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Snowden Docs: New Zealand Spying on Pacific Allies, Indonesia, for NSA

New Zealanders protest a GCSB surveillance bill in Auckland, July 2013. (Sim Ahmed)

New Zealanders protest a GCSB surveillance bill in Auckland, July 2013. (Sim Ahmed)

New Zealand has been spying on its small, friendly Pacific neighbors and Indonesia and is sharing the intelligence with international allies including the US National Security Agency, according to new revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The New Zealand Herald reports secret documents leaked by Snowden, the former NSA and CIA agent currently exiled in Russia, reveal New Zealand’s electronic spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), collects phone calls, emails and Internet data from small Pacific states including Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and French Polynesia, as well as from Indonesia, and shares the intelligence with the NSA.

The leaked documents show that the intelligence gleaned from spying on New Zealand’s allies is then merged with data collected from all over the world, and is accessible through the NSA’s XKeyscore computer program, with which the US and its “Five Eyes” intelligence partners—Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand—can search the world’s communications.

“The Five Eyes countries led by the US are literally trying to spy on every country in the world… and what we’re going to be hearing about in the next few days is New Zealand in all kinds of very surprising ways playing a role in that,” investigative author Nicky Hager told Radio New Zealand on Wednesday.

Hager said that GCSB has “gone from some selected targeting of the South Pacific states and other targets to a new stage of where they just hoover up everything.”

“They take every single phone call, every single email, and they go straight off into databases, which are US National Security Agency databases,” he added, accusing New Zealand of “selling out” its close relationship with its Pacific partners in order to curry favor with the United States.

“The reason we spy on those little Pacific countries… is not because New Zealand cares,” asserted Hager, “it’s just something to take to the table to belong to the [Five Eyes] club.”

Snowden had previously revealed that the NSA was spying on New Zealanders using XKeyscore.

Many of the nations targeted by New Zealand’s surveillance dragnet supported its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Wellington’s slogan that “New Zealand stands up for small states” now appears rather cynical and dubious, and could prove damaging to regional relations.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key defended GCSB actions as “absolutely lawful.”

“Some of the information was incorrect, some of the information was out of date, and some of it was plain wrong,” Key, a member of the center-right New Zealand National Party, said in response to the revelations. Key also said he would be “more than happy” to discuss the matter with leaders from any of the nations targeted by GCSB.

The latest Snowden document leak also revealed that Australia’s top-secret electronic espionage agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, has been spying on Indonesia’s largest mobile phone network and has been working with GCSB to spy on the same small Pacific island nations.

It is unclear what threat these tiny micro-states, some of which have 10,000 or fewer inhabitants, could possibly pose to a regional power such as Australia.

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