Who were the 88 New Zealand citizens or residents illegally spied on by the GCSB? We’ll probably never know for sure (other than Dotcom). Ian Fletcher assured us they were very bad guys involved in ‘weapons of mass destruction development, people smuggling, foreign espionage in New Zealand and drug smuggling’.
But the latest Snowden revelation about the GCSB intercepting communications between the Chinese Consulate in Auckland and its visa office makes me suspect that some of – if not most of – the subjects of illegal surveillance were NZ citizens or nationals working at embassies targeted by the GCSB. I don’t know about the Chinese consulate, but most embassies hire a bunch of locals to do non-diplomatic work, so if you’re spying on an embassy you’re mostly intercepting traffic to-and-from those local hires.
On the one hand, spying on embassies is what intelligence agencies do. The law should allow them to do that. But politicians can’t say in public ‘We need the legal right to spy on the local staff at the Chinese consulate’, so you’re going to get a smokescreen. On the other hand, during the debate about the expansion of the GCSB’s powers, John Key and the GCSB’s apologists roared with outrage at their critics, who wanted us left defenseless against all those WMD wielding terrorists that only the security agencies protect us from. Now every week brings another revelation that these agencies have absolutely fuck-all to do with protecting anyone from anything.
The other thing you’re supposed to do when you’re a secret intelligence agency is keep your intelligence secret, and the Five Eyes network seems to be not-so-great at that. If you’re hacking into the secure transmissions of your largest trading partner you really don’t want to get caught, and all China needed to do to catch us is compromise one analyst anywhere in the network, and they’d have access to the same trove Snowden did. I doubt the Herald report is the first they’ve heard of this.