The Waihopai spy station in Blenheim is a story of politics, deception and betrayal. Forced into the public consciousness in 1996 by the investigative reporting of Nicky Hager, its worth taking time out to revisit our role in the US/UK spy network .......
Waihopai has a long history of lies, deceit and obfuscation at the very highest level. Its existence reveals that we in New Zealand, rather than being a neutral observer and minor player in the US’s war on terror, are in fact, a vital part of it. We have become, unwittingly, a vital cog in the intelligence grabbing that so erroneously frames the crimes against humanity being perpetrated in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere by the United States of America.
New Zealand has three American military bases, Harewood (Christchurch Airport); and the "NZ" intelligence gathering installations at Tangimoana (Manawatu) and Waihopai (Marlborough),
It was researcher Owen Wilkes who first discovered the Government Communications Security Bureau GCSB’s first spy station, up near Palmerston North at Tangimoana beach in 1983.
"It was a radio intercept station that was intercepting long distance radio from within the (former) Soviet Union and from their ships across the Pacific. Tangimoaana could listen practically right around the world because of the nature of high frequency radio. Finding out about that station, Wilkes worked out that NZ had a major spy agency which no one had been told about."
Today Waihopai is the newest and by far the biggest and the focus of this weekends public protests initiated by the Anti Bases Campaigners who have been protesting the existence of this Kiwi connection since 1988. Almost a decade after Wilkes exposure Nicky Hager, a veteran Wellington peace activist who had been protesting with them since the beginning wrote “Secret Power”, the book that blew the lid off the role that Waihopai and the New Zealand GCSB play in the US-led international spy network, now known by its code name Echelon.
In the words of Murray Horton from the Anti bases campaign
“ This spy ring is operated by New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), in the interests of the foreign powers grouped together in the super-secret UKUSA Agreement (which shares global electronic and signals intelligence among the Intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and NZ). Its two satellite interception dishes (shielded by giant domes) intercept a huge volume of satellite phone calls, including New Zealanders’ international calls, plus telexes, faxes, e-mail and computer data communications.
It gathers this data from our Asia/Pacific neighbors, and forwards it on to the major partners in the UKUSA Agreement, specifically the US National Security Agency. Its targets include international communications involving New Zealanders.
“Big Ears” cover a vast area of the Pacific. Although Iraq is on the other side of the world, the US military/intelligence network that is planning that war is global and depends on global facilities. Waihopai is strategically situated in the Pacific for spying on several countries, such as Indonesia, that does not support US war plans or the so-called “war on terror”.
If New Zealanders disagree with US policies and warmongering, then Waihopai is located right here to monitor our own international e-mails and phone calls and report directly to Big Brother at our expense - because we pay for Waihopai with millions of our tax dollars every year.
The Bush Administration has pronounced Intelligence to be the key component of all the wars that it is fighting, or planning to fight, throughout the world. Thus, much more so than any token commitment of the SAS or a frigate, the Waihopai spy base is New Zealand’s key contribution to all these American wars
Writing in Covert Action quarterly in an article entitled “Exposing the global surveillance system” Nicky stated
“For 40 years, New Zealand's largest intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) the nation's equivalent of the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been helping its Western allies to spy on countries throughout the Pacific region, without the knowledge of the New Zealand public or many of its highest elected officials. What the NSA did not know is that by the late 1980s, various intelligence staff had decided these activities had been too secret for too long, and were providing me with interviews”
It wasn’t only the citizens of Aotearoa that had no idea, neither did David Lange, Labour Prime minister of New Zealand from 1984 to 1989. Lange who wrote the preface to Hagar’s book explained
“Life at the time was full of unpleasant surprises. State-sponsored terrorism was a crime against humanity as long as it wasn’t being practiced by the allies, then it was studiously ignored. In the national interest it became necessary to say "ouch" and frown and bear certain reprisals of our intelligence partners. We even went the length of building a satellite station at Waihopai. But it was not until I read this book that I had any idea that we had been committed to an international integrated electronic network……. it is an outrage that I and other ministers were told so little, and this raises the question of to whom those concerned saw themselves ultimately answerable.”
That question is still relevant and one that is continually raised at the annual protests. Its one we should be directing to our elected representatives to answer for us.
However, the minister in charge of the GCSB and the SIS is always the Prime Minister. It could be John Keys tomorrow, it makes little difference, whoever it is they have little say about what these bases can do, will do and have done as Lange found out to his shock and disconcertion.
It was Lange as Prime minister that put New Zealand on the map by supporting the will of the people in declaring NZ a nuclear free zone. Outraged by our stance the US noted both officially and publicly that they would throw us out of the intelligence alliance.
The headlines screamed that NZ had been cut off from foreign intelligence. It was a lie, according to Hager
“The New Zealand GCSB’s relationship with, particularly, the American and the British intelligence agencies had not been changed at all. And the reason they’d set up this station was not what they told the Labour government at the time – when they said it was to make New Zealand more independent – it was actually to make New Zealand more integrated into the international alliance”
What makes this astounding is that when the French government, in an illegal act of state sponsored terrorism bombed the Rainbow Warrior killing Fernando Pereira, the ship's photographer, there was NO warning.
That’s worth repeating.
Despite its extensive spy network NO warning was given to NZ authorities. It would be easy to conclude that the US had withheld such information in retaliation for our nuclear free stance. Today we call this nation our very good friends. Nicky sums it up best when he says “Public alliances between countries don't seem to make any difference to secret intelligence operations. It would be naive to assume that friendly NATO allies and so on aren't using the resources they have got for continuous spying.”
We were even spying on the UN in 2003, before the US illegally attacked Iran. The denials were echoing down the corridors of power even as Nicky wrote in the listener that
“I’ve talked to GCSB staff whose daily job was scrolling through the intercepted communications of UN agencies based in Suva (Fiji), forwarding them to the NSA, CIA and other allied Intelligence agencies. That’s right, they routinely spy on the UN”
New Zealand’s Waihopai station plays a vital role in the spy ring. It places New Zealand in a prime position in this bogus war on terror. Despite it being 2008, very few kiwi’s know the existence let alone the role this NZ spy station plays. Many still consider it a conspiracy, a myth, but it is very real. As Hager says to the UK Echelon committee
“The great thing about secret operations is that they are deniable. Even where it is completely non-credible, where something is proven to a high degree, it can still be denied, because it is so secret."
For an excellent overview please read
Waihopai 2007 – counting the costs of 20 years of spying
From “Secret Power” to “The Hollow Men
Spies and secret services Aotearoa NZ
The words that trigger Echelon
The Power of Nightmares BBC documentary of the politics of fear
The worlds secret spy network ECHELON