Government Communications Security Bureau

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Government Communications Security Bureau
Te Tira Tiaki
GCSB logo.png
Agency overview
JurisdictionNew Zealand
HeadquartersPipitea House,
1-15 Pipitea St,
Minister responsibleHon Christopher
Finlayson QC

- Minister Responsible for the GCSB
Agency executiveIan Fletcher
- Director
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Government Communications Security Bureau
Te Tira Tiaki
GCSB logo.png
Agency overview
JurisdictionNew Zealand
HeadquartersPipitea House,
1-15 Pipitea St,
Minister responsibleHon Christopher
Finlayson QC

- Minister Responsible for the GCSB
Agency executiveIan Fletcher
- Director

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) (Māori: Te Tira Tiaki) (Former Māori Name: Te Tari Whakamau Irirangi) is the public service department of New Zealand charged with promoting New Zealand's national security by collecting and analysing information of an intelligence nature.

According to the Bureau's official website, its mission is to contribute to the national security of New Zealand by providing: information assurance and cyber security, foreign intelligence, and assistance to other New Zealand government agencies.[1]


The Government Communications Security Bureau was created in 1977 on the instructions of Robert Muldoon, the Prime Minister.

Waihopai Valley base

Prior to this, the functions now handled by the GCSB were split between three organisations:

Upon its establishment, the GCSB assumed responsibility for these three roles. Officially, the new organisation was part of the Ministry of Defence, and its functions and activities were highly secret – even Cabinet was not informed. In the 1980s, however, information was gradually released, first about the GCSB's security role, and then about its signals intelligence operations.

Also in the 1980s, the GCSB was split away from the Ministry of Defence, becoming a separate organisation. It was not until 2000, however, that it was decided to make the GCSB a government department in its own right. This decision was implemented through the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003.[2]

In 2001, the Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection was formed within the GCSB with a mandate to assist in the protection of national critical infrastructure from information borne threats.

Staff and budget[edit]

The GCSB is considered to be a government department in its own right with its head office in Pipitea St, Wellington. Through its director, the GCSB reports to the minister holding the Intelligence portfolio, who, by convention, is always the Prime Minister. Its main functions are: the collection and processing of intelligence, the distribution of intelligence, IT security, technology and administration.It has about 300 staff with a range of disciplines including foreign language experts, communications and cryptography specialists,engineers, technicians and support staff.[3]

In 2012, the budget for the GCSB was $64 million.Former Green MP Keith Locke says that despite the attention the GCSB received as a result of its illegal surveillance of Kim Dotcom, there has been little public discussion about its value. Locke questions GCSB's suitability for the task of protecting government computers given its security failures.[4] Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge's report noted the Bureau's problems included "under-resourcing and a lack of legal staff".


An Inspector General has oversight of the GCSB (and other intelligence organisations). In 2013, that role was being filled by former judge, 79-year-old Paul Neazor. He has a part-time secretary as his one and only staff member - compared with the Australian inspector general who has a staff of 12. In her review of the GCSB released in 2013, Rebecca Kitteridge recommended the inspector general's office should be "beefed up along Australian lines".[5]

The Prime Minister appoints both the director of the GCSB and the Inspector General. Associate Professor of law at Auckland University, Bill Hodge, says the watchdog should be appointed by Parliament rather than by the Prime Minister. Former prime minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer agrees: "There needs to be some separation between the inspector and the agency he oversees."[5]


The functions of the GCSB include signals intelligence, communications security, anti-bugging measures, and computer security. The GCSB does not publicly disclose the nature of the communications which it intercepts. It is frequently described by some authors, such as Nicky Hager, as part of ECHELON. In 2006, after the death of former Prime Minister David Lange, a 1985–86 report given to Lange was found among his papers,[6] having been mistakenly released. The report listed a number of countries as targets of GCSB efforts, including Japan, the Philippines, Argentina, France, Vietnam, and many small Pacific island states. It also mentioned United Nations diplomatic traffic. In his book on the GCSB, Nicky Hager says that during the Cold War, the locations and activities of Soviet ships (including civilian craft such as fishing trawlers) were a major focus of the organisation's activities.

For the purposes of its signals intelligence activities, the GCSB maintains two "listening stations": a satellite communications interception station at GCSB Waihopai near Blenheim and a radio communications interception station at GCSB Tangimoana near Palmerston North.

Waihopai station[edit]

The Waihopai facility

The Waihopai Station has been operating since 1989. It is described as a satellite communications monitoring facility in the Waihopai Valley, near Blenheim.[7][8] The facility has been identified by MP Keith Locke[9] as part of ECHELON. Few details of the facility are known, but it is believed that it intercepts and processes all phone calls, faxes, e-mail and computer data communications. The site is a regular target for protesters and activists who are attempting to have the base closed down. The Anti-Bases Campaign have had regular yearly protests at the base.

Tangimoana station[edit]

The Tangimoana Station was opened in 1982, replacing an earlier facility at Irirangi, near Waiouru. According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), the facility is part of ECHELON; its role in this capacity was first identified publicly by peace researcher Owen Wilkes in 1984,[10] and investigated in detail by peace activist and independent journalist Nicky Hager.[11]

Recent controversies[edit]

The appointment of Ian Fletcher[edit]

Ian Fletcher was appointed as director of the GCSB in February 2012.[12] Mr Fletcher is a former diplomat. Fletcher was interviewed by the appointment panel after an earlier short-list of four candidates had been rejected by the Prime Minister on the recommendation of the State Services Commissioner. In March 2013, Mr Key admitted he had known Mr Fletcher since they were in school, but denied they were friends.[13]

Answering questions in parliament about Mr Fletcher's appointment, Key said he hadn't "seen the guy in a long time"[14] and hadn't mentioned he had made a phone call to Mr Fletcher when the question first came up in parliament because he had "forgotten" about it.[15] Former GCSB director Sir Bruce Ferguson said the way Key had intervened in the selection process was "disturbing".[16] The Labour Party called for an inquiry into the matter.[17]

Illegal spying[edit]

Shortly before Fletcher was appointed, the GCSB was found to have illegally spied on Kim Dotcom, a German national but New Zealand resident.[18] By law the agency cannot spy on New Zealand residents. The GCSB admitted that Hugh Wolfensohn, acting director at the time, knew the organisation was spying on Dotcom. It is believed Mr Wolfensohn was placed on "gardening leave" after it became clear the GCSB had made a mistake in spying on Dotcom.[19] In December, the High Court ruled Kim Dotcom could sue the GCSB for damages.[20] The attorney-general appealed the ruling, but was unsuccessful.[21][22] In March 2013, the NZ Herald reported that Wolfensohn "no longer works for the GCSB intelligence agency as it braces for fresh exposure of its failings".[23]

Kitteridge report[edit]

As a result of the Dotcom saga, a review into the bureau's compliance with legislation and its internal systems and processes was conducted by Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge. In April 2013, Kitteridge's report was leaked to the media. It contradicted GCSB head Ian Fletcher's comments that the bureau had not unlawfully spied on anyone other than Dotcom showing that the GCSB may have unlawfully spied on up to 85 people between April 2003 and September 2012.[24]

Fairfax reported "The review noted a series of failings had led to the illegal spying, including under-resourcing and a lack of legal staff." It found "the GCSB structure was overly complex and top heavy, while staff who performed poorly were tolerated, rather than dismissed or disciplined, so they would not pose a security risk upon leaving the bureau." [24] The Green Party asked police to investigate the illegal spying.[25]

Kitteridge also said she had trouble accessing a number of "basic files". Prime Minister John Key said there was no "cover-up", and the files were probably either misfiled or never existed in the first place.[26]

GCSB Amendment Bill[edit]

On 8 May 2013, the National Prime Minister John Key introduced the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill, which would extend the powers of the GCSB to enable it to collect information from all New Zealanders for the use of other government departments including the New Zealand Police, Defence Force and the Security Intelligence Service.[27] Under the bill, the GCSB will have three main functions. Firstly, it will continue to collect foreign intelligence but it will not be allowed to spy on New Zealanders. Secondly, it will give the GCSB a legal mandate to assist the police, Defence Force and the Security Intelligence Service. Thirdly, it will extend the GCSB's cyber-security functions to encompass protecting private-sector cyber systems.[28]

While this Bill was supported by the ruling National Party and its coalition partners ACT New Zealand and the United Future MP Peter Dunne, it was opposed by the opposition Labour and the Green parties, several left-wing groups, and the internet millionaire Kim Dotcom, the NZ Law Society, and the Human Rights Tribunal. On July 27, opponents of the GCSB Amendment Bill staged nationwide protests in eleven major towns and cities, thousands attended.[29][30][31] A poll receiving over 52 thousand responses showed a result of 89% of New Zealanders opposing the bill.[32] Critics of the GCSB Amendment Bill claimed that the Bill would turn New Zealand into a police state like the former German Democratic Republic and made references to George Orwell's novel 1984 and the ongoing Edward Snowden NSA Leaks scandal. In response, Prime Minister Key acknowledged that the protests were part of a "healthy democracy" with people being "allowed" to make their voices heard for the moment.[31][33]

On the 14th of August 2013 the Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key addressed what he identified as "misinformation" surrounding the GCSB Amendment Bill, claiming that the actions of the Government Communications Security Bureau were analogous to Norton AntiVirus.[34] On 21 August, the House of Representatives voted to pass the GCSB Amendment Bill by 61 to 59. The bill passed its third reading despite protests from the opposition parties, human rights groups, legal advocates, and technology groups. John Key defended the GCSB Amendment Bill by arguing that it did not authorize "wholesale spying" on New Zealanders and that its opponents were misinformed.[28][35]

Southern Cross Cable mass surveillance[edit]

In 2013 the New Zealand Herald reported that the owners of the Southern Cross Cable, New Zealand's majority(~95%) international internet access point, had asked the NSA to pay them for mass surveillance of New Zealand internet activity through the cable.[36] In May 2014, John Minto, vice-president of the New Zealand Mana Party, alleged that the NSA was carrying out mass surveillance on all meta-data and content that went out of New Zealand through the cable.[36]

In August 2014, New Zealand politician and Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman stated that an interception point was being established on the Southern Cross Cable.[37] Norman said that as the cable is the only point of telecommunications access from New Zealand, this would allow the Government to spy on all phone calls and internet traffic from New Zealand.[37] Norman's claims followed the revelation that an engineer from the United States National Security Agency had visited New Zealand earlier in the year to discuss how to intercept traffic on the Southern Cross cable.[37] The office of National Party New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, denied the claims but admitted that they were negotiating a "cable access programme" with the NSA but refused to clarify what that was or why the NSA was involved.[37]


The GCSB is administered by a Director. The directors have been:

Jerry Mateparae was appointed by Prime Minister John Key on 26 August 2010 taking up the role on 7 February 2011. On 8 March 2011 Mateparae was announced as the next Governor-General. He continued as Director until June 2011.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 No 9 (as at 29 November 2010), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". 2011. Retrieved November 12, 2012. There continues to be an instrument of the Executive Government of New Zealand known as the Government Communications Security Bureau. 
  3. ^ The what, where why of NZ's spy agencies, Dominion Post, 13 April 2013, page C2.
  4. ^ Keith Locke: Dotcom case shows the cost of spying is spooky
  5. ^ a b Who is watching the watchers?
  6. ^ "Lange papers reveal US spy threats". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 15 January 2006. Retrieved 1 October 2011. 
  7. ^ About us. Government Communications Security Bureau.
  8. ^ Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
  9. ^ Speech in Parliament's General Debate, Wednesday, March 1, 3.55pm.
  10. ^ Secret Power - Press and Praise
  11. ^ Chapter Two: Hooked up to the spy network: The UKUSA system
  12. ^ Spy boss got job after call from PM
  13. ^ "Key grilled over link with GCSB head". 3 News NZ. March 27, 2013. 
  14. ^ Key met spy candidate for breakfast, Dominion Post
  15. ^ "Key's faulty memory on GCSB an 'excuse'". 3 News NZ. April 4, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Former GCSB head Sir Bruce Ferguson speaks out". 3 News NZ. April 4, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Key brushes off Labour's spy review call". 3 News NZ. April 8, 2013. 
  18. ^ Shuttleworth, Kate (1 October 2012). "Dotcom case: GCSB review ordered". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  19. ^ "Spy faces sack over Dotcom debacle". 3 News NZ. 17 October 2012. 
  20. ^ "Dotcom taking GCSB to court". 3 News NZ. December 6, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Dotcom wins right to sue Govt spies". 3 News NZ. March 7, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Dotcom wins right to sue". NZ Herald. March 7, 2013. 
  23. ^ Spy boss left out in cold
  24. ^ a b Report: Up to 85 cases of illegal spying uncovered
  25. ^ "Greens ask police to extend spy inquiry". 3 News NZ. April 12, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Key rejects GSCB cover-up". 3 News NZ. April 16, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill". New Zealand Parliament website. New Zealand Government. 8 May 2013. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  28. ^ a b Young, Andrew (August 21, 2013). "GCSB bill passes after final reading". New Zealand Herald. 
  29. ^ "Thousands of GCSB Bill protestors hit the streets". TVNZ One News. July 27, 2013. 
  30. ^ "Protest marches against GCSB bill across NZ". The New Zealand Herald. July 27, 2013. 
  31. ^ a b "PM dismisses protests against GCSB Bill as 'misinformed'". TVNZ One News. July 28, 2013. 
  32. ^ "Campbell Live GCSB roadie, poll end". TV3. August 19, 2013. 
  33. ^ "Thousands join rally against GCSB". The Dominion Post. July 27, 2013. 
  34. ^ "John Key defends the GCSB bill". 3news. 14 August 2013. 
  35. ^ "New Zealand passes law for domestic spying". BBC News. August 21, 2013. 
  36. ^ a b John Minto (2014-05-14). "GCSB holding doors open while US buddies invade our privacy". New Zealand Herald. 
  37. ^ a b c d "Govt called to account for spy claims". Radio New Zealand. 2014-08-01. 
  38. ^ "Acting spy boss named". National Business Review. 28 June 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  39. ^ Fisher, David (17 October 2012). "Dotcom: Spy agency knew status earlier". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 17 October 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]