Foreign Bases in New Zealand
US Airforce Starlifter, Christchurch Airport
Operation Deep Freeze, the American military base
at Christchurch Airport
American military occupation of Christchurch
(Harewood) has its roots in the 1950s. The scientific International Geophysical
Year (1957-58) brought military air and logistics support in the form of the US
Navy and Air Force. The Navy left in 1998, but the Air Force continues its
military/intelligence support operations to this day. The American military operates under the
cover the Antarctic Agreement of 1961. Both overt and covert military and intelligence
support operations that have little or no relationship to Antarctic science and
logistics (Operation Deep Freeze) have gone on for years both in Christchurch
and Antarctica. The New Zealand
government has never questioned the scope of US military activities at Christchurch – the
only Australasian city to host a foreign base within its bounds.
The US government regards the US area at the airport as sovereign US territory
and not subject to NZ law. New
Zealanders in the employ of the US
military engaged in Antarctic logistics have long been denied the option of
belonging to a trade union in their own country. Customs and agriculture
officials may not set foot on any American military aircraft; they too are
territory under international law.
research in the Southern Hemisphere and in the Antarctic was frequently
supported from Operation Deep Freeze in violation of the spirit, if not the
letter, of the Antarctic Treaty. The USAF Air Mobility Command (formerly the
Military Airlift Command) supports Antarctic operations in the southern summer.
But its large Starlifter and Galaxy cargo aircraft also supply vital US military/intelligence bases in Australia (such as Pine Gap) year-round with
several flights a month through Christchurch.
This has gone on since the early 1960s with the planes covered by the American
neither-confirm-nor-deny nuclear weapons policy – the same policy that
saw US Navy ships banned by law from New Zealand since 1987. The NZ
government gives these aircraft annual blanket clearance for unlimited flights
and no questions asked.
Despite New Zealand having been expelled from ANZUS
since the 1980s and supposedly frozen out of a direct military relationship
with the US, because of our
nuclear free stance, there has never been the slightest suggestion from the US of it
relocating or closing the Harewood base. Why? Because it values having a medium
level multi-purpose US
military transport base in New
Zealand. Harewood has always been the only
military base in NZ, as opposed to specialist installations. The US values
having a sovereign base here, and it has served as host for all manner of US
military and political figures for decades, to the very highest level of the US
Government. From CIA Director Richard Helms in the 1970s to President Bill
Clinton in 1999, they've all come to Harewood.
Aerials at Tangimoana
New Zealand’s Government Communications
Security Bureau (GCSB) operates a radio communications interception facility
called Tangimoana. The station is located 150 km north of Wellington
in sand-hill country on the West Coast of the North Island.
The sophisticated antennae are designed to pick up high frequency (or
‘short wave’) radio signals from ships, aircraft and land-based
transmitters around the Pacific.
Beyond high barbed
wire-topped fences, electronic sensors, security cameras and barred windows,
the neon lights in the operations building can be seen shining day and night.
Here, rows of intercept officers sit at control panels with headphones,
searching for, listening to and recording radio messages picked up through the
At any time one officer
may be recording Vanuatu telex messages, another monitoring military
communications in New Caledonia and another tuning in to a Russian ship's radio
frequency at its usual reporting time to get a direction finding
‘fix’ on its position.
Until the discovery and expose of
the station by Owen Wilkes in 1984, New Zealanders had no idea that their country
was involved in spying on other countries' communications.
For example, the French communications targeted by
Tangimoana are French military communications: radio messages between French
Polynesia and Paris, between French territories
including Mororoa Atoll (site of nuclear weapons testing) and military
communications in New Caledonia. Tangimoana
also monitored the French terrorists who sank the Rainbow Warrior. The interception occurred in mid-July 1985 as they
sailed away from New Zealand
on the yacht Ouvea. Their radio
messages were translated by GCSB personnel, but this was only after the police
had already identified the yacht and it was too late to catch them.
Another major area
targeted by Tangimoana is communications between and within South Pacific
nations and their communications with the rest of the world. This includes a
wide range of political, economic and military communications: from political
telexes in Melanesia, to Fiji
army communications, to Tongan patrol boats communicating with their
headquarters. There is even some monitoring of private ham radio operators in
the South Pacific if they are in a position to know about subjects of interest
(e.g., internal conflict within a Pacific
Island nation). However
by the mid-1990s most of the
non-military South Pacific communications have been replaced by satellite (see Waihopai).
Since the second half of the
1980s computer technology has dramatically altered the operations at Tangimoana.
The station's Dictionary computer and the internal station computer network are
now central to its work. One of the staff asked the interviewer (Nicky Hager):
do realise that Tangimoana and Waihopai collect for the other agencies?”
This comment partly
refers to special requests where Tangimoana may have better reception than
other stations in the network or is doing special interception work for another
agency. Mainly, though, it refers to the
regular interception-sharing coordinated within the ECHELON global intelligence
system of the US National Security Agency.
The Tangimoana collection
schedule (i.e., schedule of whom to spy on when) optimises collection for the
whole network and the Dictionary computer automatically sends raw intercept to
the overseas agencies according to their keyword specifications.
(Adapted from “Secret Power: New Zealand’s
Role In The International Spy Network” by Nicky Hager, with permission.)
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