FIVE EYES : Neo-colonialism in the Pacific Region

By Wayne Madsen

The recent revelations from the documents provided by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden that the NSA’s two Pacific partners, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) conduct wholesale eavesdropping on the communications of the island nations of the Pacific may not be «news» but the reaction to the surveillance by regional leaders points to the neo-colonialism practiced by the NSA’s FIVE EYES intelligence partners.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, whose arrogance and corruption is matched by his fellow neo-conservative prime ministers of the old British Commonwealth – Tony Abbott of Australia, David Cameron of Britain, and Stephen Harper of Canada – expressed his belief that those who are revealing that New Zealand violated its own GCSB Act by conducting wholesale surveillance of New Zealanders, masked as «incidental interception,» are «left-wing kooks» spreading «lies and disinformation». At least Key is showing that the eavesdropping revelations are hitting a raw nerve by lashing out at critics. The old standard «I refuse to comment on intelligence matters» involving signals intelligence operations has always been used by Australian, British, New Zealander, and Canadian prime ministers going back to Australia’s Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, Canada’s Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney, and Britain’s James Callaghan and John Major.

Classified GCSB documents procured and released by Snowden reveal that the NSA system known as XKEYSCORE has conducted «full-take collection» on intercepted telecommunications from New Zealand citizens throughout the Pacific region. Although the GCSB Act prohibits GCSB from conducting surveillance of «New Zealand Persons,» defined as any New Zealand citizen, including Cook Islanders and Niueans from two self-governing territories of New Zealand and citizens of other countries who are legal permanent residents of New Zealand, it does not prevent NSA’s partner agency from intercepting the communications of New Zealanders acting as agents of foreign interests. New Zealand Signals Intelligence Directive Number 7 (NZSID 7) (a practical duplicate of NSA’s United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18) prohibits collection on New Zealand, U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada «persons» but this does not include government officials of the Cook Islands and Niue, who are New Zealand passport holders and citizens.

Neither does NZSID 7 include New Zealanders who are agents of foreign concerns. An explanation of the New Zealand directive specifically mentions in regard to foreign agents New Zealanders employed by the Bank of China and Japan’s Itochu Corporation, the latter a large trading corporation which bought Dole Foods Asia fresh produce and worldwide packaged foods businesses.

NCSID 7 is vague for a reason. Although the directive states that the Tokelau atolls of the south Pacific and the Ross Dependency of Antarctica are part of New Zealand and thus are covered by the directive, it includes the governments of the Cook Islands and Niue as targets of surveillance. It does not mention anything about the government of Tokelau, although Tokelauans, as residents of a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand, are New Zealand citizens. However, considering the fact that members of the governments of the Cook Islands and Niue, also New Zealand citizens, are subject to «full take collection» by GCSB and its NSA master, there is no reason to believe that Tokelau’s Taupulega (Village Council of Elders), General Fono (National Assembly), and the Council for the Ongoing Government (Executive Government) of Tokelau are exempt from similar surveillance, especially where Tokelau conducts Pacific outreach to other Polynesian states like Samoa and Tonga. Most definitely any communications that involved Tokelau’s claim to Swains Island, which is illegally occupied by the United States as part of the American colony of American Samoa, are bound the be grabbed and stored by GCSB and NSA. Tokelau’s Self Determination Referendum of 2006 reaffirmed Tokelau’s claim to Swains, which is actually owned in a feudalistic arrangement with Washington by the Jennings family, Americans whose family has maintained a coconut plantation on the island since 1814. American Samoa’s governor, Togiola Talalelei A. Tulafono, who is backed by Washington, has stated that he does not intend to give up the island to Tokelau, even though the island’s population is Tokelauan. The ancestors of the Tokelauans on Swains were transported as slaves by the Jennings family from Tokelau to Swains Island on Peruvian ships after slavery was abolished in the United States by President Abraham Lincoln. They were forced to work on the Jennings family’s coconut plantation.

The GCSB’s acquiescence to American imperialism, neo-colonialism, and, in the case of Swains Island, neo-feudalism over South Pacific island states and territories is bolstered by the cooperation offered to the GCSB/NSA alliance by a number of South Pacific leaders who see nothing wrong in New Zealand’s and America’s «full take collection» of satellite and fiber optics communications in the Pacific region.

Perhaps one of the most pathetic responses to New Zealand’s and America’s «take it all» approach to electronic surveillance came from Samoa’s prime minister. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi joined New Zealand’s Key in slamming the news media for «sensationalizing» the eavesdropping issue. Malilegaoi claimed that those who conduct surveillance for the FIVE EYES nations are intelligence «well-trained professionals».

In additional comments displaying his naivety, the Samoan prime minister, whose country is specifically listed in leaked Top Secret documents as being the subject of massive surveillance, said, «Samoa doesn’t have anything to hide. Our daily lives are an open book. We follow good governance principles of transparency and accountability . . . We are not a security risk to any small island nearby and I’m sure the phone conversations by an old matai (chief) and his son in New Zealand for a taulaga (money) envelope will not be of interest to the FBI of the great USA. In fact, the diplomats reporting from Samoa would no doubt be sending back information saying we treat them well and we love them – as we love our brothers and our neighbors in Fiji and Tonga.”

The prime minister might be shocked at what the GCSB and NSA intercepted about his meeting in Fiji with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Fiji last November when China announced a strategic partnership with eight South Pacific island states. They included the Cook Islands and Niue.

Tonga’s Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva echoed his Samoan counterpart’s comments about the eavesdropping. He said, «If New Zealand has good reason to believe it is important for the New Zealand Government to share such information with other partners, with other countries, it is entirely a matter for New Zealand to decide. Remember Tonga is small and we have nothing to hide».

In fact, these island nations’ relations with China are of paramount interest to New Zealand and the other FIVE EYES countries. Pohiva’s predecessor, Siale’ataonga Tu’ivakano, met with China’s president in Fiji. President Xi also met with Cook Islands Premier Henry Puna and Niue Premier Toke Talagi. When GCSB’s NZSID 7 exempts the government leaders of the Cook Islands and Niue from surveillance constraints it is exactly because the allied signals intelligence agencies want to know all about China’s activities in the region. The Samoan and Tongan leaders may claim they have no secrets from their neo-colonialist masters in Wellington, Canberra, and Washington but their attempts to broaden their diplomatic horizons with close relations with China, Japan, and other countries will earn them some «surge surveillance» from GCSB and its Australian ASD counterpart.

The Tongan prime minister said, «New Zealand is a sovereign independent country. It is entirely up to them to decide what they should do.” Not exactly. When New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange demanded to know the nature of his country’s intelligence relationship with NSA in the 1980s, he was blindsided by his own intelligence chiefs.

GCSB’s former director, Sir Bruce Ferguson, actually admitted that his agency conducted mass surveillance of the communications of Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Samoa, Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia but that it «discards items it cannot have». He also said such surveillance was helping the small island states, as well as New Zealand. Given the comments of the Samoan and Tongan prime ministers, some South Pacific leaders have actually been convinced that the surveillance of their and their citizens’ communications by the FIVE EYES is a palliative cure for their security woes. The South Pacific leaders are showing the world that they are independent member states of the United Nations in name only.

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