I’ve been at NetHui for the last three days, enjoying many discussion ranging from online harmful communications to the future of video on demand. One of the highlights was a panel on state surveillance and it included the former GCSB Director, Sir Bruce Ferguson. Sir Bruce gave more details about how the GCSB had operated than I had previously heard in public.
Tracy Watkins reports:
Sir Bruce Ferguson, former boss of the secretive Government Communications Security Bureau, said he was told years ago the best way to find out what was going on in Wellington was to join the Koru Club, then spend a couple of hours there on a Thursday or Friday night.
Heh, so true.
In a surprisingly candid speech to the internet forum NetHui in Wellington yesterday, Sir Bruce also lifted the lid on how the GCSB believed it could get away with spying on New Zealanders for so many years, despite legislation specifically banning it from doing so.
He confirmed that about 50 of the 88 cases identified in an inquiry earlier this year as potentially breaking the law against spying on New Zealanders had happened under his watch.
“I received a warrant signed and duly checked by the inspector of warrants and the head of either the police or Security Intelligence Service and the boss [the prime minister]. It comes to me and it asks specifically for help from the GCSB to spy on a specific target . . . they have to convince me in that warrant the reason why they’re doing that and that means they have to show they have reason to believe that person is acting against the security of the state.
“They then have to ask by name for the people in GCSB who may be able to help them – the specific specialist by name. I then sign a warrant or agreement in that warrant to second those individuals. I second them to the asking authority, be it the SIS or the police. So I’ve now seconded them, as far as I was aware, to that organisation.
“They go across there, they do what is required by the SIS or the police and they finally finish the task and come back. At no stage . . . was I ever aware or made aware of the outcome. That wasn’t my business.”
I regard this as a pretty significant revelation, for two reasons. The first is that most of the cases we have heard about do not seem to involve the GCSB itself intercepting communications. It involves a GCSB employee effectively being seconded to another agency to assist them.
The second interesting thing is that the GCSB doesn’t retain any data from those cases. The staffer helps the other agency do their job, but doesn’t report back – so hence there are no GCSB files with data from NZers. They remain with the SIS or Police.