Spooks - a law unto themselves | The Jackal

26 Sept 2012

Spooks - a law unto themselves

Today, Radio NZ reported:

High Court documents show that police assured the bureau that Mr Dotcom and his co-accused were foreigners, so it did not require a warrant to spy on them - which was incorrect.

Mr Dotcom is a New Zealand resident and it is illegal for the agency to spy on people who live in the country.

It might be illegal, but is the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) ignoring the law and routinely spying on New Zealanders in breach of the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 (PDF)? This question can only be answered if we first define what spying is:

Spying or espionage is generally considered to be the gathering of information on potential or actual enemies. It involves accessing secret or confidential information without the permission of the holder of that information, legally or illegally as the case may be.

In New Zealand the two main agencies responsible for spying are the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) which is in charge of the government's counter-intelligence work and the GCSB which collects and processes information for intelligence purposes. Both these agencies provide information on threats to national security and report directly to the minister holding the Intelligence portfolio, who is always the Prime Minister.

So how exactly does the GCSB gather secret information? Investigative Journalist Nicky Hagar, answers this question with his excellent book, Secret Power. Chapter Three, The Power of the Dictionary Inside Echelon, outlines exactly how the spooks gather information:

It extracts the different categories of intercepted messages (known just as ‘intercept’) from the large GCSB computer data base of intercept from the New Zealand stations and overseas agencies.  Before anything goes into this data base, the actual searching and selection of intercepted messages has already occurred—in the Dictionary computers at the New Zealand and overseas stations. All the text messages (written communications such telexes, faxes, e-mail) intercepted at the Waihopai station are fed into these computers.This is an enormous mass of material—literally all the business, government and personal messages that the station catches. The computers automatically search through everything as it arrives at the station.

So the system spies on every communication whether foreign or domestic.

It reads every word and number in every single incoming message and picks out all the ones containing target keywords and numbers. Thousands of simultaneous messages are read in ‘real time’ as they pour into the station, hour after hour, day after day, as the computer finds intelligence needles in the telecommunications haystack.


The implications of this capability are immense. The UKUSA agencies can use machines to search through all the telephone calls in the world, just as they do for written messages. Since they have this equipment to use in embassy collection, they will certainly use it in all the stations throughout the ECHELON network, including, in all probability, the GCSB stations. Anyone who makes international telephone calls needs to be aware of this capability. It has nothing to do with whether someone is deliberately tapping your telephone, simply whether you say a keyword or combination of keywords that is of interest to one of the UKUSA agencies.

All the messages intercepted at the two GCSB stations are connected by Telecom line to the Information Centre in the Wellington headquarters, sent there in unbreakable UKUSA codes. From the ‘Infocen’, they are transmitted by fibre optic cable down to the GCSB data base computers on the 12th floor. These computers are connected back up to computer terminals used by the operations staff who study and process the intercept on the 14th floor.

In this way, the GCSB through its massive database system is in fact in breach of the law all of the time. The keyword search enables them to find data of interest from all sources of electronic communications, which they're meant to then acquire a warrant from the Prime Minister to use. The spying part takes place before a warrant is issued even when a specific person is targeted.

Unbelievably a warrant lasts for an entire twelve months and gives the agency access to all real time and recorded electronic communications that individual has ever made. GCSB can also pass this information onto other agencies whenever it chooses... Talk about a massive breach of people's privacy.

Unfortunately the amount of warrants issued each year is not made public... Neither is the amount of complaints these spying agencies receive, with the Inspector General's annual report to the Prime Minister that might bring to light any inherent problems kept entirely secret. The SIS and GCSB are not bound by the Official Information Act 1982 (PDF), and its left entirely up to the Inspector General whether he investigates any complaints made under the Inspector-General Intelligence and Security Act 1996 (PDF). That Act doesn't specify a time limit for when a complaint needs to be acted upon, so there's disappointingly no proper way for the public to find out about the underhanded tactics these extensive spying agencies use.

They are effectively a law unto themselves, which is unacceptable considering the GCSB and SIS were funded by the taxpayer to the tune of $112 million in 2011.

There are no real checks or balances to ensure the spooks do not abused the system for political, business or personal gain... In fact if the recent Dotcom debacle is anything to go by, the law that's meant to bind the GCSB, which couldn't be more succinct, has been completely ignored by them and their boss.

In my opinion, anybody who believes the GCSB wasn't aware of a $500,000 fireworks display in Auckland to celebrate Dotcom gaining residency needs their heads read. What a lame excuse. It appears that they're lying to cover Key's arse who would have been all gung-ho about using his powers to placate the FBI. The other option is that our largest "intelligence" service is being run by a bunch of complete morons!

It's apparent that the GCSB routinely spies on the electronic communications of New Zealand citizens and residents. In doing so it grossly breaches our right to privacy and ignores the well defined laws it's meant to adhere to. The lack of proper oversight and avenues for redress when things go wrong shows that the current system is not operating in the best interests of the country or its people. But what's going to be done about the problem? Absolutely nothing while John Key is in charge.

GCSB Waihopai Echelon Station in New Zealand, Code Name: Flintlock