Mike Frost

New Zealand Speaking Tour: 14-30 October 2001

Bob Leonard from Peace Researcher 24, December 2001

The Anti-Bases Campaign central committee members believe the speaking tour by former Canadian signals intelligence officer Mike Frost Tour was value for money. We brought him here to tell of spying abuses and the failures, if not impossibilities, of controls on spying. And he did just that, both in the media and to public meetings from Christchurch to Whangarei. He also very effectively conveyed the incredible weaknesses of vast Intelligence systems as revealed in the September 11 disasters. In ABC’s view Mike’s words strongly supported our long-standing contention that most spying is worse than useless, not to mention expensive.

ABC has waged a long and frustrating struggle against the spying activities of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and its spy base at Waihopai, near Blenheim. Our objections to this spying have been based on information provided from a variety of sources, many authoritative and reliable, but always secondhand. For example, the internationally acclaimed book “Secret Power”, by our own Nicky Hager, is the Bible on Echelon [1], the GCSB and its intimate links to Western signals intelligence (SIGINT); it is based on meticulous research. But Nicky has never worked within the spy agencies. He is an expert because he has been able to compile detailed information by using the Official Information Act and, most importantly, by talking to the spies themselves, over 20 of them from the GCSB. But not one of those spies would speak or be identified publicly.

Mike Frost Unique Whistle Blower

To our knowledge only one SIGINT spy has ever gone public and blown the whistle on the abuses of the UKUSA [2] Intelligence system of which Waihopai is an integral part. That man is Mike Frost who worked in Canadian Intelligence for 34 years. Nineteen of those years were with the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s sibling agency to the GCSB. ABC invited Mike to speak in New Zealand because we wanted to hear from someone from inside the system. We were aware of the risks of inviting a man we had never met, someone we knew only from video clips and from his book “Spyworld” (reviewed in PR 23), published in 1994. And indeed he had been a bloomin’ spy - some in our circles were aghast that we would even consider bringing him here. But we decided to take a punt. After all, Mike Frost went public for some of the key reasons that we oppose global SIGINT spying – abuse of almost unlimited powers to intrude into people’s most private affairs, and the ability to spy globally with virtually no accountability.

We embarked on some very successful fundraising and hey presto, the Mike Frost Tour became a reality. In addition to many private donations, large and small, a major contribution came from the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust (PADET: “Rainbow Warrior” [3] blood money) in the form of a grant. ABC members wish to express our deep appreciation to all of the donors of money and time and effort who made the Tour a success, and to the Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC) for recommending the award of the PADET grant.

Impact Of The Tour

Was the tour in fact a success? We think so. Media planning prior to Mike’s arrival had to be somewhat limited due to restrictions imposed by Mike himself. But once he got here he was quite willing to honour local interview requests, including a radio taping at the unpleasant hour of 6 a.m. Fortunately, Radio New Zealand’s top rating Kim Hill was his first stop and this was undoubtedly the media peak of the entire tour. Kim was friendly, well informed (we had loaned her Nicky Hager’s copy of Mike’s book [4]) and asked excellent questions. Mike was able to cover a broad range of topics in his 20 minutes or so of prime national radio time: his personal background, juicy anecdotes from his years of spying, his experiences with abuses of the system (like economic espionage and spying on politicians and diplomats), the lack of Parliamentary oversight, and his personal motivation in speaking out against abuses.

Other newspaper and radio coverage of the tour was reasonably good, and was particularly strong in some of the smaller centres where the news is not under the thumb of the international media conglomerates. Blenheim (host city to Waihopai) and Palmerston North (neighbour to Tangimoana) gave Mike front page coverage. Nothing appeared in the Christchurch Press or any of the major daily papers in Wellington and Auckland. Perhaps they felt scooped by Kim Hill. The only national paper to write about Mike Frost was the Sunday Star-Times. TVNZ’s 60 Minutes had negotiated, directly with Mike himself in Canada, exclusive TV coverage. But they cancelled that at the very last moment, and there was no other TV coverage of his visit.

Of course, Mike is a Canadian and he made it abundantly clear in both his media statements and his speeches that he was not speaking about New Zealand spying or politics or anything else about which he had no direct knowledge. It was up to ABC to provide speakers to give the New Zealand perspective – ABCer Bob Leonard in Christchurch and Blenheim, Green MP Keith Locke in Nelson, Takaka, Hamilton, Whangarei and Auckland, and researcher Nicky Hager in Wellington and Palmerston North.

Mike gave speeches in nine cities and towns during his visit. He arrived in Christchurch late on the evening of October 14 and departed from Auckland on October 30. He was accompanied by his wife Carole, a delightful, softly spoken woman who has stood by Mike through thick and thin, including the many years when neither she nor their three sons had a clue what he was up to during his long absences from home. Carole attended every New Zealand speech and was undoubtedly instrumental in keeping Mike humming along on what was a fairly gruelling speaking schedule. Fortunately, they had a few days for rest and sightseeing along the way. And their accommodation, mainly in private homes, was comfortable and enabled them to get to know a few Kiwis fairly well. It was all an important part of Mike’s slow return from the cold to the real world of the civilians he spied upon for so long.

The Frost Message

What was Mike’s message? The whole point of his public speaking and his book is that signals intelligence is subject to abuses and that the spy agencies lack effective oversight to control their excesses, their breaches of the law. He acknowledged that the multi-billion dollar US and allied Intelligence system had failed on September 11, and probably for several years leading up to that fateful day. But despite his intimate knowledge of the spy business, including considerable direct experience and training within the fortress of the US National Security Agency (NSA), he could not explain the failure except in vague terms: “The bad guys got lucky”.

He had intended to give pretty much the same prepared speech all along the way. He is after all an experienced public speaker in Canada where he has concentrated his efforts to date. But his carefully prepared speech got tossed aside in the wake of the events of September 11 in New York City and Washington. The numbingly successful terrorist attacks represented a colossal failure of every element of the Intelligence community in every Western country, and especially those of the UKUSA brotherhood. In contemplating his speaking tour in New Zealand, Mike knew he would be confronted with repeated questions about that failure. He found it so vexing that he came close to cancelling his trip altogether. Instead, he chose to incorporate September 11 in his speeches.

His first speeches, in Christchurch and Blenheim, revealed a man without clear answers as to why Intelligence failed or what might be done to prevent it from happening again. He was obviously sincere and troubled, and in the words of a few, “muddled”. But his message crystallised after the first few meetings and came down to this:

  • The Intelligence system will catch Osama bin Laden and his henchmen. It’s just a matter of time.
  • He still believes strongly that Western society needs the protection of vast Intelligence systems and networks. He does not agree with ABC that Waihopai and the GCSB or any other part of the system should be dismantled.
  • He is willing to give up substantial personal freedoms if that will help catch the terrorists. If we don’t make this sacrifice, we’ll have no freedoms left to protect.
  • The spies abuse the system, break the law, and are effectively accountable to no one. On this one he is in complete agreement with ABC. He is not so clear on just what to do about it.
  • No system is infallible – e.g. September 11, 2001. Perhaps what is needed is more human intelligence – spies in the field. That of course is the business of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), not the high tech, eye-in-the-sky NSA.

Reaction To The Public Meetings

How did his audiences respond to these messages? There were many positive reactions, and many negative ones, perhaps more than Mike would have liked. Although many folks did not agree with Mike’s views on Intelligence, they appreciated his willingness to speak out for what he believes and to share his expertise with New Zealanders. From reports received by ABC from all the centres where Mike spoke, we offer the following sampler.

“ People respected Mike’s honesty, and his different conclusions about the usefulness of signals intelligence”.

“He did give some useful overviews of the operations of Echelon…useful to have a person here who can give the ‘dinkum oil’…”

“One great thing – the audience, though polite, didn’t take his stuff re justifications re limiting civil liberties lying down…”

“His arguments for keeping Echelon were not convincing and several people said so in Blenheim”.

“Some said they would have liked some emphasis on ‘State terrorism’ (for example, by the US) and how it could be countered”.

“I don’t think it actually mattered in the meetings that Mike had mixed feelings after September 11 – it didn’t appear that anyone agreed with that view and so it just encouraged a better discussion than if everyone had agreed with each other”.

“Frost has a rather uncompromising support of spy agencies, and some weird ideas about how to stop terrorism”.

“I agree with him in that while Echelon and the principles and practices associated with it are an invasion of privacy, the ‘bad’ people in the world cause us to lose our freedom…so we are not going to have things as we would like”.

The Anti-Bases Campaign offers our sincere thanks to Mike and Carole Frost for visiting Aotearoa/New Zealand and giving us their insights: Mike into the otherwise impenetrable and murky world of global Intelligence, and Carole for sharing with some of us the trials and tribulations of life with a Canadian government employee, who turned out to be a spy – or to use the term Mike prefers, an Intelligence officer.

[1] Echelon is the code name for the global SIGINT program run by American Intelligence.

[2] Refers to the Intelligence agreement involving the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and NZ.

[3] Some of the money paid by France (several million dollars in all) to pay off New Zealand and secure the release from NZ prisons of their two captured Intelligence agents who had been convicted and imprisoned for their role in the 1985 fatal bombing of the Greenpeace vessel "Rainbow Warrior”, in Auckland. Ed.

[4] The book is out of print and Nicky’s copy is probably the only one in NZ. Mike Frost tried to send us several copies of the book directly via the publisher. But they have never arrived. Go figure.