GOVERNMENT STILL COY ABOUT UKUSA AGREEMENT
- Murray Horton
In the aftermath of the murderous October 2002 Bali bombings (see elsewhere in this issue for more detailed articles on that aftermath, both in New Zealand and Australia), the Government was needled by Opposition parties about New Zealand having been cut out of the American Intelligence loop, namely by not having received purported warnings of such an atrocity. A Washington Post story to this effect was cited in Parliament. It was somewhat undercut when, neither the rabidly pro-American Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, nor the US Ambassador to Australia said that they had heard of any such warning.
However, in the Parliamentary uproar that ensued, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, insisted that New Zealand still belonged to “the best Intelligence club” (New Zealand Herald, 17/10/02; “PM backs CIA over warnings”). She repeated this assertion on TVNZ’s Holmes, adding that this Intelligence club was one in which New Zealand was a “founder member, along with the US, Britain, Australia and Canada”. Thus she confirmed what has never been officially confirmed by any Government – that New Zealand is a member of the UKUSA Agreement. This super-secret Agreement (which dates back to the 1940s) shares global electronic and signals intelligence among the Intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and NZ. New Zealand’s member agency is the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the Agreement provides the rationale for the existence of the Waihopai spybase.
ABC wrote to Clark (who is, by dint of being PM, also the Minister in Charge of the GCSB) to congratulate her on “being the first New Zealand Prime Minister to publicly state the glaringly obvious fact that this Agreement actually exists” and requested a copy of it, under the Official Information Act (25/10/02). The PM wasn’t falling for any of that nonsense and got her Chief of Staff, Heather Simpson, to write back (6/11/02), saying that Clark’s comments “merely reflect the fact that this country has a number of important Intelligence relationships with other countries, in particular the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. This has been said before”... We wrote again (22/11/02) asking for details of those Intelligence relationships, starting with a list of relevant treaties and agreements.
We never heard back from the Office of the Prime Minister. Heather Simpson had transferred our request to the GCSB. We got two letters back from its Director, Warren Tucker. The first one (15/11/02) stated: “A public observation by the Prime Minister that New Zealand shares a close and effective Intelligence relationship with other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada is no more than a reaffirmation of information that has been in the public record for some time. Such an observation does not infer the existence of any formal agreement to which New Zealand may, or may not be a party…I neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence of a ‘UKUSA Agreement’”. The second one (20/12/02) declined to provide any information about NZ’s Intelligence relationships with those countries “on the grounds that to do so would be likely to prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or the international relations of the Government of New Zealand…”. So the Government is still playing hard to get on the UKUSA Agreement. But there is a considerable body of evidence about it (such as Nicky Hager’s definitive 1996 book “Secret Power”). That Agreement is the cornerstone of New Zealand’s Intelligence relationships, it underpins our military relationships (it is much more important than the ANZUS Treaty ever was) and it is the clue to understanding our foreign policy. They just don’t want to tell us about it.
- Murray Horton
The above wasn’t our only correspondence with the GCSB’s Director, Warren Tucker. In a most unusual move for a spy agency boss, he wrote a letter to the Press (13/2/03) objecting to that paper’s report of the January 2003 protest at the Waihopai spybase (see for details). He took particular umbrage at Waihopai being described as an “American base” and assured readers that it is wholly New Zealand owned and operated. “It is factually incorrect to characterise the facility as ‘an American base’ and quite wrong to accept the Anti-Bases Campaign’s often repeated allegations to that effect”. Touchy, touchy!
ABC had certainly never said that Waihopai is an American base (responsibility for that rests with the Press reporter) and we were delighted to get another bite at the cherry, having already scored good media coverage of the protest (for example, the Marlborough Express had given us a front page lead and that day’s billboard). We wrote to the Press (15/2/03), saying:
“Warren Tucker is correct in saying that Waihopai is not an American base but quite wrong in saying that the ABC claims that it is. We have always said that it is operated by the GCSB and paid for by the New Zealand taxpayer. But it might as well be an outright American spybase, because it works for the biggest Big Brother, namely the US National Security Agency. It is New Zealand’s most important contribution to the US war machine. Don’t take our word for it. The Press front page of February 7 ran a Reuters graphic illustrating how the US spies on Iraq. It included a map of the global network of Project Echelon electronic intelligence gathering spybases. Waihopai was included”.
To emphasise the point, the Press published our letter just two days after Tucker’s appeared (it’s not unusual to wait weeks for publication, or for letters not to be published at all) and highlighted it with a previously unpublished photo of the January protest (with the ABC banner front and centre), captioned: “Protesting at the base: Waihopai isn’t a US base but it might as well be, says the Anti-Bases Campaign”.
Warren Tucker has not written to the Press again (or any other paper that we’re aware of). What a pity. We’re only too happy to engage New Zealand’s most important spy boss in debate and pojnt out to the public the deceptions perpetrated by the spies and their political masters.
The Intelligence And Security Committee
- Murray Horton
Every time there is any criticism of New Zealand’s Intelligence agencies (the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau), Prime Ministers – Labour and National – issue soothing noises that there is adequate Parliamentary oversight. So let’s refresh our memory as to what exactly this oversight is.
PR has written many times in the past about the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), indeed ABC’s Bob Leonard and Warren Thomson once appeared before it to personally present our views. It, very deliberately, is not one of Parliament’s Select Committees and they are prohibited from examining anything to do with Intelligence and security agencies. It is a statutory committee, a committee of Government, not of Parliament. As such, it is not governed by Select Committee procedures and can conduct its hearings in total secrecy. It is a throwback to the old First Past The Post system, and makes no pretence of representing all the parties in Parliament. Membership is determined exclusively by the Prime Minister (who is the Minister in Charge of the SIS and GCSB). She is automatically a member and she can nominate two others; the Leader of the Opposition is also automatically a member and he can nominate one other.
The current members are: the PM, Helen Clark; her Deputy, Michael Cullen; their “coalition” partner, Jim Anderton, leader of the Progressives; the Leader of the Opposition, Bill English, and New Zealand First Leader, Winston Peters (by dint of heading the next biggest Opposition party. He replaced ACT Leader, Richard Prebble, who filled that role during the 1999-2002 Parliamentary term).
And how much oversight do these senior politicians (all current or former Ministers) exercise? Well, since the July 2002 election, the Intelligence and Security Committee has met exactly twice (in December 2002 and March 2003). Following the October 2002 Bali bombings, there was much finger pointing in Australia about whether that country’s Intelligence agencies had received warnings from their American counterparts. And there was talk of the need for an inquiry in New Zealand to establish whether our spies received such warnings and, if not, did that prove that NZ is out of the Western Intelligence loop? So where was New Zealand’s oversight committee when this controversy flared up? Well, it hadn’t actually met since Parliament reconvened for the 2002-05 term. Why not? Because there was a major row within the Opposition parties as to whether Peters or Prebble should be the second Opposition member. Eventually Peters won and proclaimed that he would use his new position to enforce a border security crackdown, following through on his party’s very successful anti-immigration campaign at the 2002 election. That has been Peters’ hobbyhorse for years now and he sees no reason why he should stop riding it. He sees migrants, and refugees in particular, as a threat to national security, and wants the ISC to ensure that more is spent for frontline border security, more Immigration staff at airports, that sort of thing. He wants them to have increased powers to question, detain or deport anyone deemed a threat to national security, with no automatic right of appeal.
So while the politicians posture and pontificate, the spies get on with their secret work, safe in the knowledge that there is no effective Parliamentary oversight whatsoever. Business as usual, in other words.
The Inspector-General Of Intelligence And Security
- Murray Horton
Peace Researcher 26 (October 2002) detailed Bob Leonard’s complaint to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (retired High Court judge, Laurie Greig) that he had a well founded belief that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) had been intercepting his electronic communications. After sitting on the complaint for several months (there is no time limit imposed on the Inspector-General to answer complaints), he told Bob that it was out of his jurisdiction. PR 26 reported that I had also laid a complaint and was awaiting an answer.
And waiting and waiting. In June 2003, I wrote back to Greig, pointing out that it was now 12 months since I’d last heard from him (a simple acknowledgement). That must have woken him up and made him reach for his rubber stamp. Both Bob and I had requested to see our GCSB files. Greig wrote (26/6/03): “I have no function in the area of privacy or disclosure of official information. That is for the Privacy Commissioner or an Ombudsman…As to a right to privacy, that is not a matter which I or indeed any person can confirm…In my inquiry function there has to be some basis or ground for a reasoned assertion of actual or likely adverse affect. This can arise as in the Choudry case where there was an unlawful entry and trespass into private property. It can also arise where an adverse vetting report, for example, affects the employment of a person. Your letter does not convey to me any suggestion of actual or likely adverse affect on you arising out of any act or procedure of an intelligence agency”.
So, the question remains: how do you make a complaint about the activities of the GCSB? The Inspector-General says that there has to be an actual event. The case of the bungled 1996 SIS break-in at the Christchurch home of political activist, Aziz Choudry, is the classic example. You can read about it on the ABC Website at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/choudry.htm But that involved the SIS. Greig’s letter mentions “adverse vetting reports”. Once again, that is the SIS, not the GCSB.
In his annual reports to Parliament, Greig says that everybody is happy about the GCSB because nobody complains about it. But how do you complain about a totally secret agency, which uses electronic interception (not agents floundering about in bushes) to spy on people? So, the conclusion must be, that the office of Inspector-General only pertains to the SIS, in fact, if not in name. There is no way of complaining about the GCSB because there is no way of knowing, or finding out, if its activities have had an adverse effect on you. It’s absurdist theatre, at the taxpayers’ expense. By contrast, the UK has a Commissioner solely responsible for dealing with the interception of communications. The fact that he has upheld none of the complaints to him is another story.
And, as a footnote, it is fascinating to see Greig refer to an “unlawful entry” in the Choudry case. Aziz complained to him about the attempted SIS break-in; in his 1997 decision, Greig famously concluded that, “nothing unlawful had occurred”. His interpretation of the law – that the SIS had a right of covert entry – was ruled incorrect by the Court of Appeal, which said that no such right had ever existed since the original 1969 SIS Act. Greig was wrong.
- Murray Horton
New Zealand has been in the military bad books of the US since the “ANZUS Row” of the 1980s, but we still keep trying to be a loyal little ally (or, rather, a “very, very, very close friend”, in the words of the Secretary of State, Colin Powell – a phrase repeated ad nauseum during Labour’s 2002 election campaign TV publicity). We haven’t hosted any US warships since we went nuclear free but there are plenty of other manifestations of that alliance. Intelligence, obviously, with the Waihopai spybase being NZ’s most important contribution to any US war. We continue to host the US Air Force (USAF) base at Christchurch Airport.
Now the Government has agreed to host another USAF radio communications facility. This was announced in November 2002, at the height of the US build up to its illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, at the time when it was not very subtly pressuring its allies, and very, very, very close friends to help it in this major crime (to its great credit, the Government stayed right out of it).
Specifically, this involves the installation of an unclassified USAF high frequency radio transmitter and receiver at a New Zealand Defence Force communications site (the likely sites were named as Whenuapai, Irirangi, near Waiouru, or Weedons, near Christchurch). “The project, known as the Rightsizing Initiative, will provide a voice-only unencrypted link between US transport aircraft in the South Pacific and Antarctic regions and support personnel on the ground, relating to routine aircraft operations and safety only” (Mark Burton, Minister of Defence, press release, 21/11/02; “High Frequency equipment to be installed in New Zealand”). The Minister enthused that radio enthusiasts would be able to listen in if they bought a simple High Frequency radio - “which costs as little as $30”. What could be wrong with that?
Helping The US To Fight Wars
Lets look behind the soothing words. This initiative comes about as a result of NZ’s membership of the Combined Communications Electronics Board (CCEB), which is “tasked with overseeing the standardisation of communications systems between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States” (ibid.). Funnily enough, those are the same five countries which make up the super-secret UKUSA Agreement (on Intelligence gathering and sharing). World renowned peace researcher, Nicky Hager, said: “’It is possible that this is only for operational safety but I think this a military facility that New Zealand has just agreed to…The CCEB is about how to fight wars, not keep planes safe as they fly the oceans’…Mr Hager said it was likely the military would use the facility to send coded messages underneath the voice band” (Press, 22/11/02; “Approval for US military radio base”).
Green MP Keith Locke said: “Despite the Defence Minister’s best efforts to portray the installation as some kind of Samaritan radio service for off-course Antarctic explorers, the truth is that this facility will be controlled by the US military and it will help coordinate US military movements worldwide. Clearly the main purpose of the USAF network is to allow better communications with planes being deployed to places like the Gulf…. It takes us back to the cringing attitude of Cold War governments, when New Zealand allowed American communications systems on our soil. In fact, one of the suggested locations is Weedons, near Christchurch, where we once ‘hosted’ a US naval communications facility…” (press release, 21/11/02; “Further enmeshed in a military web”).
The Minister’s statement also mentioned the military advantage to New Zealand – the facility will enable the NZ Defence Force to access global high frequency services in the Northern Hemisphere, eliminating the need to deploy a special attachment in Singapore in order to communicate with Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) detachments outside the Asia-Pacific region. Places such as the Persian Gulf, in fact, where the Government has sent both planes and ships to help in the “war against terror” (but insists that they were not to be used as part of the US invasion of Iraq).
The US Base On Our Doorstep
ABC is fully familiar with Weedons. For decades, RNZAF Base Weedons hosted the US Navy’s high frequency transmitters and transmitting antennae for the classified communications system for the US Navy and Air Force base at Christchurch Airport (the radio receiver aerials are at the back of the airport). The US Navy, of course, quit Christchurch Airport in the 90s, but the Air Force is still there. During the 70s, Weedons was the target of several protests by the original anti-bases movement (one of which featured mass arrests) and, at the peak of the anti-nuclear movement of that decade, a couple of aerials were cut down by a person, or persons, unknown until now (and, no, it wasn’t me).
At the time of writing, no decision has been made as to where to install this new USAF facility. The Minister’s statement said that the equipment would be installed within 12 months (from November 2002).
There was a spin off from this story, as there so often is. The Press report said that the Weedons facility “was closed down when the US military left Christchurch several years ago”. ABC wrote to the Press, pointing out that there is still very much a USAF base at Christchurch Airport. Another correspondent had a go at us, insisting that the base is only there to service Antarctic operations. So we got a second bite of the cherry, with a letter concluding: “For decades the Antarctic programme has provided cover for what is a multi-purpose, medium level US military base, one which plays a vital role in servicing the huge US spy bases in Australia. If our airport was demilitarised, then those USAF flights would stop” (19/12/02). The fact remains that Christchurch is the only city in Australasia to host a US military base.
- Murray Horton
Air New Zealand Engineering Services, which is located at Christchurch Airport, already services the American C-130 Hercules aircraft used for Antarctic flights. But, in January 2003, it was announced that Air New Zealand was trying to get a whole lot cosier with the US military. It had put in a bid, estimated to be worth $210 million, to service the US Air Force’s (USAF) Pacific fleet of Hercules for the next decade. The USAF has a huge presence in the Pacific, with nine bases, including ones in Hawaii, South Korea, Guam and Japan.
As with the Government approval of the new USAF communications facility in New Zealand (see above), this story broke during the build up to the US invasion of Iraq. Green MP, Keith Locke, said: “Sure it might bring a few pennies to Air New Zealand but the damage to our reputation is greater than the advantages of winning it. The more we become integrated into the US war machine the more dependent we will become on it…I’m not against Air New Zealand bidding for contracts. But a contract with a Rightwing government intent on carrying out a unilateral invasion of another nation is not the right thing to be getting into” (Press, 20/1/03; “ChCh in line for Hercules contract”). Funnily enough, a “source at the base” did not see it that way: “We already service Hercules for the Antarctic, which are military aircraft anyway. What’s the difference?” (ibid.).
No more has been heard of it since (the Press article said that Air New Zealand “expected to find out next week”). In June, Peace Researcher rang Air New Zealand Engineering Services. Its Media and Government Relations person told us that the Press story had been “speculation, with no evidence”. However, she confirmed that it had put in a bid for exactly that contract but had yet to hear back. She said that the USAF “had been rather preoccupied recently”. That’s one way of describing the imperial warmongering that currently passes for US foreign policy.
Hercules Is An Integral Part Of US War Machine
And, just in case you think there’s nothing sinister about the Hercules, the good old lumbering transport workhorse of many air forces (including New Zealand). Never forget that the Hercules is a military aircraft, whose job it is to transport military personnel, equipment and supplies – they play a crucial role in all wars. More than that, they can be used directly as gunships or even bombers. A converted version is used as a low flying, slow moving gunship in war zones where the US has complete air superiority and is not threatened by ground to air missiles. Most recently, this has been deployed in Afghanistan. And, just before the US invaded Iraq, it mounted a psychological warfare demonstration (part of its much touted “shock and awe” offensive) to terrify the Iraqis. It exploded, in Florida, the largest ever conventional bomb – a massive nine tons of explosives, which is getting close to the size of the earliest atomic bombs. It even produced the same sort of mushroom cloud (but without the radiation). And how was this bomb delivered? By parachute, out of a USAF C-130 Hercules (it explodes above ground level and ignites all the oxygen within a large radius, causing a huge fireball and killing lots of people by means of the explosion, the fire or by them suddenly having no oxygen to breathe. It’s a very nasty piece of work). If Air New Zealand Engineering Services wins that contract, it will be an integral part in horrors such as that. To answer the above question, that’s the difference.