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Challenging PM's assurances over Echelon

Speech in Parliament's General Debate, Wednesday, March 1, 3.55pm.

Challenging Prime Minister's assurances over Echelon.

Keith Locke MP

Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson

Over the past two weeks there has been massive media interest, particularly in Europe, around allegations that the Echelon electronic spy network, of which New Zealand's Waihopai station is a part, is engaged in commercial espionage.

Evidence has been produced that private faxes, phone calls and emails from big firms in Europe, Japan and elsewhere are being intercepted, and the information from them is being fed to major firms in the Echelon-participating nations - America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - thus giving those firms a competitive economic advantage.

The Prime Minister told the House last Wednesday that she had received "assurances from intelligence partners" (that is, those in Echelon) that information from Waihopai is not used for commercial purposes.

I don't believe we can simply trust these "partners", particularly the central partner, the US National Security Agency, when American intelligence agencies have a long history of deception.

We have to balance these "assurances" with an actual examination of the evidence, which is what the European Parliament is currently doing. I want the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee, or which I am a member, to also study the allegations.

New Zealanders are alarmed about them. The Waikato Times editor (February 25 issue) is critical, saying that if New Zealand did get out of Echelon it would "pacify this country's European markets".

The reality is that New Zealand exporting is being damaged by Waihopai. As a small trading nation, we rely on goodwill from European governments on improving trading access to that continent, and we rely on goodwill from European consumers.

That goodwill is definitely being undermined when you have the Belgian Foreign Minister, Louis Michel, in the February 24 Washington Post attacking the Echelon countries for "large scale espionage operations in order to reinforce their economic interests to the detriment of Belgium and other European countries."

A lot of people mistakenly think Waihopai has something to do with tracking criminals: particularly terrorists and drug-dealers. It's of virtually zero use in this regard. Echelon sifts through a mountain of electronic messages using key words and key phone numbers. Every half-competent terrorist and drug-dealer on the globe gets round the whole system by using common-word synonyms in messages, and through using public or untargetted phones.

Echelon is only useful to trap communications from legitimate institutions like companies and governments.

And that's where we have evidence it is being used.

Much of the recent European attention has focussed on the evidence that Echelon blocked a $US6 billion contract between the European Airbus consortium and the Saudi national airline by alerting the Saudis that Airbus agents had offered bribes. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas won the contract. Also mentioned was that the National Security Agency had helped secure a $US1.3 billion surveillance system contract for the US Raytheon firm after alleging that Thomson-CSF of France was bribing Brazilian officials.

This activity would actually be legal under the US National Security Agency guidelines, as outlined in part 2.3 of Executive Order 12333, as provided to congress this month. This order allows for even "incidentally acquired information" which "violates foreign laws" may be "retain[ed] and disseminate[d]. [emphasis added]

When $US6 billion dollars is at stake there would be a pretty big temptation to pass on "incidentally acquired" intelligence to US firms.

The evidence for economic spying is coming out repeatedly, with more incidences that I can cover here, and from a range of sources, including former National Security Agency employees, like Wayne Madson; as well as a former employee of the Canadian Echelon agency, Mike Frost.

Clearly, there is a strong case for Waihopai to be closed down. What is the government's counter-case for it to be kept open? No longer will we be fobbed off with generalities, or "we can't tell you, it's secret".

We need a broad review of intelligence gathering in New Zealand, particularly focussing on the use or misuse of Waihopai.

Twenty million dollars annually is being wasted on the Government Communications Security Bureau, the same as we're spending on the whole of Radio New Zealand. Except that Radio New Zealand enriches our nation, while the GCSB and Waihopai appear to be undermining our nation's international credibility.

ENDS

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