Prime Minister John Key said Edward Snowden ‘may well be right’ in his claims that the NSA has access to communications from New Zealand. The politician, however, said he ‘did not believe’ mass surveillance was taking place.
Key was interviewed in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations on Monday published by The Intercept, in which he claimed he “routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders” in his work with “a mass surveillance tool we [NSA] share with GCSB, called ‘XKeyscore’.”
Snowden was probably telling the truth, the prime minister told Radio New Zealand on Wednesday.
“I think the point he was making was, in that shared database, he said ‘I regularly came across information about New Zealanders’ … That may well be right,” he said.
When asked if he could rule out mass gathering of New Zealanders’ metadata by the NSA, the politician did not give a definitive answer.
“I don’t run the NSA any more than I run any other foreign intelligence agency,” New Zealand’s PM replied.
However, he said he was “comfortable” the NSA wasn’t engaged in mass surveillance of New Zealanders.
“Well I don’t believe they are. There’s a long-standing agreement that we don’t spy on each other. I’d be absolutely stunned if they were,” Mr Key said.
What Key resolutely denied was that the country’s intelligence – Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – could in any way be implicated in mass surveillance.
New Zealand’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, confirmed that in a statement she issued on Wednesday.
“I can advise that I have not identified any indiscriminate interception of New Zealanders’ data in my work to date,” she said. “I will continue to monitor these issues.”
Key said he was glad to have his position supported by someone “independent of the political process” and able to “see actually under the covers what’s really taken place.”
US journalist, Glenn Greenwald, is skeptical of watchdogs being able to achieve full transparency from spies.
“There is a very long tradition of the Five Eyes intelligence agencies hiding from the people who have oversight responsibilities what it is they are doing,” Greenwald told ONE News.
Greenwald is the one who first came up with the allegations of New Zealand’s intelligence snooping on the nation, as part of the so-called Five Eyes pact between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The claim has sparked bitter debate just before the country’s general election to be held on Saturday, September 20.
On Monday, Greenwald published documents on a mass surveillance program codenamed Speargun, which the New Zealand government worked on in 2012 and 2013. The papers were part of the NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden.
Key in turn declassified documents, which as he has claimed should prove that the government did have but had abandoned plans for bulk spying.
A war of words broke out between Key and Greenwald. The prime minister accused the journalist of being paid by Kim Dotcom, whose Internet Party is taking part in the election campaign. The journalist has denied the allegations and accused Key of only releasing information in the Speargun program when cornered in the spying scandal.
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