Key’s ‘Speargun’ claims questioned

Documents obtained by NZ Herald under the Official Information Act suggest that claims made by Prime Minister John Key about the Speargun surveillance project may not have been accurate.

NZH: John Key, mass surveillance and what really happened when Edward Snowden accused him of spying

Sir John Key’s story of how and why he canned a “mass surveillance” programme are at odds with official papers detailing development of the “Speargun” project.

The issue blew up in the final days of the 2014 election with Key claiming the programme was long-dead and had been replaced by a benign cyber-security system called Cortex.

Key always claimed the Speargun project to tap New Zealand’s internet cable was stopped in March 2013.

But new documents show development of Speargun continued after the time he had said he ordered a halt – apparently because the scheme was “too broad”.

The NZ Herald has found – after three years of refusals and information going missing – that the former Prime Minister’s version of events doesn’t match that of documents created at the time.

The plan to develop Speargun began in April 2012 under the guise of “Initiative 7418” when Cabinet asked the GCSB to develop an advanced cyber protection strategy.

The GCSB has confirmed to the Herald that a warrant was sought and granted for “Phase 1” of Speargun between July 2012 and June 2013.

GCSB director Andrew Hampton said in one response: “This warrant was sought to ensure GCSB would be able to undertake any preliminary work as part of the business case Cabinet asked GCSB to prepare.”

Details released through the OIA show there was a meeting with the GCSB over Speargun in March 2013.

This was the point at which Key claims Speargun was canned with a press release issued between the Snowden claim and election day saying: “March 2013: PM tells GCSB not to bring business case forward. Informs GCSB it is too broad. Budget contingency funding will be rolled over and used for something else in cyber security.”

But new GCSB documents tell a different story, backed up by documents from the Prime Minister’s office.

It is a detailed investigative article by David Fisher, with a number of source documents included.