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Complicit Kiwis sniffed Pacific comms says Snowden


New Zealand snooped on friendly Pacific island nations' communications to hand the haul to the NSA, according to the latest nugget to pop out of Edward Snowden's PR machine.

Snowden newsletter The Intercept has shared its latest drop with the New Zealand Herald, saying in 2009 the country's Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was moving to “full-take collection” for the satellite links that were and are some island nations' main connection to the Internet.

The collection took place at the Waihopai base, where the GCSB maintains a satellite listening-post.

That's pretty much the meat of the latest release.

Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, Samoa, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and French Polynesia are all named in the Snowden Gazette. While some are distant from the land of the long white cloud, New Zealand has a de facto role as a hub for Pacific nations.

Some of these have submarine cables planned, but not yet built: the Solomons and Vanuatu are waiting for ICN2 in 2016, for example. Others like New Caledonia (via Gondwana-1) and American Samoa (ASH) have cables that don't terminate in New Zealand.

This, apparently, worried the GCSB spooks, since the NZ Herald reckons the Kiwi 007s tracked the Alcatel ship Ile De Re in 2009 as it laid a cable connecting Samoa and American Samoa to Hawaii.

Here's an excerpt from the leaked document:

“On 30 March 2009, cable laying ship ILE DE RE completed a month-long cable-laying operation near Samoa … The work appears to have been completed successfully and provides the two Samoas with shared connectivity to the rest of the world of 1 Gbps, an approximate 40-fold increase in capacity.”

Apart from concluding with a complaint that “SIGINT has lost access to Samoan bearers”, the document demonstrates only that the spooks could manage an accurate summary of contemporary news. Here's what a report from the then-Pacific Islands Development Project in April 2009 had to say:

“The final phase to connect Samoa to the new submarine fibre optic system has begun, it was announced yesterday … While ASH Cable and SAS Cable are much smaller than the gargantuan systems across the North Pacific, they will provide more than 40 times the capacity currently in use in both island groups combined.”

In 2009, NSA engineers visited to help the GCSB upgrade the XKEYSCORE suite at Waihopai, the documents report.

The Waihopai base was the target of an attack in 2008, when protesters used sickles to deflate one of the base's domes. They were acquitted by a jury in 2010. Hence the accompanying image to this story, by Derek Flynn of the Marlborough Express. ®

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