New Zealand spies teamed with National Security Agency hackers to break into a data link in the country’s largest city, Auckland, as part of a secret plan to eavesdrop on Chinese diplomats, documents reveal.
The covert operation, reported Saturday by New Zealand’s Herald on Sunday in collaboration with The Intercept, highlights the contrast between New Zealand’s public and secret approaches to its relationship with China, its largest and most important trading partner.
The hacking project suggests that New Zealand’s electronic surveillance agency, Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, may have violated international treaties that prohibit the interception of diplomatic communications.
New Zealand has signed both the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, international treaties that protect the “inviolability” of diplomatic correspondance. The country’s prime minister, John Key, said in a recent speech on security that New Zealand had an obligation to support the rule of law internationally, and was “known for its integrity, reliability and independence.”
Last year, Key said that New Zealand’s relationship with China, worth an estimated $15 billion in annual two-way trade, had “never been stronger.” The relationship was not just about “purely trading,” he said, “it is so much broader and much deeper than that.”
In 2013, Key described a meeting with top Chinese officials in Beijing as “extremely warm” and told of how he was viewed as a “real friend” by the country’s premier, Li Keqiang.
At the same time, as minister in charge of the GCSB, Key was overseeing spying against China – which included the top-secret planned operation in Auckland, aimed at the Chinese consulate.
The hacking project is outlined in documents obtained by The Intercept from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.