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Thursday, 01 May 2008
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Shadowy world of the two white domes

The Press | Thursday, 01 May 2008
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Glimpses inside the shadowy world of our spy agencies come rarely.

The cloak-and-dagger secrecy surrounding the two white domes in Marlborough's Waihopai Valley have made them the target of regular protests by peace groups.

The listening station's links with a global United States-led electronic spying network were first laid bare for the public in a 1996 book by investigative journalist Nicky Hager.

Secret Power stunned intelligence bosses and has since come to be regarded as almost a manual on New Zealand's foreign intelligence gathering activities by everyone from senior diplomats to academics and the media.

It contained a foreword written by former Prime Minister David Lange, who accused GCSB of keeping ministers in the dark about the full range of its activities.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) two decades ago operated a single radio receiving station at Tangimoana, near Foxton, that contributed to the Allied intelligence network.

After the 1985 split with the US over nuclear policy, Lange supported the building of the satellite monitoring station at Waihopai, near Blenheim, believing the country needed an independent capacity.

He did not realise the Waihopai station would form what intelligence experts now say is an integral part of a global eavesdropping alliance involving ground stations in the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, targeting civilian and military communications.

Echelon is the name commonly used in global media and popular culture to describe the five signatory states to the UKUSA agreement.

According to a European Parliament investigation report published in 2001, Echelon is capable of intercepting telephone, fax, email and other data traffic globally.

But that report concluded the technical capabilities of the system were probably not nearly as extensive as some critics and sections of the media assumed.

In January 2006, then director of the GCSB Warren Tucker confirmed New Zealand's participation in the "UKUSA club" in an unprecedented statement published in The Press.

The move was a response to the accidental release by the national archives of the GCSB's 1985-86 annual report naming countries and organisations being targeted by eavesdropping.

Tucker rubbished allegations that membership of UKUSA compromised New Zealand's sovereignty. Benefits included a global intelligence-gathering reach New Zealand could never achieve on its own and "a direct line into the inner circles of power in London and Washington".


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