New Zealand: Spying for NSA

The Fifth Eye

Directed by Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones (2015)

Film Review

This documentary traces the history of New Zealand involvement in the US-run Five Eyes spy network, first brought to public awareness by the 2008 arrest of three Ploughshares activists for criminal trespass the Waihopai Spy Base near Blenheim New Zealand.

According to investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager (featured in the film), New Zealand built the spy base in the mid-eighties after getting kicked out of the ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-US) security network for declaring New Zealand a nuclear-free zone. This declaration effectively banned all US naval vessels from our ports – as the US refuses to disclose whether specific ships are propelled by nuclear power.

Hager reveals that Five Eyes spy is responsible for Echelon, a project that collects data from all phone calls and electronic communications for the US National Security Agency (NSA). The other agencies involved are the Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the UK Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), and the New Zealand GCSB. GCSB-NZ is responsible for monitoring all phone and electronic traffic in the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite government reassurances that the GCSB didn’t spy on New Zealanders, in 2012 we learned they had spied on NZ resident Kim Dotcom for the 2012 swat team assault on his home. His crime: violation of US copyright law. Through the Official Information Act, we learned they had also spied on 88 other Kiwis the government declined to identify.

In 2010 the Ploughshares 3 presented a greater good defense and were acquitted. Their defense teams successfully persuaded the jury that the data collected at Waihopai was being used to target innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan for drone and cruise missile strikes or for arrest and torture.

In 2011, the government filed a civil lawsuit against the Ploughshares 3 for $1.2 million, which the high court granted via summary judgment (ie without trial). In 2013, their right to trial was denied by the Court of Appeal. The same year the National government, under John Key, passed (despite massive public opposition) the GSCB Amendment Bill. The latter granted the spy agency the right to spy on New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.

In 2014 the Waihopai activists appealed to the NZ Supreme Court, only for the government to drop their damage claim – owing to the extreme controversy arising over GCSB spying on Kiwi investigative journalist Jon Stephenson.

The high point of the film is the 2014 Internet Party conference in Auckland featuring Glenn Greenwald and (via video link) Edward Snowden that exposed the true extent of the GCSB in Fives Eyes spying on all New Zealanders’ phone and Internet activity.


*Dotcom is still waiting on a New Zealand Supreme Court decision whether he can be extradited to the US: Kim Dotcom Supreme Court Appeal

**Stephenson was reporting on the the role of NZ troops in handing over Afghan civilians to known torture unit,

The documentary can be viewed free for the next 11 days on the Maori TV website:

https://www.maoritelevision.com/docos/5th-eye

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