WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand has been spying electronically on its Pacific Island neighbors and Indonesia and sharing the intelligence with its international allies, according to documents released on Thursday, March 5.
The documents, released by former US National Security Authority contractor Edward Snowden and dating back to 2009, said New Zealand's electronic spy agency had intercepted emails, mobile and fixed line phone calls, social media messages and other communications in small Pacific states including Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and French Polynesia.
The material gathered by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was shared with the US National Security Agency (NSA), which along with agencies in Australia, Britain, and Canada, make up the "Five Eyes" surveillance network.
"They've gone from some selected targeting of the South Pacific states and other targets to a new stage of where they just hoover up everything," investigative writer Nicky Hager said on Radio New Zealand.
"They take every single phone call, every single email, and they go straight off into databases, which are US National Security Agency databases."
Hager, who is collaborating with the New Zealand Herald newspaper and Intercept website in revealing the documents, said there would be further disclosures.
Indonesia's Telkomsel too
The documents also said a New Zealand GCSB officer had worked with the Australian Signals Directorate in spying on Indonesia's largest mobile phone network Telkomsel.
Prime Minister John Key refused to comment on the disclosures, but had said on Wednesday when asked about their expected release that they were bound to be wrong. The GCSB also refused comment.
The role of the agency, which has a large eavesdropping facility at the top of the country's South Island, was an issue in last year's general election, with documents released by Snowden suggesting the GCSB was planning to conduct mass domestic surveillance.
The GCSB is banned from spying on New Zealand citizens, unless authorised to support other agencies, but has no legal restrictions on foreign activities.
The South Pacific region has seen military coups in Fiji, inter-communal armed strife in the Solomon Islands, while France maintains military bases in Tahiti and New Caledonia.
China has also been increasing its influence and development aid to small island states.
Tongan Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva reportedly told Fairfax Media that such a program would be a "breach of trust" but added "it is happening all over the world".
"Tonga is too small to stand up to the alleged spying. China is on the radar... so what can we do?" he said.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key refused to comment on the specifics of the allegations but said intelligence services had broken no laws.
"It's gone on for a very long period of time but there are good reasons why," he told commercial radio. – Reports from Reuters and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com