Dotcom’s email revelation pertaining to John Key allegedly knowing about him well before the mansion show raid; and actively participating in his entrapment here, colluding with US interests. It is not clear why he pulled this part of the evenings proceedings. Either he or others there tonight were unconvinced of its authenticity; perhaps they are looking for coroberating material; or as Dotcom claims, they didn’t want to detract from Greenwald, Snowden, Assange and Amsterdam and concentrate on the surveillance issue.

Personally I find it almost impossible to believe Key had no knowledge of Dotcom prior to the raid. I find him as convincing as John Banks not remembering that helicopter ride or those donations. Gordon Campbell has done a great piece in Scoop that points out Key cannot one minute claim almost no knowledge of the activities of the intelligence services and then claim to have been intimately involved with stopping their “business plan” to initiate mass surveillance.

Before getting onto the specifics of Key’s defence, the change in his relationship with the GCSB is, literally, incredible. The John Key of last year has vanished in a puff of smoke. Remember the Key who claimed to be unaware of what on earth the GCSB was up to – trust him, he knew nothing,nothing about the joint Police/FBI/GCSB operation being mounted on Kim Dotcom’s home until virtually the day it happened? All gone. Now we are being expected to regard him as the eagle-eyed monitor who crisply intercepted the GCSB’s proposed new modus operandi and knocked them back when they presumed to step over the line. He’s onto it, except when he isn’t. So, which John Key has been running the GCSB – the one who doesn’t know and can’t be held accountable for what it does, or the one who micro-manages its every intention?

The evening started well with Greenwald although he presented nothing new that isn’t in his article. But he warmed up the receptive crowd with a bit of utu- some well deserved ridicule for Key’s personal attacks on him since he arrived. It was a bit of an ego clash but hey, he’s only human.

He showed several NSA documents from Snowden that seemed to clearly indicate an internet cable access programme called “Speargun”. One noted that Stage 1 had been completed-  “New Zealand: Partner cable access program achieves Phase 1”. It also indicated the NSA was awaiting the passing of the new GCSB Act in mid 2013 to proceed with “metadata probes”. Presumably it is this that forms Key’s “business plan” that he claims to have stopped.

I have a little bit of sympathy for Michelle Boag’s assertion on Firstline this morning that it was ridiculous to expect any government to inform the public of every piece of advice it gets from the bureaucracy. Governments often get advice or proposals they ignore or modify and advice does not constitute government policy. The bureaucracy needs to be free to offer frank advice to respective ministers without it being sensationalised by the media, as it often has been and presented as government policy. At the same time this was not energy saving light bulbs we were talking about. It was a piece of legislation that went to the heart of a citizens privacy and basic rights. More transparency was called for. This issue is so important that even a plan for mass surveillance should have been a matter for public debate.

Edward Snowden was the star of the night for me. He was eloquent and compelling. He clearly outlined his motives. He claimed there was an NSA facility collecting data in Auckland. He outlined how X-Keyscore worked and how he personally had seen large amounts of mass collected data from New Zealand. Nor was the GCSB passive in this process. As he said in an article today:

Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched. At the NSA I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders in my work with a mass surveillance tool we share with GCSB, called XKEYSCORE”

What critics of Snowden struggle with is that no one, anywhere has been able to disprove his revelations. They might refuse comment but they have not produced anything to show his document releases as inauthentic. Why then would he suddenly go to the effort to falsify information about New Zealand? He is absolutely unequivocal on the GCSB’s active involvement in mass trawling through all of our communications and the Prime Minister’s knowledge of this.

The answer, one that the government of New Zealand has not been honest about, is that despite claims to the contrary, mass surveillance is real and happening as we speak. The GCSB provides mass surveillance data into XKEYSCORE. They also provide access to the communications of millions of New Zealanders to the NSA at facilities such as the GCSB station at Waihopai, and the Prime Minister is personally aware of this fact. Importantly, they do not merely use XKEYSCORE, but also actively and directly develop mass surveillance algorithms for it. GCSB’s involvement with XKEYSCORE is not a theory, and it is not a future plan. The claim that it never went ahead, and that New Zealand merely “looked at” but never participated in the Five Eyes’ system of mass surveillance is false, and the GCSB’s past and continuing involvement with XKEYSCORE is irrefutable.

So forget Kim Dotcom and his timeline evidence. Key knowing and lying to the public about what the GCSB is up to with the NSA in terms of the extent of the current, not merely proposed, surveillance activity would be enough to demand his resignation. Who do you believe. I know who my money’s on.

After Snowden, Julian Assange was a little anti climatic. Not nearly as fluid and eloquent as Snowden (understandable given his personal health issues) he still made a good case for personal liberty and the importance of democratic debate on the issues revealed. He was also generous in his praise for Nicky Hager who got the whole ball rolling in the 90’s with his expose on ECHELON in his book Secret Power – New Zealand’s role in the international spy network.

Kim Dotcom’s lawyer Bob Amsterdam delivered a hard hitting attack on both John Key and the TPP. He certainly gave a devastating account of the implications for New Zealand’s sovereignty from the agreement. He noted as a Canadian, how aware he was of the hegemonic ambitions of US corporations and what TPP like agreements had meant for Canada and others. The TPP agreement is the other huge debate, along with intelligence gathering, that we are not having. Both have been surrounded by secrecy and declarations of “trust us”. Not good enough for such pivotal issues.

So the Moment of Truth was eventful. There was powerful and compelling testimony from Snowden and Amsterdam in particular, but if the media reaction is anything to go by, Kim Dotcom’s failure to front over his big reveal, if indeed the email published today was it, was a tactical mistake that has only given ammunition to the naysayers. Hopefully this won’t devalue Snowden’s input, for the information he revealed is more important.


  1. Good overview Stephen, thanks.

    One quick point Bob Amsterdam said John Key is a “trader” not “traitor”.

    1. Thanks Terry. Will double check that. Might have got him mixed up with Ferguson

  2. Greewald’s stoush with Key resulted in some misinformation from Greenwald: Key is not the head of state, a foreigner is. Also, that same foreigner is the commander in chief, and she is at the place where the buck ultimately stops regarding the citizenry’s basic rights and security.

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