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Gordon Campbell: the Greenwald/Snowden revelations aftermath

Gordon Campbell on the aftermath of the Greenwald/Snowden revelations

[See correction below. link]

The credibility issues have come down to two main ones:

1 The email. This has to do with whether Key knowingly agreed to use our immigration rules as a tool to ensnare and ultimately extradite Kim Dotcom, and do so largely at the behest of Hollywood’s leading corporates and their best friend in the White House, vice-President Joseph Biden. Some of the debate in the last few days has turned on the reliability of a Warners email that seems to set out this plan in black and white. IMO, the email is just the icing on the cake - given that the PM (at the same October 2011 meeting with Warners execs) had agreed to change our labour laws to their benefit. Meaning: the email is entirely consistent with a pattern of collusion.

To reject the email means siding with the alternative story that the PM has tried to peddle for so long: namely, that Key had never heard of Dotcom, and had never discussed him with Warners during their visit here in October 2011 - even though less than three months later, a joint FBI/Police/GCSB raid on Hollywood’s Public Enemy No 1 took place. Are we really supposed to believe that Dotcom’s presence, his future prospects and Hollywood’s related interest in extraditing him were NOT discussed at that meeting with Key? Of course they were. The email merely confirms what any sensible reading of the circumstantial evidence would indicate. Warners say the email is a fake. Of course they would.

Frankly, Key’s version of the sequence of events is far more implausible than the email. How come? Basically, Key overcooked his story, just like …. um some henchman in a B movie trying too hard to please the Boss. Even so, Dotcom’s failure last night to retrace the contextual evidence that supports the veracity of the email – much of it is contained in the White Paper co-written by Robert Amsterdam, who was sitting by him on the platform – seemed like a major own-goal.

2. Mass surveillance Earlier to day I was going to try to explain the difference between what Edward Snowden/Glenn Greenwald were talking about (ie mass surveillance via the the cable-accessing SPEARGUN programme and the Xkeyscore) analytical programme) and what Key has chosen to talk about instead in order to deliberately distract and confuse the public ( ie cyber protection via Cortex.) Then I found that Keith Ng had not only beaten me to it, but had done so with beautiful lucidity. You should read his whole post, but here’s the crucial part. Apologies to Keith for quoting so much of it. First we have the Snowden/ Greenwald documentation:

The new documents show that the GCSB had a cable access project underway, followed by another document that Phase 1 was "achieved". More crucially, he has a message showing:

(TS//SI//NF) New Zealand: GCSB's cable access program SPEARGUN Phase 1; awaiting new GCSB Act expected July 2013; first metadata probe mid 2013.

This shows that they had to wait for the GCSB Act to be passed before SPEARGUN could be used. i.e. The new GCSB Act - the one that supposedly wouldn't expand GCSB powers - expanded GCSB powers to allow them operate a metadata probe on the this cable which they'd tapped.

If this is false, John Key could simply say "SPEARGUN doesn't exist". If SPEARGUN never went anywhere, he could say that too.

Instead, what Key has done is release a bunch of documents about a programme called CORTEX. This was a plan to provide malware detection and disruption services to companies and ISPs.

Yet as Keith adds in block bold caps in the original : Cortex has nothing to do with SPEARGUN. What got stopped by Key – and which is the basis of his reassiurance to the New Zealand public – was to do with an entirely different issue. Again, Keith nails it :

SPEARGUN sits at the major highways of our network, extracting metadata from the traffic that goes through and sending it elsewhere. CORTEX sits at the driveway of businesses and ISPs, checking what goes in and out for signs of malware activity. The two are very different beasts.

The metadata probes that Greenwald refers to are used to covertly extract metadata. According to the Cabinet papers, CORTEX "will in all cases operate with the consent of the participating organisations". The programme described in Greenwald's documents is not CORTEX.

As many others have noted, there is a risible “we smoked, but we didn’t inhale” aspect to the story being promoted by Key and loyal support players such as former GCSB boss Bruce Ferguson. According to Fergusson on RNZ, the GCSB have trained on some of the tools of the mass surveillance trade, but were never actually deployed on them. Tui billboard time.

Ultimately, it is unfortunate that it took Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden to tell us more forcefully – with evidence – what people like Thomas Beagle of Tech Liberty were saying a year ago, at the time the legislation was going through : namely that the GCSB and TICSA legislation set up a system of mass surveillance and – in TICSA - invested sweeping and unchecked powers in the GCSB over our digital traffic. Snowden and Greenwald gave us the international dimension to this situation. Beagle and others have exposed the domestic end of the operation, and what our recent sly agency law changes now enable. Much of that work has been summarised and expanded on by Joy Liddicoat in this excellent, just published report. Beagle’s speech from last year is also still well worth re-reading, in the light of the Snowden/Greenwald revelations.

Does it all mean anything much this close to an election? Better before than later. Besides everything else, it is gratifying to have the self-touted “principles” of the centre right ( from National to Jamie Whyte) exposed so starkly by the events of the past few days. For all the talk about individual freedom, the claimed abhorrence of the Nanny State and the alleged enthusiasm for small government….the centre right has now been exposed as the obedient servant of an ever expanding Deep State. Like or loathe Kim Dotcom, we owe a debt of gratitude to him for dragging this aspect of our political life out into the daylight.

Footnote : it would entirely be in line with the dirty politics modus operandi of this government (and its henchmen) for Glenn Greenwald to be the subject of character assassination. It has happened elsewhere, last year. Yes, Greenwald once owned a very big dog. Yes, he did have once some overdue fines and liens, now resolved. Yes an LLC in which he had a part interest over ten years ago, did invest in among other things, a porn site. Greenwald pre-empted such attack last year in the Washington Post .

It included this observation:

When I made the choice to report aggressively on top-secret NSA programs, I knew that I would inevitably be the target of all sorts of personal attacks and smears. You don’t challenge the most powerful state on earth and expect to do so without being attacked. As a superb Guardian editorial noted today: “Those who leak official information will often be denounced, prosecuted or smeared. The more serious the leak, the fiercer the pursuit and the greater the punishment.”


Correction : the Hobbit meetings with Warners/alleged email were in October 2010, and the raid on the Dotcom mansion was NOT three months later, but in January 2012. The pattern I describe remains consistent and the presence of Dotcom in NZ would have been an issue for Warners at the time in 2010, regardless. The FBI Police raid was not however pending at the time of the Warners meetings. I apologise for my temporary confusion of the dates. It doesn’t change one iota the implausibility of the PM’s alleged ignorance of Dotcom’s existence until the verge of the January 2012 raid.

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