The Dim-Post

March 23, 2015

Spies for the boys

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:19 am

Today’s Snowden revelation:

Our spies monitored email and internet traffic about international diplomats vying for the job of director-general of the World Trade Organisation – a job for which National Government Trade Minister Tim Groser was competing.

The spying operation was active in 2013 and called the “WTO Project” by New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), according to a top secret document obtained by the Herald and United States news site The Intercept.

The operation involved covert surveillance of candidates from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Jordan, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico and South Korea.

The ‘realist’ response to this is: well, duh. Spying on foreign politicians for diplomatic and trade purposes is what intelligence agencies do, and the GCSB is an intelligence agency.

The problem with this is that the GCSB is a very controversial agency. It’s been caught breaking the law. It’s oversight is near non-existent, and its been granted several expansions of its powers on the grounds that we should just trust it, because they’re trustworthy people and they keep the public safe. But, yet again we find it engaged in dubious activities that have nothing whatsoever to do with public safety.

In fact, none of the revelations we’ve heard about this agency have anything to do with security – even though that’s the justification for this agency’s existence! That could be because Hager and the Herald are cherry-picking stories to make the GCSB look bad. Or because they’re being responsible, and not publishing stories that might jeopardise ongoing operations, yadda yadda yadda. But I suspect it’s because there aren’t any.

This story also illustrates (a) why we’re members of FIVE EYES. It gives our politicians, diplomats and spies the ability to spy on anyone in the world! (b) How our elites conflate the interest of New Zealand with their own personal and career objectives. We spent a ton of taxpayer money trying to get Groser his dream job, and it was always on the basis that it would be ‘good for New Zealand’ in a nebulous way that was never actually explained, just accepted and repeated by establishment commentators. So breaching diplomatic conventions and spying on his political rivals in a bunch of friendly trading partners to get him a top job was also ‘good for New Zealand’, somehow, and justified on that vague basis. And (c) it didn’t actually work. Groser is still our Trade Minister and we’re still paying for his epic minibar bills.

The activities of this agency aren’t secret because of ‘security’. They’re secret because they’re not justifiable to the public. This agency has cost about half a billion dollars over the last ten years, which would be fine if we had dire security threats and they were protecting us from them. But that’s not what’s happening. The half a billion dollars funds intelligence operations against Tuvalu, Kiribati, Antarctic research scientists, anti-corruption campaigners in the Solomons and the Trade Minister’s career rivals.

34 Comments »

  1. Since the National party came to power they have passed some 90 secret laws in which Key has said the people don’t need to know. How can we obey the law if we don’t know what the law is ,one law allows the Government to violate the sanctity of your home unconditionally and without notice, obscene arrogance and deception. Adolf Hitler had the SS and John Key has the GCSB. The GCSB is supposed to be protecting us from terrorists but who will protect us from Key. The traits that made NZders special qualities stand out from the rest of the world are systematically being suppressed,has NZ become a sinking ship with Key at the helm, are we all viewed as just sheep and importantly who will restore New Zealand ,we do have the right to know.

    Comment by Woz — March 23, 2015 @ 9:05 am

  2. “This story also illustrates (a) why we’re members of FIVE EYES. It gives our politicians, diplomats and spies the ability to spy on anyone in the world!”

    This may be one of the reasons, but are you sure our membership is not (at least also) because it gives politicians of various trading partners the ability to spy on anyone in the world? As in, if New Zealand pulled out from feeding the US’s obsession with recording and archiving everything that everyone said 20 years ago, just in case it wants to look it up and draw flaky conclusions some day about who knew a terrorist when they were a 5 year old, then New Zealand might be treated “less favourably” in other areas.

    Comment by izogi — March 23, 2015 @ 9:14 am

  3. It’s telling that you had to go to ten years to get a number that sounded impressive. That seems like pretty good deal when you think about it.

    Comment by Tinakori — March 23, 2015 @ 9:28 am

  4. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs costs a fraction of that and we still get sustained tantrums from the right on how its a waste of public money.

    Comment by danylmc — March 23, 2015 @ 9:37 am

  5. Are we surprised when Groser is quoted as saying:

    “We do not comment on such leaks because they are often wrong, they are deliberately timed to try and create political damage and we do not comment on any of them.” (Thanks Mickey.)
    Pretty usual form of “No comment.” But open transparent Government? Hardly.

    Comment by xianmac — March 23, 2015 @ 9:59 am

  6. “That seems like pretty good deal when you think about it.”

    No it doesn’t, actually.

    (It is ‘argue like a a Tory’ day, I assume)

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — March 23, 2015 @ 10:12 am

  7. “…That seems like pretty good deal when you think about it…”

    According to Kidscan, 500 million dollars over the last ten years could have also provided 277,000 children in need with:

    – Food at school for a year
    – A waterproof raincoat every year
    – A pair of shoes every year
    – Two pairs of socks every year
    – Basic hygiene items every year

    In other words, we could have almost eliminated child poverty and hunger in NZ for the same amount we’ve wasted on the GCSB.

    The GCSB a “good deal?”. Yeah, right.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 23, 2015 @ 10:24 am

  8. The activities of this agency aren’t secret because of ‘security’. They’re secret because they’re not justifiable to the public.

    They aren’t secret, published in the Herald – not secret.

    d. Security agencies are meant to be secure. They’ve got two jobs – spy on people, don’t get caught. Our halfwit morons leak like a dirty great hole. Why do we have to pay $millions for this level of incompetence?

    Comment by unaha-closp — March 23, 2015 @ 10:27 am

  9. I should have added “cue exploding heads and inane responses.” So, Sanctuary would the $500m have provided that list every year for the last 10 years or just in one year? If the former then you are saying child poverty can be cured for $50m a year which seems to me to make child poverty a much smaller problem than some have led us to believe.

    Comment by Tinakori — March 23, 2015 @ 10:34 am

  10. Spies for the boys

    I remember being amazed and a little proud about Helen Clark landing that awesome job at the UNDP. Well done Helen.

    Comment by unaha-closp — March 23, 2015 @ 11:34 am

  11. “According to Kidscan, 500 million dollars over the last ten years could have also provided 277,000 children in need with:”

    Imagine if we could have a wise government that could collect $70 billion pa in taxes and then spend $25 billion pa on welfare. Over ten years that would be $250 billion on welfare.

    “We could have almost eliminated child poverty and hunger in NZ.”

    Imagine.

    Comment by Simon — March 23, 2015 @ 12:04 pm

  12. Stop digging Tinakori you already need a lamp and a canary.

    Comment by Knob Endt — March 23, 2015 @ 12:04 pm

  13. “the ability to spy on anyone in the world”

    Except the US, UK, Israel, France. The last two being countries we could actually do with having been forewarned of.

    Comment by richdrich — March 23, 2015 @ 12:25 pm

  14. its been granted several expansions of its powers on the grounds that we should just trust it

    More accurate, shirley, to say that the GCSB was granted several expansions of its powers because it was already using extended powers, and it was easier to legitimise the over-reach than to admit the malfeasance and trace its extent.

    Comment by herr doktor bimler — March 23, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

  15. Why must you always be so RUDE to Mr Groser ? I for one would willingly sell my house and all of its contents in order to pay for Mr Groser’s epic minibar bills. Ee’s a right gent and no mistake.

    Comment by swordfish — March 23, 2015 @ 1:03 pm

  16. Groser is still our Trade Minister and we’re still paying for his epic minibar bills.

    Doesn’t that make Groser a particularly naughty Muslim (Pinot Be Upon Him)?

    Comment by Gregor W — March 23, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

  17. 13 – The GCSB did in fact get intelligence on France post-Rainbow Warrior via the Five Eyes information sharing agreement. So er, yeah. Not sure that’s the best thing to pick at. (Yes we didn’t manage to stop the attack, but intelligence agencies aren’t miracle workers.)

    Comment by Keir Leslie — March 23, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

  18. >Stop digging Tinakori you already need a lamp and a canary.

    The canary already died when he implied that curing poverty for a mere tenth of Sanctuary’s 277,000 children is therefore something much less worthy than failing to get Tim Groser a useful job.

    >But I suspect it’s because there aren’t any.

    Has there ever been even a shred of evidence to the contrary?

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 23, 2015 @ 2:52 pm

  19. The GCSB currently uses 20 forms of high Tech surveillance technology which was supplied to them by America from their Star Wars programme. Some of that technology is extremely harmful to humans and has all been outlawed in the USA. The GCSB used that technology on the 88 to test that equipment. Those citizens were used illegally as guinea pigs and that is part of the reason the government refuses to discuss any details concerning the GCSB and it’s actions. Natural justice dictates that any decision made by a government agency that has a bearing on or effects the life of a “targeted individual” that person should be notified and given the right of reply. The 88 were denied the right to face an accuser, denied the right of reply and presumed guilty without a fair hearing.

    Comment by Woz — March 23, 2015 @ 3:01 pm

  20. “…If the former then you are saying child poverty can be cured for $50m…”

    Kidscan say that for $180 PA they can provide:

    – Food at school for a year
    – A waterproof raincoat every year
    – A pair of shoes every year
    – Two pairs of socks every year
    – Basic hygiene items every year

    Fifty million dollars divided by $180 = 277,777.

    Therefore, I conclude that giving fifty million per year to Kidscan will do a shitload more for the security and wellbeing of the quarter of a million New Zealand children who live below the poverty line than giving it to the GCSB will ever do.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 23, 2015 @ 3:06 pm

  21. Some of that technology is extremely harmful to humans and has all been outlawed in the USA. The GCSB used that technology on the 88 to test that equipment.

    I think your tinfoil hat might have a hole in it there, Woz.

    Comment by Gregor W — March 23, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

  22. Therefore, I conclude that giving fifty million per year to Kidscan will do a shitload more for the security and wellbeing of the quarter of a million New Zealand children who live below the poverty line than giving it to the GCSB will ever do.”

    To be fair to the GCSB I don’t think they have been asked to work on child poverty, at least in this country. If $180 a year per child eliminates child poverty in NZ this is a trivial problem and trivial expenditure in the context of annual public spending of more than $54 billion on health, education and social welfare. It should, therefore, be simple to fix. Or, as I suspect, the figure is seriously wrong.

    Comment by Tinakori — March 23, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

  23. To be fair to the GCSB I don’t think they have been asked to work on child poverty, at least in this country.

    Yes, because the GCSB is tasked for activities that the majority of people do not want. As Danyl says: that’s why the GCSB’s tasks are secret; because they can’t be justified.

    If $180 a year per child eliminates child poverty in NZ this is a trivial problem…

    Yes. This is the exact problem. Well spotted. It is tragically easy to solve child poverty; our government is a confederacy of fuckheads who simply don’t care.

    Comment by RJL — March 23, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

  24. Have had personal dealings with one of their independent surveillance contractors, but Gregor you could be right, I’ll check now

    Comment by Woz — March 23, 2015 @ 4:01 pm

  25. Those louses at the GCSB!

    A.

    Comment by Antoine — March 23, 2015 @ 7:14 pm

  26. Did New Zealand get any benefit from Mike Moore being WTO Director General?

    Comment by kalvarnsen — March 23, 2015 @ 7:27 pm

  27. In America, there’s precedent with the infamous COINTELPRO overseen by J Edgar Hoover himself. As with the Snowden leaks today, it took leaks to expose COINTELPRO in the 1970s.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — March 23, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

  28. It is tragically easy to solve child poverty;

    The people who introduced the DPB also thought it was easy to solve child poverty. The delusion that social problems are easily solved is a common one. (That said, putting whatever the GCSB spent on trying to get Groser a bigger salary and expense account towards buying stuff for children in poverty would have been a much better use of the money.)

    Comment by Psycho Milt — March 24, 2015 @ 6:36 am

  29. To be honest there is. no proof of what Hagar claims and just a lot of subjective, he has no document that says the GCSB spied for the job for Grosser. It’s all pretty thin considering how many documents Snowden flogged long before Grosse put his hand up, Hagar releases these things when most of the country are going shit another free trade deal to increase our wealth, he seems like he doesn’t want us earning a few bucks and paying our taxes for stuff like ….child poverty.

    Comment by David — March 24, 2015 @ 9:16 pm

  30. there is. no proof of what Hagar claims and just a lot of subjective, he has no document that says the GCSB spied for the job for Grosser.

    I would be surprised if Hagar *did* have a document providing such evidence, since it isn’t Hagar making that particular claim.

    Comment by herr doktor bimler — March 24, 2015 @ 10:19 pm

  31. Read a history of any intelligence agency since WW2 (when such organisations ceased to be run and staffed by gentlemen amateurs) and one thing stands out – they miss everything of any importance. The only thing they’re any good at is doing what secret policemen have done since the beginning of time – spying on their own people.

    Comment by jonothan8 — March 25, 2015 @ 6:45 pm

  32. Key’s voters don’t seem to care how dodgy he and his crew are. Much like GOP voters in the US. Illegal? Don’t care. Unethical? Harden up. …etc…

    How can anyone say new Zealand isn’t corrupt? The rot seems to have firmly set in for the 47% who vote for National…at the very least.

    Comment by Steve — March 26, 2015 @ 7:13 pm

  33. I’ve been struggling to articulate my thoughts on this. Basically I don’t like the idea of our foreign policy being so secretive, but couldn’t think of a counter to “Well if the government blabs about spying, our enemies will know, and then we won’t be able to spy anymore”.

    Then today I came across this relevant quote from Spinoza: “It has been the one song of those who thirst after absolute power that the interest of the state requires that its affairs should be conducted in secret …But the more such arguments disguise themselves under the mask of public welfare, the more oppressive is the slavery to which they will lead … Better that right counsels be known to enemies than that the evil secrets of tyrants should be concealed from the citizens. They who can treat secretly of the affairs of a nation have it absolutely under their authority; and as they plot against the enemy in times of war, so do they against the citizens in times of peace.”

    My interpretation: if the government considers China (or any other country we spy on) a concern or threat to New Zealand, then it is best that we, the public, know that, even if that means China knows too. Why should we know? The obvious answer is our country is a democracy. We elect the government to make decisions for us, using their judgement and reason, and then every three years we decide whether or not they get another go, based on their judgement and reason. If they make stupid decisions, like spying on Brazil – a country that constitutes no threat – then we factor those decisions into our votes. If we don’t know what they’re doing, we can’t hold them accountable, and the credibility of our democracy is called into account.

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — March 28, 2015 @ 6:25 pm

  34. “Key’s voters don’t seem to care how dodgy he and his crew are. Much like GOP voters in the US.”
    Yep, those dirty Republicans, introducing Obamacare and lying about it’s consequences, especially that arch-Republican, Jonathan Gruber.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 30, 2015 @ 1:48 pm


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