On Monday evening (15 Sept 2014) 1,700 people crowded into Auckland’s Town Hall to hear speeches by journalist Glenn Greenwald and, via video-link from Russia, whistleblower Edward Snowden. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange also made a video appearance from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
According to the Internet Party, which organised the meeting, dubbed “The Moment of Truth,” 800 more people had to be turned away due to lack of space. The event, held just five days before New Zealand’s national election, was watched online by tens of thousands of people.
The speeches, along with articles published the same day by Snowden and Greenwald on the Intercept website, further exposed the mass surveillance of NZ citizens and residents by the spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
Greenwald released documents revealing that “at some point in 2012 or early 2013” the US National Security Agency (NSA) and GCSB carried out an operation, code-named Speargun, which plugged into the undersea Southern Cross cable, which “carries the vast majority of Internet traffic between New Zealand and the rest of the world.” This would also allow access to data from Australia, and via Australia to large parts of Asia.
Tapping into the cable gives the spy agencies access to enormous volumes of communications metadata and content, which can be viewed using the XKEYSCORE tool by all the agencies in the Five Eyes network (the US, NZ, Australia, Britain and Canada).
Snowden wrote that from his desk in Hawaii, where he worked as a NSA contractor until mid-2013, “I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders.” He stated that the GCSB agents “do not merely use XKEYSCORE, but also actively and directly develop mass surveillance algorithms for it.”
He told the Auckland meeting that using the tool, “I can see everything. I can see what book you looked at on Amazon.com, I can see who you talked to, I can see who your friends on Facebook are, I can see the text messages you sent, I can read the emails you wrote.”
Snowden also revealed that there are two NSA facilities in New Zealand, including one in Auckland. This is in addition to the secretive Waihopai spy base operated by the GCSB, which also gathers data on behalf of the US.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has denied the claim, according to wsws.org, which posted an article about Snowden on Tuesday, 16 Sept 2014, with the headline: “Ahead of election, Snowden reveals mass spying on New Zealanders.”