When New Zealand police raided Kim Dotcom’s mansion on Friday 20 January they were being watched by one of their colleagues 14,000km away in Washington D.C. — courtesy of GCSB-TV.
Detective Superintendent Mike Pannett, the New Zealand Police Liaison Officer in the United States, monitored “termination activities” against Dotcom’s Megaupload operations in nine countries from the FBI’s Multi-Agency Command Centre. Created by the FBI’s Law Enforcement Online (LEO) network in 2002, the Virtual Command Centre (VCC) enables enforcement agencies to post, track and spread information in a quick, secure environment.
Fed from multiple inputs in the field, the VCC exists on a secure system for any designated audience members online, the same technology that delivered video of Osama bin Laden’s assassination in Abbottabad to screens watched by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the White House.
The GCSB’s value to police in the Dotcom raid was its expertise in managing top-secret data feeds so that New Zealand, at the centre of the FBI’s global move against Dotcom only because he chose to live here, could hold its own in the international law enforcement community.
“Feedback on the New Zealand operation has been extremely positive from our international law enforcement partners including the FBI and the US Department of Justice,” Mr Pannett reported in the February Police online magazine, TenOne.
Back in Auckland, Detective Inspector Grant Wormald, who led the five-member task force for the Organised and Financial Crime Agency (OFCANZ) which began planning the operation in September 2011, said: “Our police already have a good reputation for being competent and capable. This operation reinforced our long-standing relationships with international law enforcement agencies.”
Mr Wormald was to see that reputation start to unravel when, testifying under oath in the judicial review of the raid in the Auckland High Court on Friday 10 August, he was forced to admit the existence of a video feed of the raid from inside the mansion.
While confirming that the video feed had been monitored at the raid’s command centre on the North Shore, he was not prepared to discuss where it was coming from.
He had previously admitted the involvement of “a secret government organisation” which he could not name but was obviously one of several specialist groups “who contributed their expertise before and during the termination phase.”
They included the Crown Law Office and the office of the Solicitor-General, according to a press release from the US Justice Department. Issued by the department’s office of public affairs on the day of the raid, it describes the move against Dotcom as being “among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States.”
The department reported the arrest of seven individuals including Dotcom and Bram van der Kolk in Auckland on an indictment clearly listing their status as New Zealand residents. Dotcom is described as a resident of both Hong Kong and New Zealand with van der Kolk having dual residency in the Netherlands.
The indictment alleges they conducted an illegal operation “using a business model expressly designed to promote uploading of the most popular copyrighted works for many millions of users to download.”
While earning more than $US175 million in “illegal” profits off advertising revenue and premium membership fees while causing an estimated “harm” of US$500 million to copyright holders — movie studios and television networks.
They are represented in this country by the New Zealand Federation Against Copyright Theft (NZFACT), established in 2005 by the Motion Picture Association, the umbrella lobby for all major movie studios including Warner Bros.
According to its website: “NZFACT works closely with its members, government and enforcement authorities to protect the New Zealand film and television industry, retailers and movie fans.”
Its executive director, Tony Eaton, is a former police prosecutor. In support of its claim to be a major contributor to the national economy, NZFACT recently commissioned PWC to compile figures showing that movies and television generated more than $3.23 billion last year — up there with the wine industry.
Politically, Hollywood has become as important as Washington in New Zealand’s relationship with the United States under John Key’s governments. After sending Crown limos to collect Warner Bros executives from Wellington airport in October 2010, the government gave them tax breaks and changed immigration and employment law to assist production of The Hobbit. Mr Key had dinner with Warner Bros executives in Los Angeles the following July. Now he’s off to talk to studio bosses again although, this time, there is no way that Kim Dotcom’s name won’t crop up in conversation.
As the movie industry’s most wanted man, it’s hard to believe that his presence in New Zealand did not come up in the movie moguls earlier meetings with the prime minister.
He insists he had not heard about Dotcom until January 19 — the day before the “termination” action which Time Magazine described as a “Hollywood-style police raid” with “all the makings of a movie.”
Now securely encrypted on DVD and on strictly limited release, it’s one movie that won’t be readily available from Megaupload.