The Five Eyes brand (“Five Eyes” – an intelligence network of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), which are part of what the NSA internally calls its “global network”, can be found throughout the latest spy scandal that engulfed New Zealand, writes Suzie Dawson, a New Zealand journalist and activist in exile.
I spent six years taking turns begging New Zealand’s leading journalists to investigate the State’s espionage activities against activists, including me, and, out of necessity, to report extensively on them myself in the vacuum created by their inertia. It is therefore somewhat disconcerting to now observe the late progress of what former Greenpeace NZ MP and Executive Director Russel Norman describes as New Zealand’s “Watergate scandal”.
Following the release of an explosive report by the State Services Commission on this case, Norman wrote: “My main observation is that under the previous government, no one was safe from being spied on if they disagreed with government policy.
This is a remarkable statement from Norman, who once served on the government committee responsible for the oversight of New Zealand’s intelligence services. The futility of this noble position was reflected in my 2014 article “Glenn Greenwald and the Irrelevance of Electoral Politics”, which quoted Greenwald, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his reports on the leaks of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, saying of Norman:
“You have the leader of the Green Party here in New Zealand saying in an interview that I saw him as a member of the committee that oversees the GCSB (New Zealand’s electronic espionage agency) and yet he learned much more about the agency’s activities by reading our articles than during the information sessions. They have really isolated themselves from the political process and have many tools to ensure that they continue to grow and that their power is never questioned.”
Things are moving: it is reported that more than a dozen government agencies, including the New Zealand Police, have used private intelligence companies such as the famous Thompson and Clark Investigations Limited to spy on New Zealand citizens who are engaged in democratic dissent, activism in general or who pose an economic or political “risk” to public servants or the private sector in New Zealand.
As might be expected, the media’s response has been to take the least risky path by focusing on the enormity of espionage on the least politically engaged targets, such as earthquake insurance claimants and paedophilia victims, and to focus on the lowest levels of responsibility. They still fail to grasp the international and geopolitical implications behind spying outsourced to private and state-sponsored companies in New Zealand.
The truth is that the roots of the problem are much deeper than subcontractors like Thompson and Clark. The chain of complicity and collusion extends well beyond the head of a department or agency, including the head of the State Services Commission. It even goes beyond the executive branch, Parliament and the Prime Minister.
At its core, this scandal reflects fundamental flaws in New Zealand’s intelligence collection practices, infrastructure and network – where the data collected flows, to whom it is used and to whom our intelligence services ultimately respond.
I agree with Russell Norman that this could be our Watergate scandal here in New Zealand. But there are major aspects that, to date, have not been covered significantly, if at all, by the New Zealand media – and of which the vast majority of the New Zealand public is unaware, to their detriment.
First: where do the data collected by these spies really go? Second: Who directs New Zealand’s human intelligence resources and apparatus in foreign intelligence operations? And thirdly: what is the impact on New Zealanders who unintentionally deal with our spy agencies in a country where the legal definition of “threat to national security” has been removed?
1. ICWatch New Zealand
When M.C. McGrath, the founder of Transparency Toolkit – at the time a gifted teenager – received an email from a member of the American intelligence community threatening him: “I promise to kill everyone who participates in your website. There is nowhere on this earth where you can hide,” he took the threat seriously. He had good reasons. Its ICWatch initiative used open source data to expose specific actors, contracts and business relationships within the global intelligence community.
McGrath had almost by chance discovered that secret programs and projects, which were usually hidden from the public, were often praised in the curricula of current and former serving members in their CVs published on LinkedIn. By examining the publicly available data contained in their CVs, he was able to shed light on many secret programs that we may never have heard of. The following year, he moved to Berlin, lives in exile and his site was transferred to WikiLeaks. “Murderous spies push journalistic project to take refuge at WikiLeaks,” headlined WikiLeaks’ press release announcing the acquisition of ICWatch.
To my knowledge, no member of the New Zealand media has ever thought of consulting ICWatch’s database to examine the extent of New Zealand’s participation in this integrated “global network”, as the NSA so eloquently calls it. Or more precisely, “the total force”, to which former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refers when he redefines the term at a key moment after September 11, 2001.
Jeremy Scahill, author of the remarkable book “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”, describes Rumsfeld’s policy as “the Rumsfeld doctrine, which uses high technology, low-footprint forces and increased and accelerated use of private companies to wage wars”. (The “total force” has not only served to incorporate these private companies, but also to protect them from civil or criminal liability).
The incorporation by the United States of a large number of private companies into its armed forces has helped to stretch their tentacles deep into the South Pacific. It turns out that this very small New Zealand is so involved in this global for-profit surveillance network that it has several hundred references that appear in ICWatch.
A careful study of each research result reveals multiple intriguing details: a reference to a US military member stationed in New Zealand. Another from a New Zealand military liaison officer stationed in Fort Meade, Maryland, a major American military base and NSA headquarters. (The existence of these liaison posts was revealed a few years ago, but it is interesting to ask what files may have passed through this office in recent years.)
By far the most fascinating reference to New Zealand I have found so far in ICWatch is that of a US Army intelligence officer who claims to have integrated “Czech, British, New Zealand and Jordanian intelligence into the Brigade’s CI/HUMINT[Human Intelligence, as opposed to Electronic Intelligence] company”:
The above revelation that New Zealand’s confidential informant and human intelligence information has been integrated into the United States’ databases and intelligence network is important. It suggests that instead of sharing intelligence on a case-by-case basis, our spies actually provide mass information and act as a component of the US intelligence forces.
At the 2014 “Moment of Truth” event in Auckland[NZ], Edward Snowden said he had had direct access to New Zealand’s full-take information while working as a subcontractor to the NSA. Everything, directly at the outlet of the pipes. He said that to access this information, he only had to tick the box “New Zealand”.
The discovery that the products of our electronic intelligence collection efforts and the results of our human intelligence network and their informants are being transmitted directly to the United States’ “global network” has significant implications. Especially considering that this information can come not only from our military operations abroad, but also from our police operations in the country. That this could include information obtained not only by our espionage and police services, but also by their subcontractors, such as Thompson and Clark Investigations Limited.
The same US Army Intelligence Officer in ICWatch also refers to “lethal and non-lethal targeting in the unit’s COIN efforts”. COIN is the abbreviation for the United States’ COunterINsurgency doctrine and operations. Counter-terrorism is intrinsically linked. In 2015, Michael Gould-Wartofsky, then a doctoral candidate at New York University and author of “The new age of Counterinsurgency policing” in The Nation and “The Occupiers: The Making of the 99% Movement” was interviewed at length about the intersection between military counter-insurgency operations in areas of operations and domestic counter-terrorism intelligence operations in the West targeting dissidents:
“Counter-insurgency emerged as a strategy of control and containment of what were considered enemy forces in foreign combat zones in the 1960s… and has really experienced some kind of rebirth since September 11… counter-insurgency has become the struggle for control of a contested political space and territory. We see this counter-insurgency strategy imported from its country of origin for domestic purposes. The counter-insurgency framework therefore depends on the establishment and consolidation of control of a given population and territory by both military means, i.e., in the case of domestic disturbances, the security forces…. “.
A section of my 2016 article “Understanding World War III” reports an official Pentagon video on strategic planning published by The Intercept, which reveals that the US military considers the urban environment of the world’s major cities as the combat zone of the future, the ground zero. This puts into context the militarization of the police (including in New Zealand), which has received military-grade training and weapons.
As I summarized in the article: “There is now evidence that riot police of the assault troop type that acts like a national army is in fact in line with the strategic plans of the Ministry of Defence.