GOVERNMENT BRINGS IN GCSB BILL
And A Glossy Propaganda Booklet About Why Our Spies Are Good For Us
- Murray Horton
In May 2001 the Government finally introduced its long foreshadowed Bill to give legal existence to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), our old friends who run the Waihopai spybase, and who have had no legislative basis at all since they sprang out of thin air, fully formed, in 1977. Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC) has consistently attacked this bastard agency (the Security Intelligence Service – SIS – has had its own Act since 1969, one which underwent several amendments in the late 1990s to cover up the damage caused by the Aziz Choudry bungled break-in case). But much more respectable bodies than we, such as the Privacy Commissioner, have also expressed grave disquiet about the situation. Bruce Slane, the Commissioner, recommended that the Government not proceed with the Swain Bill on electronic spying (see elsewhere in this issue. Ed.) until the GCSB had been given legal status. It was the ABC’s Bob Leonard who has, for years, pointed out to anyone who would listen that the GCSB is literally an outlaw, and the Government conceded as much, tying itself in knots by legalisms such as passing special laws to exempt the GCSB from the Crimes Act (which prohibits interception of other people’s communications, except by authorised agencies – which the GCSB wasn’t, because it didn’t legally exist).
Let’s be very clear about one thing – ABC wants the GCSB abolished, and its Waihopai and Tangimoana spybases closed down. But we are quite happy to celebrate small victories along the way to that noble goal. Hence we made the impending GCSB Bill the centrepiece of our Waihopai protest actions in January 2001, both in Blenheim and out at the base. We had a special Waihopai cake made and served up to the public to reinforce the point (see Waihopai report elsewhere in this issue. Ed.). There is something very satisfying about eating a spybase. And we believe that we have played quite a role in forcing the Government to introduce this Bill to legitimise its bastard agency. Critics of the GCSB’s lawless status are explicitly acknowledged in the Bill itself, and the accompanying propaganda, as being amongst the reasons for the Bill’s introduction.
We are fully aware that the Bill is aimed at cementing into existence (for perpetuity?) the GCSB, which becomes a fully fledged Government department (how’s that for retro chic? For the past decade and a half, Governments have been destroying, not creating, departments). It was created by the stroke of an Executive pen; theoretically it could have been abolished by similar means. Now any such abolition will require an Act of Parliament. We continue our campaign to have it put to sleep (just like any other old dog) and congratulate the Greens on their continued call for the GCSB’s abolition. They were the only party to vote against this Bill, at its first reading. At least one Parliamentary party has got the guts to state the obvious – we don’t need or want this bastard agency, legitimised or not. The Greens urged people to make submissions to the Intelligence and Security Committee (which is most definitely not a Select Committee), whilst continuing to call for the abolition of that body as well.
The Bill is most interesting in what it doesn’t say. The GCSB is henceforth required to get interception warrants, as the SIS has had to do for years. But only if the interception is going to be done by physically attaching the interception device to something. This neatly provides the escape clause, as neither the Waihopai nor Tangimoana spybases are physically attached to anything. Their spying is done from a distance, by intercepting electromagnetic radiation, and this accounts for the vast majority of the GCSB’s work. The warrants are meaningless, as far as Waihopai goes. But the introduction of warrants and “computer access authorisations” is to permit the GCSB to hack into computers, as a prerequisite to its expanded electronic spying role laid out in the Swain Bill.
The Bill assures that the GCSB only spies on foreign communications – but that completely avoids the fact that “one leg” of many communications being spied upon will inevitably consist of New Zealand individuals or organisations. So it will be spying on New Zealanders, and always has been. Not that foreigners can breathe easy – in his speech on the Bill (8/5/01), Green Co-Leader, Rod Donald, stated that the GCSB would be spying on the diplomatic signals traffic between Berlin and the German Embassy in Wellington whilst the German President was in town that same day. The Greens wrote to Ambassadors urging their governments to make submissions against the Bill, as they will be amongst those being spied upon.
No New Zealand government has ever acknowledged the existence of the UKUSA Agreement, which divides up the world for purposes of electronic and signals intelligence gathering, between the relevant spy agencies of the five major Anglo-Saxon WWII Allies – the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This Bill is no different, in that it doesn’t name the UKUSA Agreement. But it does say that: “The operation of the GCSB is directed solely by the New Zealand government. It is, however, a member of a longstanding collaborative international partnership for the exchange of foreign intelligence and the sharing of communications security technology” and spells out the constituent spy agencies, which we already know. Don’t take too much notice of that stuff about it being under the sole control of New Zealand. When Nicky Hager and John Campbell (then of TV3’s 20/20 current affairs programme) sneaked into Waihopai and filmed into the main computer room, in 1996, it was virtually devoid of human life. It was and is on autopilot, simply downloading the stuff from the international civilian communications satellites upon which it spies, and flicking on the raw data automatically to Big Brother, at the US National Security Agency (incidentally Nicky has been back inside the base a couple of times since, with TV film crews, namely TV2’s Mikey Havoc and Newsboy, but the spies have learned the hard way to do a better job of pulling their curtains at night). There are other minor points – the above mentioned legal exemption from the Crimes Act is repealed, as it is no longer necessary. And the GCSB will henceforth be formally subject to the Official Information Act – I can really see them releasing a whole lot of stuff (want a cushy job? Become the GCSB’s freedom of information officer).
“Securing Our Nation’s Safety: How New Zealand Manages Its Security And Intelligence Agencies” is the 44 page glossy Government booklet released at the same time as the GCSB Bill. Interestingly it is dated December 2000, but it was not released until May 2001. Obviously it is part of a propaganda offensive to ease the passage of the Bill and give our creepy, bumbling spies a warm, fuzzy image. It follows in the wake of the similar glossy booklet on the SIS, released in the late 1990s. This one covers all NZ civilian and military Intelligence agencies, briefly describes their structure and functions, and explains the bureaucratic links that bind them together.
We don’t intend to go into great detail about it. It is a handout, and we encourage everyone to get one and read it for themselves. It is available at all public libraries; it can be ordered from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Box 55, Wellington; or it can be read and downloaded on line at www.dpmc.govt.nz You can also be cheeky, like ABC’s Warren Thomson who, when the SIS booklet was released, strolled into the Christchurch SIS office and asked for a copy. They gave it to him too.
TVNZ did a very brief item on it, buried away on its Late Edition and Breakfast news. Green Co-Leader, Rod Donald, and myself (on behalf of ABC) got a few seconds worth of soundbites between us. The reporter asked me if it told me anything I didn’t already know. The answer was “not really, but it does show a photo of GCSB Director, Warren Tucker, for the first time”. But we need to comment on a couple of things. Both the booklet and the GCSB Bill wax lyrical about the “oversight” of Intelligence agencies. Peace Researcher has written extensively about this for years, proving it conclusively to be a sham. The whole lot – the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, and the newly created Commissioner for Security Warrants – isn’t worth a bucket of the old proverbial. They are there to rubber stamp what the agencies do; they are dependent on those very agencies to let them know what’s going on; they are there as a public relations sop, to soothe very valid public concerns about those agencies. The report actually says that the fact that there are very few complaints to the Inspector General about the agencies, specifically the GCSB, proves that everybody is happy, there’s nothing to complain about. ABC’s Bob Leonard has tackled the Inspector General on this – how do you complain about a 100% covert agency such as the GCSB, when you don’t know what it does, in order to complain about it? We’re still waiting for an answer.
The booklet’s most breathtaking nonsense is spouted by former Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who is given a whole chapter. In recent years, Palmer has been wheeled out to testify that the various SIS Amendment Bills are vitally important to the nation’s security and that as a former PM he has inside information about exactly how they are vital, but, of course, he couldn’t possibly divulge it (why? Would he have to then kill us all? Or would we die laughing?). But the most intelligence-insulting stuff in the whole booklet is Palmer’s bald assertion that Aziz Choudry’s successful legal action against the SIS, resulting from its bungled break-in at his Christchurch home, proves that the system of oversight works (Palmer even gets the year of the break-in wrong. It was 1996, not 1997). He says that it proved that Intelligence agencies are subject to the law.
What it actually proved was that the oversight is a nonsense – Aziz went through the proper channels and the Inspector General concluded that “nothing unlawful” had occurred. On the contrary, the courts ruled that the SIS had no legal right to break into Aziz’s house, and had never had any legal right to break into anyone’s house or building. The Shipley National government fought the case tooth and nail, refusing to release masses of SIS material vital to Aziz’s prosecution of the case, and, when the courts ruled that the SIS had no power of entry, changed the law to retrospectively legalise all such break-ins (whilst settling Aziz’s case out of court). The Choudry case proved the exact opposite of what Palmer claims it did – that the SIS operated outside any law for decades, protected by secrecy, and unless you are lucky enough to stumble upon one of its operations in progress and have the tenacity and courage to pursue it through the courts to prove your point, you haven’t got a show of holding them accountable.
Instead of Palmer, why didn’t the Government solicit a chapter from another former Prime Minister, David Lange (a Labour colleague of both Palmer and present incumbent, Helen Clark)? He offered a radically different perspective on NZ’s Intelligence agencies in his Foreword to Nicky Hager’s seminal 1996 book “Secret Power: New Zealand’s Role In The International Spy Network”. Lange wrote: “An astonishing number of people have told him things that I, as Prime Minister in charge of the Intelligence agencies, was never told…It is an outrage that I and other ministers were told so little”. We know which ex-Prime Minister is more accurate.
Ironically the Government introduced the GCSB Bill into Parliament on the very same day that it announced the abolition of the Air Force’s combat wing, the scrapping of the third frigate, and the biggest shake up of the NZ military for decades. In the Listener cover story on that, Clark defends her Government against charges of being bludgers upon our allies: “Moreover, right through the ANZUS row and since, she adds, New Zealand has continued to operate a major security alliance relationship [at Waihopai and elsewhere] with the Americans. Despite opposition from the Left of the Labour Party? ‘Indeed’” (12/5/01; “War & Peace”, Gordon Campbell).
This reinforces our conclusion that Waihopai and the whole subservient role of NZ’s spy agencies to the interests of others is the calculated trade off with our Big Brothers, Australia and the US, for them tolerating our nuclear free policy, quitting ANZUS, and downsizing our military to one more suited to our own purposes. It is faulty reasoning – NZ’s whole Intelligence infrastructure is as much a dated product of the Cold War as the Skyhawks that the Government is dumping. In the overt military field, we are quitting the pretence that we maintain armed forces ready and willing to fight America and Australia’s wars, in the air, on the sea and on land. But in the covert intelligence field, we still loyally serve the same old colonial masters that we have done for the past half century. It is time for some major downsizing in our Intelligence agencies. Apart from anything else, think of the money to be saved. The Government refused to grant Community Services cards to 48,000 low paid workers because it would cost $14 million. Well, the GCSB has an annual budget of $20 million. If the obsolete Skyhawks can be scrapped to save money, so can a redundant spy agency. The eradication of poverty and other social ills will bring this country much more security than any number of satellite dishes spying on our neighbours on behalf of the US.