Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Intelligence merge not new

In all but name the Intelligence Review recommended a merge of the key NZ intelligence agencies. The proposal put forward by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy was to consolidate legislation governing the GCSB and NZSIS into one Act.

This idea is not new. In 2009 there was talk of merging the intelligence agencies. A Treasury official's notebook had been found in central Wellington and in the pages were notes about a merge. At the time John Key confirmed a merge of the intelligence agencies was an option, “I drove the decision to have a look (at how they operate) because there is quite a bit of crossover.” Value for money was also an issue he said. (The Murdoch Report was the result of this review)

Dollar value is a driving force and has already seen the building of the one-stop intelligence building, Pipitea House, in downtown Wellington. Now we will also see the agencies in a one-stop shop legal merge. One law to rule all.

The GCSB and NZSIS operating under a single comprehensive Act would ensure the agencies have the same purpose, same processes, same functions, same powers, same over-sight and even the same single co-ordinator. All the modern surveillance tools could then be shared inter-agency; it would also save time and money consolidating the powers because intelligence is a costly business. The Murdoch Report forecast the aggregate cost at $123million by 2013 for the intelligence community. It was noted “it is worth considering this level of expenditure not just as a cost in budget terms but in the context of the annual 'subscription' paid by New Zealand to belong to the 5-Eyes community.” (The 2015 Budget had the cost at $140million.)

The 5-Eyes were mentioned by Cullen and Reddy in the Intelligence Review but only from the aspect of how 5-Eyes surveillance affected New Zealanders, there was no looking at the role of the 5-Eyes and why we should be part of it. In fact, Cullen and Reddy praised the Five Eyes as “by far New Zealand’s most valuable intelligence arrangement, giving us knowledge and capability far beyond what we could afford on our own.”

It is this 'knowledge and capability' that the Intelligence Review recommends be consolidated and shared inter-agency.

It could be pondered how much influence the 5-Eyes had on the Intelligence Review: days after its release James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, was in town It is also interesting that the week the Intelligence Review was being analysed by the Intelligence Select Committee, the head of the FBI was in Wellington.

The Intelligence Review could have been a chance to look at the role of surveillance in society and especially at New Zealand's role in the 5-Eyes. Instead we will have a consolidation of the intelligence agencies and an expansion of surveillance and data-sharing between all agencies and ultimately an embedding of our role in the 5-Eyes.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Surveillance Film Festival

Has the portrayal of surveillance in films caught up with us? 

Dystopian Big Brother films from the past show glimpses of a present reality. Spy films and the machinations of spy paraphernalia capture our imagination with fantastical technology. Stasi and Cold War intelligence policing methods shock and titillate people. But Edward Snowden’s revelations opened many eyes to the ubiquitous world of mass surveillance right here and now.

The Surveillance Film Festival is an opportunity to explore the portrayal of surveillance in films and documentaries and ponder the reality of surveillance in our lives today. 

Come and enjoy some films and see where the discussion takes us.

Venue: Thistle Hall, Upper Cuba, Wellington City 

Friday 25th March

- 6pm - Farenheit451 (112mins) – then onwards for after-film discussion and drinks at a local pub. 

Saturday 26th March 

- 11am - The Program (8mins) and ABC Secret Room (9mins) - Nicky Hager will be present for a talk after these two short films.
- 12.30pm -  Operation 8 (110mins)
- 3pm - Every Step You Take (65mins) - followed by a chat with Kathleen Kuehn about the ubiquitousness of surveillance
- 5.30pm - Maintenance of Silence (20mins) 
- 7pm - The Lives of Others (137mins) 
Film synopsis: 
Farenheit451 (1966) 112mins
In Bradbury’s dystopian future most people are mindless drones living for instant gratification, plugged into ear buds or watching screens. News is controlled in censored bites, deep-thinking and analysis don’t happen. War economy rules. Sound sort of familiar? But in Farenheit451 all books are banned, is that the only difference?

The Program and ABC News, Secret Room (2012 & 2008) William Binney and Mark Klein are names that should be familiar. They are whistleblowers who spoke about mass surveillance prior to Snowden’s revelations. The info was out there for us, but so many chose not to listen. Why didn’t we want to know about the surveillance then? Why are we already ignoring Snowden’s revelations? Operation 8: Deep in the Forest (2011) 110mins Eight years ago in October dawn raids woke many people, people were briefly jailed and allegations of terrorism were thrown about based on evidence gained by surveillance. This country has a long history of surveillance, see how it was used in this most public case to hinder and control people and think about what is happening now. Every Step You Take (2007) 65mins CCTV and face recognition are examples of surveillance to keep people safe. Ten years ago the technology shocked, now it is old. How quick does it all change and how accepting do we become? Maintenance of Silence (1985) 20mins Awareness of surveillance seemed to be more common a few decades ago. Tens of thousands protested against the expansion of police and SIS powers, later the Wanganui Computer was bombed. Then Neil Roberts left the quote from Junta Tuitiva of La Paz, ‘We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity’. What does our silence now resemble? The Lives of Others (2006) 137mins Surveillance and oppression on the other side of the iron curtain has been a favourite subject for a lot of films. But how different is that past from the future here?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Intelligence & security report a dream come true for the Five Eyes

The release of the Independent review of intelligence and security recommends a range of changes that are dangerous to ordinary people, both within NZ and elsewhere, and represents a massive concentration of state power.

The major recommendation is the consolidation of the two acts governing the GCSB and the SIS into a single law.  As Radio NZ reported, “A single piece of legislation would mean both agencies operated under the same objectives, functions and powers and warrant authorisation framework.” This is deeply problematic.

It must be understood at the outset that both GCSB and the SIS are essentially political police: they exist to identify threats to the New Zealand state, essentially “national security.” These agencies do not exist to root out criminal activity, that is the job of the Police. And, although in 2013, the GCSB was given the power to assist police with any matter, it is not an objective of that organisation (or the SIS) to prevent, detect or prosecute criminal offending.  While the definition of criminal offences are spelled out quite clearly in law with identifiable components and evidentiary thresholds, threats to “national security” are at best vague and difficult to define. Even the Law Commission, an eminent body of NZ legal practitioners, struggled to explain what the national security is, noting “While the New Zealand courts have not yet been called upon to define national security, we expect that they will also face difficulties in pinning down the concept although there are varying definitions in use.” (National Security Information in Proceedings,_ p.14).

Historically, the GCSB and the SIS have been organisations with quite different functions within the ambit of political policing. The SIS has been responsible for internal security, monitoring Maori, political dissidents, refugee and migrant populations,  and extremist groups. The GCSB, on the other hand, is entirely a child of the US National Security Agency, is New Zealand’s contribution to the Five Eyes Network, and until relatively recently, worked on external signals intelligence (satellite, radio and internet).

Now, however, the argument goes, because of the global reach of the internet, the lines that existed between internal and external no longer matter. Thus, rationalising the two agencies into one makes sense. This reasoning dovetails nicely into the review’s recommendation that  the current restriction on the GCSB to intercept the private communications of New Zealanders for its intelligence function be removed. The enormous powers of the GCSB can then be unleashed to capture all electronic communications freed of the restrictions on nationality, legalising all of the programmes that Edward Snowden told us were happening (XKeyscore, Prism, etc), but which the government has consistently denied for the past three years. These capabilities can be coupled with that of the SIS who can now install a video camera in your home for up to 24 hours with no warrant to provide “total information awareness”.

Michael Cullen’s ridiculous argument that the GCSB needs to spy on New Zealanders to protect them, providing the example of how hamstrung the GCSB would be should someone be lost at sea ignores the fact that the GCSB can already provide any assistance to the Police (with no thresholds whatsoever about what the Police are doing). And it is most likely that the Police would be the agency leading any missing person investigation. Cullen’s example demonstrates either a stunning lack of knowledge of the GCSB’s current powers or a desire to promulgate false examples of how such additional powers would be used. In either case, this person should not be leading a so-called “Independent review.”

After all, we should ask, just exactly how many New Zealanders lives have been protected by the GCSB/SIS ability to spy on them already? We have no evidence of any people being brought to justice for attempts to undermine national security – and surely if there was evidence of such offences, they would be followed up by both police and the courts. One New Zealander whose life was most definitely not protected by the GCSB’s ability to spy on him was Daryl Jones, a NZ citizen killed in a US drone attack in Yemen. He was subject to an intelligence warrant (we must assume a GCSB interception warrant as it is the agency with such capability) that provided the NSA with at least some data about him. Whatever your view about Daryl Jones, he was not an existential threat to New Zealand (or the US for that matter) nor did he receive any due process of law (e.g. he was never brought before any court or accused of any crime).  So the evidence we actually do have is of these agencies violating the rights of New Zealanders, not protecting them. There is a list of other violations of rights regarding both agencies that have been well canvassed in the media.

The recommendation that existing laws were “inconsistent, and a lack of clarity meant both the agencies and their oversight bodies were at times uncertain about what the law does or does not permit, which makes it difficult to ensure compliance" also beggar’s belief. The GCSB law was totally overhauled in 2013, the SIS Act has been amended a half a dozen times since 2007 – and somehow at none of these points were the “inconsistencies and lack of clarity” identified and cleared up? In fact, clarity was a major issue in the GCSB Act of 2013 debate: people could see that the law allowed the agency to spy on them in a way that had previously been unlawful. The idea that the GCSB interpretation of its law makes it "risk-averse" as the review notes, (in other words, unwilling to spy on people they aren’t sure they are allowed to) is a GOOD thing that should be applauded not something that needs to be amended to widen its scope even further.

Curiously, the government is hot-footing it to change the law to eliminate this “lack of clarity” but no such urgency has been extended to the Solicitor-General’s 2007 view that the Terrorism Suppression Act was “unnecessarily complex, incoherent…and almost impossible to apply to a domestic situation’”. Rather it seems the government wants clarity to spy but not clarity on the reasons for its spying.

One final note is the commentary about the need for “bipartisan” support for intelligence law changes, such support ostensibly giving legitimacy to, and public confidence in, these agencies. But from their start, these agencies have been shrouded in secrecy and half-truths (if not outright lies). The public is hardly able to make an “informed decision” under these circumstances. What the public does know, however, has given rise to significant public unease – and that unease is not something new. In 1977, tens of thousands marched against the expansion of the SIS. In 2013, such demonstrations were repeated. These agencies act in the shadows and as such, most New Zealanders are unaware of what they are doing. It is not that they are unconcerned, but rather that other things are more obviously of urgent pressing concern: health, education, welfare and work. But when the realities of these agencies are exposed, it takes little for the public opposition to be mobilised. It is unlikely that this would ever be a make or break election issue, but that doesn’t mean that people in New Zealand consent to these agencies or to these powers, or that cross-party support gives them any legitimacy with ordinary people.

[This article was first published on indymedia]

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Intelligence & Security Review Public Soon

The far from independent Intelligence Review was tabled before the government on Monday, 29th February. John Key has announced that he wants it made public before March 11th and it will not be redacted.

It will not be redacted as it will only be big picture stuff. There will probably be the usual calls that the GCSB and the SIS must follow the law, that they must be more transparent and should work more closely together.

There may be an increase in the role of the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre). In one of her last public talks as acting director of GCSB, Una Jagose spoke about the importance of that group and increasing links between the corporate and intelligence world.

The Review will also bring law changes. A recently released 2014 'top-secret' briefing said law changes were the aim.

And the Review is to make recommendations on the life-span of the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill.

Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy, the two reviewers, cannot be relied upon for any independent insight. Cullen is a former member of the Intelligence and Security Committee and Reddy is a flaunted state-sector lawyer and member of many boards. A scathing editorial by the Dominion Post condemned the reviewers as 'not equipped for the task.'

The Review's frame of reference is narrow and superficial and the official submission form was prescriptive and leading. Nicky Hager described it as 'a primary school level questionnaire' by people who 'treat the public as children.'
The results of the Intelligence Review are feared because the Review assumes the necessity and legitimacy of the GCSB and SIS. It will not question their purpose or practice.

Consider what has come to light in only the last decade about those agencies: declassified SIS files show that children as young as ten were spied on and the fall-out from the Dotcom raid revealed the GCSB spied illegally on 88 New Zealanders.

More recently there's been information leaked by Edward Snowden. The Five-Eyes and surveillance programmes such as PRISM have become public.
A PR-blitz has been the government response and the Intelligence Review will be the icing on the cake. It will strengthen surveillance powers to make us safer.
But safer from whom? The history of surveillance can explain.

Intelligence policing was developed to ensure the ‘preservation of the political regime’. Many countries practised surveillance at the time of the French Revolution. At one time every item of mail going to, travelling through, or coming from France was purported to be opened. People employed to deliver mail obligingly helped. A diplomat at the time wrote, 'every word can be interpreted in a bad sense; paper is nowadays an evil treasure, at any moment it may become a red-hot coal'.

Over time the role of surveillance has barely changed, what has is the technology. Taps into fibre optic cables are now the equivalent of letter openers. Ex-GCSB director Bruce Ferguson explained what the GCSB does is '...sort of like whitebaiting and trying to catch one whitebait, you can't do it and within the net you'll get all sorts of other things - it's a mass collection.'

In Europe letters were monitored, the equivalent now is the TICS (Telecommunication Interceptions Capability and Security) Act. Interception capability is built into the servers and networks. The GCSB have the power to surveil all NZ digital traffic.

PRISM and back-door access mean Five-Eyes agencies, of which the GCSB is one, have access into the corporate world. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype and Facebook collect huge amounts of personal data and intelligence agencies have access to it.

But the Five-Eyes do even more extreme surveillance, including espionage, sabotage and dirty politics.

Over the decades some surveillance scandals have become known: Margaret Thatcher used Five-Eyes to spy on two MPs, Kissinger used Five-Eyes to discredit a political opponent, the Five-Eyes monitored the European Airbus company to ensure US companies got the deal.

Snowden revealed actual dirty politic programmes: WARPATH, a programme for 'mass delivery of SMS messages to support an Information Operations campaign', similar to BADGER, a 'Mass delivery of email messaging to support an Information Operations campaign'.

UNDERPASS, used to 'Change outcome of online polls' and GATEWAY, the 'Ability to artificially increase traffic to a website'. Also SLIPSTREAM, the 'ability to inflate page views on websites', GESTATOR, an 'Amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube)'.
There is CHANGELING, the 'Ability to spoof any email address and send email under that identity'. There is also PREDATORS FACE, the 'Targeted Denial Of Service against Web Servers' and ROLLING THUNDER, the 'Distributed denial of service using P2P' or WILLOWVIXEN, a programme to 'deploy malware by sending out emails that trick targets into clicking a malicious link'.

There are many more programmes, including honey-traps to 'destroy, deny, degrade and disrupt' targeted people.

As the 18th Century Europeans knew, spying is about social control. And that is what the NZ Intelligence Community is involved in.

Information leaked by Snowden confirms that the GCSB spies on Pacific countries and everyone residing, passing through or holidaying in that area. They also spy on numerous other countries, including Vietnam, China, Mexico, South Korea, Iran and Bangladesh. The NSA describes the GCSB as the 'lead agency' spying on Bangladesh.

The GCSB spied on Tim Groser's rivals for the position of director-general of the WTO.

Information given by the GCSB is used in drone strikes.

It is not only the GCSB though, the SIS cannot be ignored. Released files prove the SIS spies on political dissidents, groups, children and vulnerable refugee communities. The SIS also use dirty tactics, for instance they were caught breaking into Aziz Choudry's home in 1996.

In 2014 the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security investigated and upheld allegations that John Key's office had used information from the SIS to gain a political advantage in the 2011 general election.

Surveillance is a threat to democracy.

If we want a safe world, we need to question the purpose of surveillance.
But the role of surveillance and our intelligence agencies will only be glossed over by the Intelligence Review. Michael Cullen and Patsy Reddy are consummate insiders and their recommendations will be pre-ordained by the terms of reference and the official public submission forms.

In the coming weeks we will hear more fearmongering rhetoric about Jihadi brides and terror attacks. But rather than being fearful of Jihadists, terrorism, or for that matter burglars, we should be fearful of where the Five-Eyes and surveillance is taking us.