A summer’s weekend at waihopai

The foreword of a book is probably one of the last places one would expect to find a breathtaking revelation.

Not so in the foreword to Nicky Hagar’s 1996 Book “Secret Power” which describes the operation of New Zealand’s security and intelligence apparatus – in particular the electronic surveillance bases at Waihopai near Blenheim and Tangimoana in the Manawatu.

The foreword to the book was written by David Lange who was Prime Minister for 5 years during which time the Waihopai base was built and commissioned and includes the bald statement “…it was not until I read this book that I had any idea that we had been committed to an international integrated electronic network.”

This is an outrageous situation.   Aside from his Prime Ministerial role he was also the Minister responsible for Security and Intelligence and chair of parliament’s Security and Intelligence committee and yet he was given no idea as to the real purpose of the secret base he authorised.

It is clear that he was specifically and deliberately misled by the bureaucrats who run the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) which is responsible for managing the Waihopai base.   The Prime Minister was apparently not deemed a fit person to have the true purpose and operation of the base explained to him.

So what was withheld from our Prime Minister?

Firstly that New Zealand is part of a super-secret alliance called UKUSA which was set up to share defence intelligence between the 5 member countries – New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom with the United States as the senior partner.

For its part in this deal the GCSB operates two electronic surveillance bases – the one at Waihopai monitors satellite communications and the other at Tangimoana monitors communications involving ships and aircraft.

Waihopai is the most important.   It has two satellite dishes which are directed at Intelsat communications satellites which orbit the earth above the Pacific equator.  

These dishes receive all electronic communications which go to and from New Zealand and our Asia/Pacific neighbours.   This includes all telephone, fax and email communications from and between individuals, companies and governments.

Powerful computers then sift through this information.   It’s like a massive Google search using keywords to intercept all “communications of interest” with encrypted messages decoded before processing.    Most of these keywords are supplied by the US with the data fed directly to the partners in the UKUSA Agreement, specifically the US National Security Agency (NSA) which compiles the information into intelligence reports for US government agencies.

From research compiled by Hagar it is clear that the information obtained includes commercially sensitive material on trade and investment involving private companies as well as diplomatic communications between governments and international communications involving New Zealanders.     Big brother is much bigger than we think.

Many European Parliamentarians have been so concerned that a parliamentary inquiry was held into the “commercial espionage” conducted by what is called the Echelon network of which Waihopai is a critical part.   In particular it was alleged the European companies Airbus Industries and Thomson-CSF were monitored through the UKUSA network to favour US companies gaining commercial contracts.

From the outset the development of the base was directed by the US.   So much so that during its planning and development from 1984 to 1987 a US intelligence officer, Glen Singleton, was Director of Policy and Planning at our GCSB.   He was paid by the US government and stayed in a house rented for him by the US embassy in Wellington.     Needless to say our democratically elected government was oblivious to this relationship which ensured the base would operate as the US had planned.

Aside from the obvious privacy issues for New Zealanders, Waihopai is – in all but name – a US spybase operating on New Zealand soil.   It is operated in the US national interest – both militarily and commercially.    It is a critical link in their worldwide surveillance network and in this way it is our greatest contribution to US global strategies such as the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Forget about ANZUS – UKUSA is the real McCoy and Waihopai is its baby!   

Lange concluded his foreword to Hagar’s book with the suggestion that it is time we had a rational debate on security and intelligence issues.   Yes indeed!   The reckless arrogance with which our New Zealand security leadership and their US handlers treat our elected representatives and our democratic traditions is an outrage.  

Neither of the bases run by the GCSB has a legitimate role to play in New Zealand’s interests. 

Later this week I will be joining other New Zealanders in a protest at Waihopai to call for the base to be closed.