In a remarkable admission John Key has been forced to admit that Edward Snowden’s claims about the Five Eye’s comprehensive spying platform XKeyscore may very well be true but the data is not coming from mass surveillance on New Zealanders by the GCSB. This is how Key was reported in the NZ Herald;
Prime Minister John Key says he can’t give an absolute assurance New Zealanders are not subject to mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) but he is “comfortable” that is not happening.
Mr Key this afternoon said he was “sure it’s absolutely true” that former NSA analyst Edward Snowden had the capacity to see information about New Zealanders when he worked for the agency, but that information would not have come from mass surveillance programmes run by this country’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
If you break it down Key is making some big assumptions.
Firstly that he is fully aware of everything the GCSB does. David Lange famously said in an introduction to Nicky Hager’s book Secret Power about the security services operations;
“An astonishing number of people have told him things that I, as Prime Minister in charge of the intelligence services, was never told…. It is an outrage that I and other ministers were told so little.”
Perhaps there is an element in Lange’s claim and those of subsequent Prime Ministers, including Key, of willful ignorance. Plausible deniability. It is a favourite political tactic of politicians worldwide. There is also a long history of intelligence services everywhere being more in tune with each other than their transient political masters. Intelligence relationships often span multiple administrations. US military and intelligence groups have on occaisions been actively involved in subverting their own democratically elected governments. Treason I believe it’s called.
Secondly spying agencies are Machiavellian and duplicitous by their very nature. The US agencies have a terrible record of interference in the political affairs of many nations, including western “allies”. Snowden has claimed the NSA has facilities separate to the GCSB in New Zealand. The Southern Cross fibre optic pipe also terminates in the US. New Zealand does not control it. Further to this there is evidence of the NSA and the GCHQ doing submarine taps of fibre optic cables. Key claiming he “is comfortable” that the NSA (or any other agency) is not doing mass surveillance of Kiwis communications and will not ask for an assurance is plausible deniability personified.
Thirdly if you put one and two above together, he can’t rule out what many people have been claiming, that other Five Eyes partners are doing the mass collection of data and making it available via XKeyscore for everybody including the GCSB. Again there is an element of see no evil, hear no evil, and given the GCSB has already been found guilty of illegal collection of meta data on 88 New Zealanders, it is hardly reassuring. Add in the broad mandate of what constitutes a threat to New Zealand security and the rationale for surveillance in the GCSB Bill is getting pretty comprehensive. The “economic threat” could well include activists or political parties that want to change the economic system or agitate against free trade agreements. Ask Auckland University Professor Jane Kelsey.
Now tie this together with what has been revealed about the NSA’s relationship with the Israeli intelligence Unit 8200. In a startling piece for The New York Times, James Bamford recounts more Snowden revelations.
Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications….
It appears that Mr. Snowden’s fears were warranted. Last week, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 — many still serving in the reserves — accused the organization of startling abuses. In a letter to their commanders, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the head of the Israeli army, they charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data was gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.
The veterans of Unit 8200 declared that they had a “moral duty” to no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” An Israeli military spokesman disputed the letter’s overall drift but said the charges would be examined.
It should trouble the American public that some or much of the information in question — intended not for national security purposes but simply to pursue political agendas — may have come directly from the N.S.A.’s domestic dragnet. According to documents leaked by Mr. Snowden and reported by the British newspaper The Guardian, the N.S.A. has been sending intelligence to Israel since at least March 2009….
Although the memo emphasizes that Israel should make use of the intercepts in accordance with United States law, it also notes that the agreement is legally unenforceable. “This agreement,” it reads, “is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law.”
New Zealand is not Israel but if the NSA is providing that type and level of information to a non Five Eyes partner, and they understand that any legal requirements are non enforceable, you have to wonder how airtight the “informal understanding” the Five Eyes members have to not spy on each other is. But it gets even worse. Bamford goes on to reveal;
It should also trouble Americans that the N.S.A. could head down a similar path in this country. Indeed, there is some indication, from a top-secret 2012 document from Mr. Snowden’s leaked files that I saw last year, that it already is. The document, from Gen. Keith B. Alexander, then the director of the N.S.A., notes that the agency had been compiling records of visits to pornographic websites and proposes using that information to damage the reputations of people whom the agency considers “radicalizers” — not necessarily terrorists, but those attempting, through the use of incendiary speech, to radicalize others. (The Huffington Post has published a redacted version of the document.)
In Moscow, Mr. Snowden told me that the document reminded him of the F.B.I.’s overreach during the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when the bureau abused its powers to monitor and harass political activists. “It’s much like how the F.B.I. tried to use Martin Luther King’s infidelity to talk him into killing himself,” he said. “We said those kinds of things were inappropriate back in the ’60s. Why are we doing that now? Why are we getting involved in this again?”
This ties in with my previous posts on the Security State and the persecution of “dissenters” of all types; animal rights, environmental, economic, unions, human rights…. the list could be very long – anyone who opposes the status quo. This to me is the most worrying aspect of the Five Eyes surveillance. Just about anyone can become guilty of “thought crime”, looking at or talking about material that is not illegal but antithetical to the authorities of the day. What is more, they are storing the data for future use. The Key government may be relatively benign but who knows what use future governments and agencies may put the data too. The scope for abuse is simply too great.