How the GCSB ‘spied’ on New Zealanders

Rare details on how the GCSB ‘spied’ on New Zealanders given by former GCSB director Sir Bruce Ferguson.

Stuff report on his comments to a Nethui panel discussion on the scope of domestic “spying”:

In a surprisingly candid speech to the internet forum NetHui in Wellington yesterday, Sir Bruce also lifted the lid on how the GCSB believed it could get away with spying on New Zealanders for so many years, despite legislation specifically banning it from doing so.

He confirmed that about 50 of the 88 cases identified in an inquiry earlier this year as potentially breaking the law against spying on New Zealanders had happened under his watch.

“I received a warrant signed and duly checked by the inspector of warrants and the head of either the police or Security Intelligence Service and the boss [the prime minister]. It comes to me and it asks specifically for help from the GCSB to spy on a specific target . . . they have to convince me in that warrant the reason why they’re doing that and that means they have to show they have reason to believe that person is acting against the security of the state.

“They then have to ask by name for the people in GCSB who may be able to help them – the specific specialist by name. I then sign a warrant or agreement in that warrant to second those individuals. I second them to the asking authority, be it the SIS or the police. So I’ve now seconded them, as far as I was aware, to that organisation.

“They go across there, they do what is required by the SIS or the police and they finally finish the task and come back. At no stage . . . was I ever aware or made aware of the outcome. That wasn’t my business.”

David Farrar at Kiwiblog commented on this in GCSB details:

I regard this as a pretty significant revelation, for two reasons. The first is that most of the cases we have heard about do not seem to involve the GCSB itself intercepting communications. It involves a GCSB employee effectively being seconded to another agency to assist them.

The second interesting thing is that the GCSB doesn’t retain any data from those cases. The staffer helps the other agency do their job, but doesn’t report back – so hence there are no GCSB files with data from NZers. They remain with the SIS or Police.

It’s certainly interesting and will be a revelation to many people, but Davidp responded:

It isn’t a revelation. It’s been pretty obvious all along that GCSB were only supplying technical resource to other agencies. In the Dotcom case this resource seems to have been a cell phone detector and a guy to run it.

The media, Norman, and Shearer are banging on about GCSB “spying on NZers” for political reasons, and because it allows them to piggyback this on the stories coming out of the US. To them, the Dotcom case is the whole reason for GCSB’s existence which is why they can’t understand why the PM wasn’t briefed beforehand, and why Fletcher wasn’t briefed on the case when he joined the agency.

It’s like the Air Force loaning a helicopter to the Police so they can look for some pot growing in a forest. No big deal. Not “the air force declaring war on NZers”. And neither the PM or an incoming Chief of the Defence Force would be briefed on the name of the pot grower.

Having said that, the government has brought some of this on itself by continuing to combine signals intelligence with cybersecurity. There is no synergy there.

An intelligence agency shouldn’t have any influence over the design or implementation of telecom networks in NZ. A cybersecurity agency should be open and engaged with stakeholders. Spooks and IT security people have completely different cultures.

These are different functions and shouldn’t be thrown together in the same agency.

The degree of separation of functions is one of the biggest issues to resolve with the GCSB Amendment Bill.

Davidp added:

The bits of the Bill that allow GCSB to re-design bits of the country’s telecom infrastructure are bad on a few levels. Firstly, companies like Telecom NZ have large teams of competent well-paid engineers that know how to build robust networks.

GCSB don’t. Especially the “well-paid” bit… they advertise on Seek and pay a pittence. I really can’t imagine them actually making any real improvements. Secondly, people are going to be suspicious that their security “improvements” are actually allowing them to insert monitoring equipment in to the network.

I don’t have a problem with government placing minimum security standards on to infrastructure companies. We require water companies to provide clean water and electricity companies to produce electricity at 240v.

Nothing wrong with telcos being required to build a resilient network. But standard-setting a job for a normal government department or for an industry regulator, not a secret intelligence agency.

Secret services need more oversight

Both the GCSB interviews on The Nation this morning were very good. Sir Bruce Ferguson stayed out of the political mire and made well informed points. Lawyer Mai Chen was also a very good addition to the GCSB debate.

We can’t have a public inquiry of everything about the secret services as Labour wants, that would be ludicrous.

But as Ferguson accepts and Mai Chen strongly advocates, we need much stronger oversight, which means substantially improving the resources of the main means of oversight, the Inspector-General.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is charged by an Act of Parliament to assist the Minister responsible for a security and intelligence agency (traditionally the Prime Minister) in the oversight and review of that agency. In particular, the Inspector-General ensures that the activities of each agency comply with the law and that any complaints about an agency are independently investigated.

The Inspector-General is appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister following consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.

The current Inspector-General is the Hon Paul Neazor.

Mai Chen said the Inspector-General was a part time position with an annual budget of $130,000 – that needs seriously beefing up.

Sir Bruce Ferguson’s distaste for scrutiny and Key

Remarkable comments from Sir Bruce Ferguson via Barry Soper’s political report:

One person who found it hard to disguise his distaste of his former
political boss is the super spy who served under the State Homie for his
first two years in office.

Sir Bruce Ferguson told me he’s sick of public servants being slam
dunked by politicians, knowing they have no right of reply. Now that
he’s retired, he’s exercising it saying Key had little interest in the
GCSB, in fact he was disinterested unlike his predecessor Head Girl
Helen who crossed every T and ticked every i, right down to giving him
marks out of ten for his reports and even writing on one that he could
do better.

But Sir Bruce says there are many politicians that make you feel like
washing your hand after shaking theirs. He was asked whether than
included the current PM and he said he respected the office but stopped
short of saying the same for the man.


Ouch indeed, seems like someone’s pride is hurting. It’s remarkable for an ex spy chief to be so outspoken.

But this further highlights how much Ferguson is upset at the current scrutiny of the GCSB – which of course involves scrutiny of his directorship there.

And it’s not hard to see how much Ferguson favours Helen Clark (who selected him to head the CSB in 2006) and either loathes or fears JohnKey.

Ian Fletcher’s past

Amongst the political hubris surrounding the “shoulder tap” appointment of Ian Fletcher to the GCSB some research and analysis is starting to emerge. David Fisher at NZ Herald is claimed in some circles as a shrill for the left but he has written what seems to be a reasonably balanced report on Fletcher’s past.

He summarises Ian Fletcher’s past experience in Spy who came in from the heat:

Ian Fletcher

* Earned a history degree while studying Arabic, living in Syria briefly and London during his tertiary education.

* Started out as a diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before returning to Britain in 1989 to work at the Monopolies & Mergers Commission.

* Investigated for contempt of Queensland Parliament at time hired for job as GCSB head.

* Investigation came after leaked emails contradicted his evidence to a parliamentary committee. The complaint went no further after Mr Fletcher made a correction to the parliamentary record.

* Mr Fletcher was privy to “extremely sensitive” documents forecasting march to Iraq War in his previous British role as principal private secretary to Sir Andrew Turnbull, the incoming Cabinet secretary and Britain’s most powerful civil servant.

* Saw military planning and advice stating “US military planning is in full swing” eight months before invasion.

He also addresses the debate over the need for a military background in the GCSB:

Mr Fletcher’s lack of military experience was highlighted by former NZ Defence Force boss and GCSB director Sir Bruce Ferguson.

Former Security Intelligence Service director Don McIvor said a lack of military experience was no bar to leading an intelligence agency. He said his eight-year tenure at the SIS was followed by the appointment of career diplomat Richard Woods.

Fletcher’s background indicates a reasonable breadth and depth of experience. The article also explores other issues:

States Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said Mr Fletcher was hired at a time when “we were beginning to get some insight into significant management issues which needed to be addressed within GCSB”.

And Mr Key said the review of the GCSB by Cabinet secretary Rebecca Kitteridge would show “major issues that need to be rectified. They were issues that were there under Mr Ferguson and others. That shows you that just having a military background hasn’t delivered the robustness of that organisation that New Zealanders would expect.”

There are suggestions that the Grant Robertson led Labour campaign on Fletcher’s appointment may be trying to pre-empt the Kitteridge report. The timing is certainly interesting, especially with David Shearer’s announcement on Q + A that Labour would have a spy inquiry:

There is a real problem in New Zealand now with the confidence that we have in our intelligence agencies, and if I was coming into office, I would have a full independent inquiry into our intelligence agencies to restore that confidence, because if we don’t do that we will not be able to hold ourselves up as the transparent nation that we are.

Labour followed up with a press release: Labour to Review Intelligence Agencies

It’s difficult to know how much of this is Labour genuinely trying to hold John Key, the Government and our spy agencies to account compared trying to score political hits, and whether Labour are trying to avoid scrutiny of their past GCSB appointment.

According to a report on comments from John Tamihere on Radio Live:

JT who was in cabinet says yes Ferguson was Helen Clark’s man and was shoulder tapped (which he says during the interview) then that’s pretty good evidence right there

This is backed by Clair Trevett at NZ Herald in John Key calls media ‘Knuckleheads’:

Mr Key accused Labour’s Grant Robertson of “low-rent politics” and claimed Helen Clark had also shoulder-tapped people to take on roles.

RadioLive host and former Labour MP John Tamihere agreed with him.

“Helen Clark went out there and shoulder-tapped people, said ‘you’re in the job’. I didn’t do that,” Mr Key said.

He did not provide examples, but senior sources have claimed Sir Bruce Ferguson was directly approached by Helen Clark to be Chief of Defence in 2001. Sir Bruce did not return calls yesterday, but the appointment had raised eyebrows because he was chosen over more senior personnel.

Now journalists are starting to look beyond the politically driven hubris we will get a better picture of what has been going on in GCSB, and how appropriate head of GCSB appointments have been (in particular of Ferguson and Fletcher).

“Low-rent politics” blowback – Robertson and Ferguson

Claire Trevett starts scrutinising Grant Robertson and Sir Bruce Ferguson.

Mr Key accused Labour’s Grant Robertson of “low-rent politics” and claimed Helen Clark had also shoulder-tapped people to take on roles.

RadioLive host and former Labour MP John Tamihere agreed with him.

“Helen Clark went out there and shoulder-tapped people, said ‘you’re in the job’. I didn’t do that,” Mr Key said.

He did not provide examples, but senior sources have claimed Sir Bruce Ferguson was directly approached by Helen Clark to be Chief of Defence in 2001. Sir Bruce did not return calls yesterday, but the appointment had raised eyebrows because he was chosen over more senior personnel.

I warned Grant Robertson a few days ago his attacks could come back to bite him on the bum (ignored of course, and Toby Manhire sneered at me). But the bite back may be starting to happen – and may haunt him should he become deputy PM or PM.

It was obvious Robertson’s hypocrisy could blow back in his face.

This also suggests the motives and loyalties of Sir Bruce Ferguson may become embarrassing for him.