On GCSB propaganda and other issues

GCSB Director Una Jagose cancelled her speech after our protest action describing it as a “Five Eyes propaganda exercise”.

Why did we refer to the speech by GCSB Director Una Jagose as a “propaganda exercise”?

The majority of the GCSB’s efforts (and historically over 90% of their budget) is spent on spying on neighbouring countries in the Pacific as well as some in Asia and South America on behalf of the Five Eyes spy network.

Doing public addresses on the cyber-defence part of their job while deliberately avoiding the rest of its work gives the public a distorted impression of the GCSB’s mission. This counts as propaganda.

The GCSB has been totally unwilling to address any of the issues raised by the Snowden leaks or any of the other issues that have come to light in the past three years. These include:

  • NZ supplying intelligence to the Bangladeshi Security Services (who have a well documented reputation for violating human rights and torturing activists).
  • The GCSB supplying all captured information to and accessing XKeyscore, a database that allows virtually unlimited access to the electronic communications of everyone online.
  • The GCSB supplying intelligence for drone strikes, possibly against NZ citizens.
  • The GCSB’s illegal surveillance of 88 New Zealanders.
  • the GCSB spying on the political rivals of Trade Minister Tim Groser for a job at the World Trade Organisation.

We also note that the wave of recent activity in the media from both the SIS and the GCSB to coincide with the Intelligence Review. Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that this is part of a concerted media campaign to influence public opinion?

The spy agencies haven’t undertaken this public relations campaign because they care about openness. If they did, they would address the issues we have outlined above. Instead they have undertaken it because so much damning information about their work has come to light in the past three years that they have been forced to undertake a media offensive in an attempt to create a positive public perception of their work.

But the cyber-defence material is new and they’re finally telling us about it, isn’t that worth hearing about?

We believe that the GCSB is the wrong agency to be charged with the cyber-defence role. The cyber-security role should be moved to a different agency

Firstly, the GCSB work under overly-stringent levels of security and therefore we end up with this farcical “openness” for material that we should already have access to. Cyber-security is not like spying and requires cooperation and openness more than secrecy.

Secondly, we don’t believe that an agency in charge of spying can also be charged with cyber-security. The two roles are incompatible – will they ever recommend security measures that will stop their own ability to spy?

We note that the text of Una Jagose’s speech could now be requested under the Official Information Act and there would be no security grounds to refuse it.

Doesn’t Stop the Spies want more openness from the GCSB?

We want the GCSB to be closed down.

We don’t think that New Zealand should be spying on our neighbours on behalf of the Five Eyes. We support New Zealand having an independent foreign policy and acting with decency and respect towards friendly nations in the Pacific, South America and Asia.

The GCSB has no democratic mandate, nor does the Five Eyes treaty. The treaty has never been debated in Parliament, and the formation of the GCSB was conducted entirely in secret. The committee that “overseas” the work of the GCSB is not a Parliamentary select committee, but rather a special committee under the control of the Prime Minister – and even that committee has no right to know anything “operational” about the agency, effectively rendering any idea of oversight totally meaningless.

Even with significantly increased powers of oversight, we do not believe that this agency can be meaningfully held to account since those who would be doing the oversight would, by the very nature of the security-clearance required, be someone already part of the security structure.

Isn’t it good that the Privacy Commissioner is helping the GCSB be more open?

The Privacy Commissioner has an important role in New Zealand society. However, it is important that the Commissioner should not only be independent but be seen to be independent.

Organising this talk, alongside the recent public statements by the Privacy Commissioner in favour of the agencies, seems to show that the Commissioner has been captured by some of the agencies he should be providing oversight of. The Privacy Commission is legitimising a spy agency whose primary goal is diametrically opposed to the idea of people being able to keep their personal information private.

The Privacy Commissioner should be asking some hard questions of the GCSB in light of all of the information that we know about both targeted surveillance of New Zealanders, and mass surveillance. The Privacy Commissioner should be the country’s staunchest defender of personal privacy against intrusions by any and all government and private agencies.