New Zealand’s eavesdropping agency used an Internet mass surveillance system to target government officials and an anti-corruption campaigner on a neighboring Pacific island, according to a top-secret document.
Analysts from Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, programmed the Internet spy system XKEYSCORE to intercept documents authored by the closest aides and confidants of the prime minister on the tiny Solomon Islands. The agency also entered keywords into the system so that it would intercept documents containing references to the Solomons’ leading anti-corruption activist, who is known for publishing government leaks on his website.
XKEYSCORE is run by the National Security Agency, and is used to analyze billions of emails, Internet browsing sessions and online chats that are collected from some 150 different locations worldwide. GCSB has gained access to XKEYSCORE because New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
A number of GCSB’s XKEYSCORE targets are disclosed in a top-secret document that was obtained by The Intercept and New Zealand newspaper the Herald on Sunday. The document raises questions about the scope of the surveillance and offers an unprecedented insight into specific people monitored by New Zealand’s most secretive agency.
The targets list, dated from January 2013, was authored by a GCSB analyst. It is contained in a so-called “fingerprint,” a combination of keywords used to extract particular information from the vast quantities of intercepted data swept up by XKEYSCORE. None of the individuals named on the list appear to have any association with terrorism.
Most of the targets, in fact, had a prominent role in the Solomon Islands government. Their roles around the time of January 2013 suggest GCSB was interested in collecting information sent among the prime minister’s inner circle. The targets included: Barnabas Anga, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade; Robert Iroga, chief of staff to the prime minister; Dr Philip Tagini, special secretary to the prime minister; Fiona Indu, senior foreign affairs official; James Remobatu, cabinet secretary; and Rose Qurusu, a Solomon Islands public servant.
The seventh person caught up in the GCSB’s surveillance sweep is the leading anti-corruption campaigner in the Solomon Islands, Benjamin Afuga. For several years he has run a popular Facebook group that exposes corruption, often publishing leaked information and documents from government whistleblowers. His organization, Forum Solomon Islands International, has an office next door to Transparency International in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands. GCSB analysts programmed XKEYSCORE so that it would intercept documents sent over the Internet containing the words “Forum Solomon Islands,” “FSII,” and “Benjamin Afuga.”