Investigative journalist and author Ian Wishart says Prime Minister John Key can’t ‘rule out’ that America’s NSA is conducting mass surveillance on New Zealanders, because they are and if the Prime Minister asked the right question of the GCSB his ‘plausible deniability’ defence would crumble.
“In 1993, when I was still working for TV3 News and investigating the Cook Islands winebox scandal, I stumbled across New Zealand’s involvement in what was known as the UKUSA Treaty. I was the first New Zealand journalist to write about it.
“John Key cannot admit to the existence of a mass surveillance programme, it’s more than his job’s worth and would compromise New Zealand security. At the moment the world knows what Edward Snowden has disclosed, but political comment from the governments involved has been noticeably sparse.”
Details of what happened when Wishart discovered the terms of the UK/USA agreement are in his book 1995 book The Paradise Conspiracy where he reveals how he set the alarm bells off:
“The UK/USA Treaty is classified on the ‘If I told you, I’d have to kill you!’ level. Its existence is neither confirmed nor denied, but essentially it relates to interception of radio and phone communications. Virtually all international calls, cellular calls and radio transmissions can be and are intercepted – those containing certain keywords are captured by computer for further analysis.” [Paradise Conspiracy pages 61-62]
Remember, this was a year before Nicky Hager’s first book ‘Secret Power’, which revealed the same thing.
“It is interesting to note some of the behind the scenes machinations that accompanied my Official Information Act requests on these matters,” Wishart writes in The Paradise Conspiracy.
“A week before my first request to Defence I had fired in an OIA application about the UK/USA Treaty, a top secret military intelligence treaty that New Zealand was a signatory to. That request had resulted in a call to TV3 News director Rod Pedersen’s office from defence officials representing the Minister of Defence, Warren Cooper.
“Pedersen’s executive assistant, Carol van Stockum, told me they’d asked for an urgent meeting with him in Cooper’s Beehive office, and they were prepared to fly Pedersen down to Wellington at their expense. Rod and Carol stalled for time – eventually the follow-up calls dwindled and stopped”.
Wishart writes that he received a tip off from a businessman with foreign intelligence connections warning him, “Your Official Information request is creating waves. This is a dangerous business, so I want you to be extremely careful and vigilant around your house and car. You’ll get a letter on Monday denying the existence of the information you are seeking. I wish we’d had a chance to discuss this before you put the request in, but what’s done is done,” the businessman told Wishart.
Sure enough, the denial letter turned up on the Monday, as promised.
Ian Wishart, who has since revealed far more about the mass surveillance systems in his new book Totalitaria, says John Key is caught between a rock and a hard place.
“The media can keep on asking the questions, but they won’t get the answers. I went there 21 years ago, and they’re even more sensitive about it now for obvious reasons. The way the UKUSA deal works is that the governments agree to spy on each others’ citizens, not their own. In this way, they can get around domestic laws in each country that forbid spy agencies from conducting mass surveillance on their own citizens.
“Thus, the NSA spies on NZ and Australian communications, the kiwis spy on the Americans and so on.”
Wishart says the term “mass surveillance” is better defined as “screening”, where the software screens a multitude of conversations looking for keywords or messages to or from other persons of interest.
“It is indiscriminate surveillance, in that it could pick up your grandma if she happened to use the wrong word in an email, but it is currently targeted at terror cells. The issue I raise in Totalitaria is that most people wouldn’t have a problem with that kind of security now, but what happens if that infrastructure is turned against domestic political dissidents in future?”
Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald both raised the issue with a new series of revelations at Kim Dotcom’s so-called “Moment of Truth” meeting this week in Auckland.