The Dim-Post

September 16, 2014

The smoking SPEARGUN

Filed under: intelligence — danylmc @ 9:24 am

To me the big reveal yesterday wasn’t in the ‘Moment of Truth’ event, it was in Glen Greenwald’s column on The Intercept, and it was this excerpt from an NSA planning document:

speargun

So during the huge, bitter debate about the new GCSB legislation of 2013, in which anyone suggesting it enabled the mass surveillance of New Zealanders was scoffed at and dismissed as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, the NSA was anticipating metadata probes of the Southern Cross cable.

Relevant to that is this Radio Live interview yesterday with former GCSB head Sir Bruce Ferguson. Ferguson is withering about the suggestion that the GCSB is involved in mass surveillance. It’s against the law! They don’t have the ability to do it and even if they could, they simply would not have done so. It’s a whole bunch of rubbish. End of debate.

But then, when asked about  the collection of metadata Ferguson says – and I quote – that ‘collecting metadata is not surveillance’, its ‘millions of numbers’ and you ‘cannot avoid it’.

Also significant: the Prime Minister has changed his story about surveillance in New Zealand three times in the three days. On Saturday there was no mass surveillance and Key said of Greenwald’s allegations: ‘There’s no ambiguity. No middle ground. I’m right. He’s wrong.’ On Sunday he admitted that Cabinet signed off on a business case for the GCSB to investigate ‘mass protection’ of New Zealanders against ‘cyber-attacks’ but that Key cancelled that program outright. ‘It never got past the business case’. Then yesterday he told the New Zealand Herald that the GCSB had tapped the Southern Cross cable for ‘cyber-protection’ but that he had then scaled back the program.

So we don’t for sure know whether the NSA and GCSB went ahead with their plans to collect metadata about New Zealanders. We do know that the spies and politicians were not telling us the truth during the debate about the GCSB legislation last year, and that they’re lying and arguing in bad faith now.

49 Comments »

  1. That’s one of the inherent issues with a country having spies, isn’t it? It is the one area of government where sunlight is not the best disinfectant if the spies are to be of any utility to the country that has them. Hence any attempt at openness is always going to be hedged with extremely careful statements that will be parsed with jesuitical thoroughness. For spies to be effective there will always have to be some uncertainty about what they do and how they do it. For countries like ours it comes down to the safeguards you strap around the system – Parliament has a committee on the subject that involves the party leaders and we have an inspector-general – and then an element of trust.

    Comment by Tinakori — September 16, 2014 @ 9:45 am

  2. Ferguson’s track in his interviews (like Campbell Live) is a flat out denial of mass surveillance, followed by a vigorous justification and defence of mass surveillance.

    Sounds legit Sir Bruce.

    Comment by Ant — September 16, 2014 @ 9:46 am

  3. Why the media have all flocked to Bruce Ferguson for comment puzzles me. It’s like asking Dracula about assaults on young nightie-clad women on their balconies at night time. Do they really think he’s going to say “Actually, yeah, my old cobbers have been tracking all of you for years.” Ferguson’s increasingly shrill refusal to countenance anything Snowden says (“He’s a traitor to his country!”) means he’s hardly a balanced source of argument. And he did admit that NZ operates surveillance in overseas jurisdictions. GCSB might not have been monitoring Kiwis, however, can the PM, or Ferguson, or anyone from GCSB confirm that overseas agencies have not been carrying out surveillance here and then sharing the results? That is the point of Five Eyes, is it not? To gather and share intelligence among the members? For me the question of whether the government has allowed other ostensibly friendly powers to spy on us is as important as whether or not GCSB has been poking around in my rubbish bin.

    Comment by Don 1 — September 16, 2014 @ 9:48 am

  4. Fergusson was hilarious on Campbell Live last night.
    He started off sounding sort of credible then flipped his lid and started frothing about “criminals” and “traitors” which immediately led me to conclude he is either (a) a useful idiot who was promoted well beyond his ability or (b) a liar.
    Not sure which is worse when it comes to running an intelligence agency.

    As a side note, the EAB have appeared to have completely slipped under the radar in this whole affair even which demonstrates admirable competence. Well done that agency.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 16, 2014 @ 10:09 am

  5. New Zealand ~ Who’s Running The Show & In Whose Interests?

    Comment by Scott Ewing — September 16, 2014 @ 10:11 am

  6. “We do know that the spies and politicians were not telling us the truth…” Isn’t that part of the job description of spies and politicians?

    I’m not giving much credence to all of this until we hear from more credible sources – or at least until the country’s journalists dig into this like they did with Nicky Hager’s book to validate what has been said.

    Comment by Ataahua — September 16, 2014 @ 10:50 am

  7. I think it was Snowden last night who said he prefers metadata – because it doesn’t lie.

    Comment by e-clectic — September 16, 2014 @ 11:17 am

  8. Actually a slide of that was up on the big screen last night.. May have ‘gone over a few heads’ watching online but not many if any in the Townhall..
    As for Fergusson? Like Key and others. An ‘erroneous’ Clapper moment?
    http://www.businessinsider.com.au/james-clapper-lied-congress-nsa-surveillance-collection-spying-2013-7

    Pathological lying & parsing in related circles here more of a worry than Ebola will be unless of course they use that to infect the people they miss on the net.
    Thankyou though great writing. At least Andrea Vance got it too..
    No surprise there though, a selective N.O.W mindset prevalent in NZ via Whalebilge with a marginally less spruiked version in the more benign but still linked echo chamber of Kiwiblog…
    What don’t ordinary people get here as to where this is all been heading for some time now?
    Nothing to fear until ‘they’ sprinkle the pirahana pack with carefully chosen metadata or just innuendo and organise alibis, while it begins circling their prey for them?

    Comment by Jacquelyne Taylor — September 16, 2014 @ 11:41 am

  9. Relevant to that is this Radio Live interview yesterday with former GCSB head Sir Bruce Ferguson.

    Ferguson was on Nat Rad this morning saying that mass surveillance wouldn’t and couldn’t happen. But of course he retired from the GCSB in 2011, and Ian Fletcher was specifically chosen for the role because John Key apparently wanted changes within the workings of the GCSB.

    Comment by Ross — September 16, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

  10. Key has just released a statement saying there are no NSA bases in NZ but some NSA staff may have been seconded to bases. If I heard it right ( RadioNZ midday news) it’s a contradiction in the one sentence.

    Comment by flotsy — September 16, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

  11. Does anyone think that if Cunliffe is pm next week he’ll change much if anything about the current arrangement? I think after a month or so of dirty politics and leaks and scandals the phones is pretty much off the hook as far as the public is concerned-they don’t care anymore they are over it . Maybe this will get traction but I doubt it, this hasn’t been played at all well by KDC .
    Saturday can’t come soon enough and after that his extradition hearing and an orange jumpsuit. Your kids will ask you one day about the 2014 election and look at you as if you’re on crack when you try to explain the insanity of the past month or so.

    Comment by Del Griffith — September 16, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

  12. “the question of whether the government has allowed other ostensibly friendly powers to spy on us is as important as whether or not GCSB has been poking around in my rubbish bin.”
    Yes, exactly. If our government doesn’t take adequate steps to _defend_ us from spying they are complicit in it and that is unforgivable. The evidence at hand suggests that they are not only complicit in spying on us but actively involved. How is that not a complete travesty?

    Comment by Joshua Petyt — September 16, 2014 @ 1:04 pm

  13. Funding for malware protection and data collection may rhyme, and have data as a focus, but they are two separate issues. Is the PM confused or trying to be confusing?

    Comment by Cherry Gordon — September 16, 2014 @ 1:57 pm

  14. “Then yesterday he told the New Zealand Herald that the GCSB had tapped the Southern Cross cable for ‘cyber-protection’ but that he had then scaled back the program.”

    Key didn’t say that, the Herald did. Below are the actual quoted words from your link.

    (Mr Key said the capability the GCSB developed was “for want of a better term, a probe” to sit over the Southern Cross Cable.

    “A test probe was built, but it was never used to collect wholesale metadata. But we never went ahead with the project, so it was never turned on.”)

    JC

    Comment by JC — September 16, 2014 @ 1:59 pm

  15. JC,

    Key admits that there was a trial period when the Southern Cross cable apparently was tapped. That’s quite different from when Key said ‘It never got past the business case’. And of course, John Key didn’t feel the need to tell us at the time this trial took place. He treats voters with contempt.

    Comment by Ross — September 16, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

  16. JC – you have to be careful with john key english – the semantics are often as important as the content

    eg: a probe was built, but it never went ahead. It was never used to collect wholesale metadata but it was also never turned on. Both of those statements are contradictory

    then you have to unpack exactly what wholesale means when key says it

    And lets not forget that on day 1 there was no plan, on day 2 there was a plan but key axed it, then on day 3 there was a plan but key scaled back.

    and all this from the PM who a few months ago didnt even know what the GCSB were up to – yet now hes all over the operational detail of “proposed plans”, let alone already functioning projects

    That by itself, (never mind a single word from KDC, snowden or greewald) raises serious questions – anyone who thinks the PM is credible on this subject please step forward

    Comment by framu — September 16, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

  17. 15 & 16,

    The guy gets a dozen slightly different questions a day at least when the frenzy over the GCSD is running and instead of the Helen Clark freezing stare and “next question” he answers them. When you string the dozens of answers together you get differences and say “aha, these are slightly different and so he must be lying”.

    The only way to avoid these differences is to shut up or give an annoying stock answer without any further elaboration.. just like most other PMs have done.. and was grudgingly accepted. End of issue.

    What should be exercising people is that given four options between Do Nothing and State of the Art Key chose an option that gave greater privacy and less protection. The hackers are the winners here.

    JC

    Comment by JC — September 16, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

  18. @JC
    So we shouldn’t question our PM?

    Comment by Joshua Petyt — September 16, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

  19. @JC 17

    Honestly mate, that wouldn’t be an issue if he was capable of giving a straight answer. What’s the rhyme? When first we practise to deceive…

    Comment by Chris (@slackjawdtownie) — September 16, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

  20. problem is JC –

    exhibit A is a sentence riddled with contradiction,

    exhibit B is a different and contradictory answer to the SAME questions over three days. –

    your “but he gets asked lots of things” defense is as weak as JKs ever changing story.
    What kind of PM is it that cant remember what he said just yesterday on the same damn topic to the point where his answers arent different – but utterly contradict the statement made the day before?!

    “Key chose an option that gave greater privacy and less protection.”

    – which option?

    “never happened” –
    “i put a stop to it”
    or “i scaled it back”?

    its not that hes given slightly different answers – its that he cant even keep his story straight from day to day – and its a story that requires us to forget the earlier perception that he created of him not knowing the details of what the GCSB is up to to even start believing even one of those responses!

    it. doesnt. add. up

    Comment by framu — September 16, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

  21. The only way to avoid these differences is to shut up or give an annoying stock answer without any further elaboration..

    You honestly believe that? Key simply has to tell the truth. Saying there was never a business case and then saying there was a trial are vastly different statements. (Greenwald had already said that phase 1 had been implemented, so would it have hurt the PM to agree?) Key lies because that is his natural instinct until he realises (too late!) that it would have been better to simply tell the truth. I’m not sure why you’re defending him.

    Comment by Ross — September 16, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

  22. “…Relevant to that is this Radio Live interview yesterday with former GCSB head Sir Bruce Ferguson. Ferguson is withering about the suggestion that the GCSB is involved in mass surveillance…”

    Ex-spymaster says nothing to see here, no spying is going on, please move on, oh look! A traitor! I have never, ever seen an ex-spy admit to doing any, you know, actual spying. They presumably just all sit around doing the Dom-post crossword puzzle and drinking tea.

    And when John Key says the GCSB has never conducted mass surveillance on New Zealanders, that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t, or what he thinks constitutes mass surveillance might be different to what it is commonly thought to be by everyone else, or that the GCSB Key speaks of is actually the Gore Country Savings Bank.

    “… It is the one area of government where sunlight is not the best disinfectant if the spies are to be of any utility to the country that has them…”

    What utter, contemptable drivel. No one is asking our spies to go around loking like extras from Men in Black. What we are asking to know, and debate, what is being done in our name to us and others. As Snowden said, uniformed consent is no consent at all. Look, if the politicians and the experts had come out and said “we need to conduct mass surveillance in order to protect you from terrorism 99.999% of the time instead of just 99.9% of the time” then we can and could and should have that debate. Again, as Snowden said – we may agree as a nation to trade some liberty for security. But no. The fucking deep state thinks it knows what is best for us. Well, fuck them. Disband the GCSB, withdraw from the five eyes, and start again with spies who understand what democracy is.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 16, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

  23. “I have never, ever seen an ex-spy admit to doing any, you know, actual spying.”

    Check out Markus Wolf’s autobiography, it’s a pretty cracking read.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — September 16, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

  24. “I’m not sure why you’re defending him.”

    Because the evidence about Speargun isn’t there and the timeline supports Key..

    Snowdon shut down his operation in May 2013 and leaked his info. Therefore he could not have known whether or not Speargun Phase 2 went operational in July 2013 after the law was changed.

    Key says he shut down Speargun and certainly in Dec 2013 he takes a proposal recommending CORTEX to the Finance Minister and a committee approves CORTEX in June 2014.

    So the only window for Speargun was sometime after the law change in July 2013 and Key presenting a different option in Dec 2013. Key says he shut down Speargun before it went operational and the narrow time frame seems to support that.

    JC

    Comment by JC — September 16, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

  25. Key’s latest line (in his stand-up today) is to blame this all on “a bunch of foreigners”.

    So now he’s channeling Winston, and abandoning another piece of that moral high ground (remember the earlier campaign cry from National – “the opposition is xenophobes!”).

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — September 16, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

  26. “and the timeline supports Key..”

    which timeline? – the one where it doesnt happen, the one where key put a stop to it or the one where key scaled it back?

    and speargun isnt the only thing being talked about – theres xkeyscore (which no one denies) and cortex is an utterly different program to those, with a separate and distinct purpose

    keith ng does some good journalism on the subject – http://publicaddress.net/onpoint/project-speargun-underway/

    Comment by framu — September 16, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

  27. And now the verdict we’ve all been waiting for …

    United Future leader Peter Dunne said John Key has questions to answer about the GCSB and legislation passed last year which gave it more powers.

    Mr Dunne said Mr Key needed to respond to the points that were raised at last night’s Auckland town hall meeting, to support his position that there is no mass surveillance.

    Peter Dunne also wants answers about the GCSB legislation he voted for last year.

    “If the legislation does by the back door permit mass surveillance then that is not what we thought we were passing and I think that needs to be clarified, if however it doesn’t then that needs to be reasserted.”

    (Radio NZ)

    So, that just leaves Hosking, Henry and their fanboys still with fingers in their ears.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — September 16, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

  28. s’ok Framu. Key looked at SPEARGUN and thought ‘hell no, not on my watch’. So 5eyes gutted the tool they had built and were just waiting for the GCSB bill to pass so they could use in NZ, and renamed it and completely changed its purpose.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — September 16, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

  29. Classic Dunne – full of cutting questions about the legislation a year after he voted for it.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — September 16, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

  30. Wonderful imitation of a red-faced retired English Major, Sanctuary. I was sure I would see the word poppycock in there somewhere. Unfortunately the high blood pressure gets in the way of your ability to engage with the point I was making. As the most authoritarian of the site’s regular commenters I suspect the only issue you have with the SIS is that it is not spying on the people on whom you would like it to spy – a suspicion I have about a few others as well, but not, I hasten to add, Danyl.

    Comment by Tinakori — September 16, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

  31. Chill out guys. It’s not like Kiwis are going to bed in Vibrams every night.

    Comment by John — September 16, 2014 @ 7:57 pm

  32. — “The only way to avoid these differences is to shut up or give an annoying stock answer without any further elaboration.. ”

    Hah! Key is the King of annoying stock answers.

    Comment by steve — September 16, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

  33. So a very well financed campaign to discredit a PM a few days before an election proves to have no compelling evidence.

    Lots of allegations but no proof.

    Call me old fashioned but that’s not what left wing politics should be about.

    It shouldn’t be the money is no object circus we’ve just been subjected to.

    Moment of Truth. Think about it, it’s a cult.

    Comment by NeilM — September 16, 2014 @ 8:44 pm

  34. @Tinakori: Last week Sanc did me the favour of explaining that it’s just the internet and not worth getting too upset about.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — September 16, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

  35. Glenn Greenwald: prefers Ron Paul over Obama –

    http://www.salon.com/2011/12/31/progressives_and_the_ron_paul_fallacies/

    I prefer Obama over the isolationist cranks any day.

    Comment by NeilM — September 16, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

  36. With Snowden now one of Putin’s pawns it was a very odd “left wing” line up.

    KDC the million con artist, Assange the narcissist unwilling to face up to allegations of sexual assault, Greenwald the Ron Paul fan.

    All united in their opposition to Obama. And now Key.

    Comment by NeilM — September 16, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

  37. With Snowden now one of Putin’s pawns it was a very odd “left wing” line up.

    It wasn’t a left-wing line-up, with the exception of Laila Harré. Still, thanks awfully for your concern trolling.

    To which it would be useful to add: Snowden finds himself effectively a prisoner in the Soviet Union, sorry the Russian Federation, for performing a public service. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess, but do we really have to endure sophist blowhards trying to portray him as “Putin’s pawn” for accepting that where he finds himself is in one of the few places on the planet where he won’t be slapped in a jail cell for attempting to inform people what their governments are doing to them?

    Comment by Psycho Milt — September 16, 2014 @ 10:16 pm

  38. John Key has been dishonest and caught out telling lies most times he talks about the GCSB surveillance state that he and his school chum have helped build and legislate for behind our backs.

    http://thestandard.org.nz/an-honest-man/?fb_action_ids=10151858722374338&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

    As we all know now John Key and a lot of his ministers like to pass information to a hate site/blog which likes to run nasty smears and ruin people.

    I imagine a blackmail society with the government running the blackmail would be the end result of this type of anti-democratic all seeing spy web.

    John Key was only building a better future for the cameron slaters of this world ……………

    Comment by reason — September 16, 2014 @ 10:23 pm

  39. “With Snowden now one of Putin’s pawns it was a very odd “left wing” line up.”

    I have no idea what makes you think any of this is very “left-wing.” Glenn Greenwald is basically a right-wing libertarian who used to work for the Koch-funded Cato Institute. And as you note he likes Ron Paul. Snowden has also expressed far-right “libertarian” views. Kim Dotcom is, let us not forget, a major donor to the mayoral campaign of that well-known socialist John Banks.

    None of these people are very ‘left-wing’. People of all political persuasions ought to be interested in what they have to say.

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — September 17, 2014 @ 2:20 am

  40. “Kim Dotcom is, let us not forget, a major donor to the mayoral campaign of that well-known socialist John Banks.”

    Kim Dotcom was doing his best to spin himself as a leftist deeply concerned for income inequality during his speech to the Mana Party.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — September 17, 2014 @ 2:35 am

  41. Pascal’s bookie- thank god someones cleared that up🙂

    who knew god key had so much power?

    Comment by framu — September 17, 2014 @ 7:48 am

  42. So has Jamie Whyte said anything about mass surveillance and the power of the state, individual liberty, the need to keep govt power in check, etc, yet? I don’t follow his very word and it looks like I’ve missed it…

    Comment by MeToo — September 17, 2014 @ 8:10 am

  43. #40: “doing his best to spin himself as a leftist deeply concerned for income inequality during his speech”

    You mean like that other well known socialist Warren Buffett? Point being that it is possible (if unlikely) for an entrepreneurial capitalist to own a social conscience. As far as KDC is concerned, who knows? Given his background it’s possible he has some empathy for those who do it hard.

    Comment by Grant Hay — September 17, 2014 @ 8:12 am

  44. Point being that it is possible (if unlikely) for an entrepreneurial capitalist to own a social conscience. As far as KDC is concerned, who knows? Given his background it’s possible he has some empathy for those who do it hard.

    Might be what motivated his pilgrimage to the dying bastion of racial harmony.

    Comment by Joe W — September 17, 2014 @ 8:50 am

  45. How about we get back to Key, rather than attacking the messengers? Seriously, who the fuck even reads what NeilM writes anymore?

    Key has clearly lied to NZ. Some may be OK with that. I for one am not. The same would apply if it was Cunliffe that had done the same thing.

    Comment by lefty — September 17, 2014 @ 9:40 am

  46. The same would apply if it was Cunliffe that had done the same thing.

    If Cunliffe had done the same thing, the Herald would have self combusted by now.

    Comment by Ross — September 17, 2014 @ 3:05 pm

  47. “Kim Dotcom is, let us not forget, a major donor to the mayoral campaign of that well-known socialist John Banks.”

    At the time KDC didnt have his residency approved but was Ok after nice letters from ….John Banks and Maurice Williamson.

    In reality KDC spent far more on the fireworks display for Auckland than he did on politicians who could help him with his residency

    Comment by ghostwhowalksnz — September 17, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

  48. “So has Jamie Whyte said anything about mass surveillance”

    yes – the party of small govt seems very OK with big govt all of a sudden

    Comment by framu — September 17, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

  49. So has Jamie Whyte said anything about mass surveillance

    I can’t wait to see how Whyte reconciles his firmly held beliefs for the individuals right to privately smoke crack / root one’s cousin but the moment you write about it in an electronic medium, he’s OK with the State being all over that shit.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 17, 2014 @ 5:19 pm


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