28 Feb 2014

Spy agency dirty trick claims dismissed

12:55 pm on 28 February 2014

The former head of the Government Communications Security Bureau says claims about possible dirty tactics by New Zealand's intelligence agencies and speculation this country spies on its trading partners give the agencies too much credit for their capabilities.

GCSB listening station at Waihopai in Marlborough.

GCSB listening station at Waihopai in Marlborough. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The American journalist who broke the story of US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has released documents on tactics given to member countries of the Five Eyes intelligence network - Australia, Britain, the US, Canada and New Zealand.

The documents released by Glenn Greenwald show how spy agencies can discredit targets by setting honey traps, writing fake blogs and contacting the target's colleagues, neighbours and friends.

And intelligence and policy analyst Paul Buchanan from consultancy 36th-Parallel says seriously damaging reports about New Zealand's spying on trading partners may be revealed as soon as next month.

Former GCSB head Sir Bruce Ferguson told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report it would be naive to suggest that the Russian or Chinese spy agencies were not using tactics such as electronic intercepts and viruses.

However, during his time at the GCSB he was unaware of any illegal activities and would be very surprised to learn they had occurrred.

"I think people are giving the New Zealand agencies too much credit for their actual abilities," he said. "The capabilities that are being alluded to are not within New Zealand's gambit."

Sir Bruce says that if New Zealand's intelligence agencies have learned such tactics, they may have done so to help them deflect cyber attacks against New Zealand. However, he says he would be very surprised if future Snowden revelations indicate New Zealand has been engaged in anything illegal.

Diplomatic backlash 'likely'

Dr Buchanan, a former US Defense Department employee, says Edward Snowden may soon reveal the GCSB tapped into trading partners such as Japan and Indonesia.

He says by sharing intelligence with the other Five Eyes members, New Zealand would have benefited during trade negotiations. "They have a very distinctive advantage in approaching negotiations with those other states," Dr Buchanan says, "and needless to say if that is revealed then we could pretty well expect that New Zealand will suffer a diplomatic backlash as a result."

He says the Snowden revelations so far have shown that all Five Eyes members except New Zealand have taken part in espionage in order to gain economic advantage.