New Zealand spy agency the Government Communications Services Bureau (GCSB) implemented a mass metadata surveillance system in 2012 and 2013 while government officials denied that any such program was being planned, Glenn Greenwald said on Monday night at a mass meeting in Auckland.
Further, a plan to tap the Southern Cross Cable through installing probes into the network is already well advanced, he claimed.
As New Zealanders braced for further revelations from an event dubbed the "Moment of Truth" at the Auckland Town Hall, five days before an election, Greenwald's website, The Intercept, had already revealed details of information leaked by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Greenwald was welcomed to massive applause, as were the other speakers, but said that he has never been maligned like he had since he arrived in New Zealand, least of all by a head of state. They usually get their minions to do that, he said.
He denied being paid to be in the country by Kim Dotcom.
Greenwald said that after his arrival in New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key for the first time admitted to plans for mass surveillance of New Zealanders. He said that such a plan had been actively adopted and was being implemented.
Key has said that he called the plan off.
Greenwald said that the only way the Key government got new interception laws accepted in 2013 was by telling citizens that they didn't deliver any new powers.
Internally, he said, the government was saying exactly the opposite. The new law was needed to enable interception, he said, showing a leaked NSA document to prove it.
Key concealed from citizens that the government has been developing a program of mass surveillance for over a year, he said.
Greenwald also said he found it amazing that Key has decided to now declassify information, as the government doesn't have the right to classify such information in the first place unless it would seriously harm public safety. He is now releasing it to defend his reputation and for political gain, he said.
The only other reason to classify it in the first place was to hide it from New Zealanders, he said.
Snowden beamed into the Auckland Town Hall, saying that the NSA has bases not just in Waihopai, in the South Island, as is well known, but also in Auckland and the far north of the country.
He said that mass metadata collection and content interception without individualised suspicion of wrongdoing is undemocratic and antithetical to freedom.
Snowden said his role at the NSA was to work out how networks worked and "break in". He could see records of people from around the world, including from New Zealand, and he could search information from a sensor in a network in New Zealand.
Snowden said questions needed to be asked of John Key about New Zealand's involvement in the NSA's X Keyscore program, which he has so far refused to talk about on the grounds of national security. He said X Keyscore collects not just metadata, but also content — the content of New Zealanders included.
Snowden said that consent to the new surveillance laws was meaningless unless citizens were properly informed, and they weren't.
Julian Assange also beamed in to say that the Five Eyes isn't an alliance of nations, but rather an alliance of the intelligence agencies within those countries. Citizens have had no say on this alliance made by the "deep state", he said.
He said Snowden and Greenwald had revealed abuses, and every single person with access to the internet has been affected. New Zealanders had not consented to this radical shift in their democracy.
The GCSB, he said, has become addicted to its relationship with the spy networks in the other Five Eyes nations.
On The Intercept, Greenwald said Snowden's documents show that authorities exploited new interception laws to create a metadata collection program to collect information about the New Zealanders' communications.
He wrote that this was in direct conflict with assurances given by Prime Minister John Key, who said the law wasn't a revolution in the way that New Zealand conducts its intelligence operations.
Snowden accused Key of misleading the public about security agency the GCSB's role in mass surveillance.
"The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception, and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks," he said.
Top-secret documents demonstrate that the GCSB and NSA cooperated to implement Phase I of the surveillance program code named "Speargun", which appears to involve the installation of cable access equipment, into the Southern Cross Cable, New Zealand's main cyberlink to the rest of the world, he wrote.
Phase II of Speargun involved the insertion of metadata probes into those cables, The Intercept said.
In response, Key has declassified documents to show, he said, that no such mass surveillance program was ever launched.
"Claims have been made tonight that are simply wrong, and that is because they are based on incomplete information," he said.
There is no cable access surveillance program operating in New Zealand and never has been, he said. There is also no mass surveillance of New Zealanders being undertaken by the GCSB, and never has been.
However, Greenwald reported that Speargun was "not just an idea that stalled at the discussion stage".
"It was a system GCSB actively worked to implement. One top-secret 2012 NSA document states: 'Project Speargun under way'."
Another top-secret NSA document discussing the activities of its surveillance partners reports, under the heading "New Zealand", that "Partner cable access program achieves Phase I".