Sanity has briefly broken out with the Government’s announcement that the Crown will not, indeed cannot, appeal the acquittal of the Waihopai Domebusters. This simply recognises the reality that the jury, judge and defence got it right and that the verdict was the only one possible.
But the Government has to save face, not only with those in New Zealand baying for the Domebusters’ blood, but also with the shadowy big brothers of the American-led spybase network who will be both angry and humiliated by both the hilarious dome deflation at this “high security” base, and by the total acquittal of the three guys who did it. So the Government is looking at changing the law to rule out that particular defence in similar circumstances (the typical reaction of the schoolyard bully – if you lose the game, change the rules).
And it is considering suing the Domebusters for the damage they inflicted on the dome ($1,278,000, according to the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau, GCSB, which operates Waihopai).
Quite apart from the fact that this vindictive and desperate action will be akin to getting blood out of a stone, it is a financial sideshow.
The real question to be considered here is why have hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars been wasted on this spybase in the 23 years since it was announced? The GCSB budget for the year ending June 09 (the latest available) was $49.368 million. The Government always refuses to say what is the cost of actually running Waihopai, but it obviously consumes a great chunk of the GCSB’s annual budget. Indeed the Director, Sir Bruce Ferguson, says: “Significant investment occurred in particular at the Bureau’s satellite facility at Waihopai” in the GCSB’s 2008/09 Annual Report (grandiosely subtitled “Mastery of Cyberspace for the Security of New Zealand”; rather ironic coming from the same outfit that couldn’t ensure its own security from three guys with sickles and bolt cutters)
And the figures get worse. By examining the annual budgets for the GCSB during the 23 years of the base’s life (and budgets were not published for years on end in some periods), we arrive at an educated guess that well over $500 million has been spent on the GCSB during that time, with a great chunk of that obviously going to the Waihopai spy base. What a bloody waste of money. Half a billion dollars would do some serious good in terms of health, education and social services, instead of being wasted on an outfit running what is, in all but name, an outpost of US intelligence being paid for by NZ taxpayers. This is the real financial damage inflicted by Waihopai.
Hey Uncle Sam, when are you going to reimburse us the half a billion we’ve given you? If the Government is so keen to recover the costs of the Domebusters’ damage, send the bill to the Yanks – it’s their base, and they have plenty of money for wars and spying.
There is one innocent victim in all of this – the neighbouring farmer whose fence was cut by the Domebusters to gain access to the spybase. He has invoiced them for the $200 and they have said they will pay it. Good on them for acknowledging that he shouldn’t be left out of pocket simply because he is saddled with a spy base for a neighbour. But as for the rest of it, the Government is digging itself into a bigger hole and should simply cut its losses and walk away from what has become a total debacle for itself, our spies and their foreign big brothers. And if the Government really wants to save face with the people who actually pay the bills for Waihopai, it should shut the place down immediately.
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