Anti-war protesters in New Zealand breach high-security communications center

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: An anti-war group embarrassed the New Zealand government Wednesday by breaking into a high-security global communications center and vandalizing the facilities in a protest against the U.S. war on terror.

The group, calling itself "Anzac Ploughshares," hacked its way through fences around the Waihopai base on South Island operated by the Government Communications Security Bureau and deflated one of two 30-meter (100-foot) rubberized domes covering satellite interception dishes, officials said.

GCSB chief Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson described the attack as "a very serious breach" of security, and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark called it a senseless act of criminal vandalism that was "just imposing a cost on the taxpayer."

Ferguson said security alarms had failed to operate and perimeter monitoring cameras had been "no help" because of heavy fog surrounding the base.

The domes acted purely as a waterproof jacket to protect the antennae from bad weather, Ferguson said Wednesday.

A statement by Anzac Ploughshares said its action was in response to U.S. President George W. Bush saying intelligence gathering was the most important tool in the war on global terrorism.

"This war will have no end until citizens of the world refuse to let it continue," the group said, vowing to spread its disarmament message by disabling warplanes and military equipment.

Three group members were detained and appeared later Wednesday in Blenheim District Court, where Judge Richard Russell ordered them held in police custody because he he could not rule out further attacks on military facilities by the group.

He said police estimated the cost of damage to Waihopai base at more than one million New Zealand dollars (US$776,000; €498,000).

The Waihopai base is a satellite communications monitoring facility. Opponents claim it is part of Echelon, a worldwide network of signals interception facilities run by the U.S. and British intelligence agencies.

Ploughshares spokesman Manu Caddie said three group protesters took about 30 minutes to cut through three fences and deflate the dome with two sickles.

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