It’s disappointing that despite the events of last week most New Zealanders wouldn’t know of Katharine Gun.
I’m not aware of her name appearing anywhere in mainstream newspapers or radio and yet she gave crucial evidence in the Wellington District Court last week in the case of the three ploughshares activists charged with slashing one of the satellite dish covers at the Waihopai spybase.
Gun worked for the British equivalent of our GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau) and in early 2003 she leaked a memo showing how the network of spybases, of which Waihopai is a part, was being used to build pressure for the war on Iraq and undermine opposition to US plans from other UN security council members.
The leaked memo was from Frank Koza, head of regional targets at America’s National Security Agency and it requested the network to mount “surge” of surveillance on the diplomatic communications of UN Security Council members. Koza said the countries to be targeted particularly were Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan. These were the so-called ‘middle six’ delegations whose votes were being fought over by the US and Britain on the one hand who wanted war on Iraq and France, China and Russia who wanted more weapons inspections.
Koza also requested any information which could be gleaned on the domestic communications of non-UN Security Council members containing anything relating to the Security Council. He said the Americans wanted information on “negotiating positions, alliances and dependencies”.
Charges against Katharine Gun for leaking the memo were eventually dropped and last week she gave affidavit evidence in Wellington pointing out how Waihopai and the other spybases in the network were working with the US to spy on diplomats from other countries, undermine opposition to an illegal war and abuse the democratic principles on which the United Nations was founded.
Helen Clark was Prime Minister at the time and would have been unaware of Waihopai engaging in this support for the war despite official government opposition to the invasion. We can say that with confidence because even former Prime Minister David Lange, who approved the building of the base back in the 1980s, said it wasn’t until a decade after the base was built that he realized its purpose after reading Nicky Hagar’s 1996 book Secret Power.
It seems clear the base is run by New Zealand security officials who see their duty to support US interests ahead of the national interest of New Zealand.
So where was any of this covered by the mainstream media? Where were the questions being asked about the role of the base? Or about democratic control over what it does? Or in whose interests it is run?
If this had been a grisly murder we’d have had wall to wall television coverage with evidence reported in gruesome detail. Instead we had coverage on the opening day and then the jury verdict nine days later.
Small wonder then that the public reaction to the verdict was shock, surprise and sometimes horror. I wasn’t at the trial but having read reports from those who attended throughout the trial, the jury verdict was the logical, just result.
The media let the public down badly. Not only that but we then had the spectacle of a range of newspaper editorials and media commentators such as Paul Holmes writing the most extraordinary drivel from a position of absolute ignorance. Having not followed the issue for 10 days Holmes, who likes to be considered one of New Zealand’s top current affairs journalists, clearly had no conception of the issues. “They look like silly undergraduates who have never grown up” was his supposedly insightful conclusion.
Similarly most of the media didn’t even get to first base in explaining to the public what was going on. The most common conclusion seemed to be the men were honest and sincere but naïve and misguided.
One newspaper, while ignoring Katharine Gun’s evidence altogether gave great weight to the views of a minor US official who suggested the attack on the base was supporting the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taleban. This woeful comment ignores the fact the US faces terrorist threats precisely because its foreign policy has abused so many peoples of the world for so long in demands for their resources. By tying us into US foreign policy Waihopai itself poses a significant terrorist threat to New Zealand.
Despite the shallow, inaccurate, reporting and idle commentary many more New Zealanders will now look at the satellite domes and government assurances with a healthier scepticism. If it worked for Dave Lange it can work for anyone.
I’ve always had more respect for those who work hard to prevent war than for those who fight them. That’s why I think the three Waihopai domebusters and people such as Katharine Gun have much more to contribute to New Zealand security than Willie Apiata or the SAS in Afghanistan.