It was good to be part of the protest outside the Waihopai spybase on Saturday. It is a bit out of the way, so the numbers involved are never that large, but they do represent the concern of many New Zealanders that the presence of the base compromises the independence of New Zealand’s foreign policy.
Even the US Embassy in Wellington admits there would be greater concern if the public knew what was really going in its intelligence relations with New Zealand. In one despatch (disclosed by Wikileaks) the US Deputy Chief of Mission David Keegan says that [then] Prime Minister Helen Clark has “been willing to address [intelligence] targets of marginal benefit to New Zealand that could do her political harm if made public.” (2 March 2007).
As I said in my speech in Blenheim at the weekend, it is technically difficult for the New Zealand government to stop the United States using Waihopai to spy on who it wants, because Waihopai is part of a global integrated system – into which the United States puts in whatever key word combinations and phone numbers it wants. As the US Embassy admits in another Wikileaks document, the sending of such intelligence gathered by the GCSB at Waihopai is “automated”. (US Charge d’Affairs David Burnett, 22 September 2005).
A major downside of Waihopai is that the US will be using information gathered at Waihopai for its foreign policy purposes, which are often at odds with New Zealands. If New Zealand wants good relations with all governments in the Asia/Pacific region it isn’t good to be spying on them at the behest of the United States – which is what happens at Waihopai. Thirdly, global spying on international communications is part of a larger privacy problem, whereby huge amounts of personal information is put on databases, and can be used for prejudicial purposes. Just last week British Green MP Caroline Lucas was reported to be on a domestic database of people the UK Police consider dangerous.