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Chris Ford: Spies like US

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

In the 1980s, I remember a certain film starring comedian Chevy Chase called Spies like Us!

The film was a comedy about two incompetent, bumbling spies who go on a Cold War bender through the battlefields of that age. If anyone was prepared to remake the film in this day in age, the CIA/NSA (insert name of any other American intelligence agency here) spooks would be prying into the political and security affairs of not only rivals and enemies but friends as well.

And that's exactly what's been happening - the Americans have been spying on some of their closest allies - according to the latest revelations by former National Security Agency spy turned whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

The leaders of Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Mexico - to name but a few - have been spied on in recent years. These revelations have, rightly, caused huge rifts to emerge between these nations and the United States. Consequently, these countries would have every right to feel pissed off that their internal political communications have been hacked into.

However, the Americans (in defending themselves) are right about one thing - everybody does it and that includes the nations who are now doing the complaining. They probably actively spy against the United States and every other neighbour, regional power or potentate too in order to glean political, economic and security information of benefit to them. New Zealand does it as well, albeit, within the Echelon (Five Eyes) spy network consisting of ourselves, the US, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. There is one small difference in that members of this network can't spy on one another but member nations can spy on behalf of another member nation on a non-member state. That's how we have come to engage (on behalf of the US) in intelligence operations against some of our Pacific neighbours such as Vanuatu, Fiji, French Polynesia and China in recent decades. Another element to note is that New Zealand's principal external spy agency is none other than the controversial Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

Nevertheless, everyone should remember that France, one of the major complainants on the issue of US phone hacking, once conducted an intelligence service directed act of aggression against New Zealand and a peaceful, democratic organisation, namely, Greenpeace, back in 1985.

As you can see, intelligence is a dirty game and almost every nation plays in the muddy intelligence battleground. Accordingly, all nations with intelligence networks engage in acts of deceit, double crossing and betrayal against not only their enemies and rivals but those they would even count as allies.

In the wake of these revelations, myself and others are asking what role has the GCSB played in all this? Have they engaged under the terms of Echelon in spying on foreign leaders in this region? If the answer to this question is yes, then the heat should be applied to not only the GCSB but to the responsible minister, in this case John Key. For one thing, any revelations upon these lines would be the last thing that Key needs to hear about going into a crucial election year.

It might be all well and good that those nations whose leaders have been spied on have complained. They have every right to. But in so doing, they should ask themselves are they ready for any of their own intelligence gathering activities against the United States and even some of their closest friends to be disclosed in return? Are they willing to propose a major international agreement curbing intelligence gathering to that pertaining to criminal activity and threats to domestic security? Are members of the global community prepared to be more open, transparent and accountable to one another about their activities, thereby lessening the need for intelligence gathering?

While I might sound idealistic, I feel that while intelligence gathering might have some legitimate purposes (particularly in relation to crime), there has to be some form of international convention circumscribing it. And that can only be a good thing in promoting greater international peace and understanding between nations. Leaving our global security to the likes of US (or any other nations) spies is not a recipe for good international relations.


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