Beyond 'The Old Man'
Aid monitor says Australia 'benefiting' from corruption in PNG

Spooks in the South Pacific – how to offend your neighbours

SurveillancePETER KRANZ

IT is no secret that, since World War II, the Allied powers (US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand) have through their "five eyes arrangement" indulged in industrial-scale surveillance of friendly nations in their region.

In the case of Australia and New Zealand, the latest Edward Snowden and Wikileaks revelations have revealed that this includes widespread hacking of South Pacific nations’ communications traffic.

This is not just phone hacking, but the interception of government telecommunications, telephone companies, internet communications, email and text messages.

The spooks have even accessed the main undersea cables that supply PNG, Indonesia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomons. In fact it seems they are sucking up so much information they don't know what to do with it all.

According to The Guardian reports on the recent Snowden leaks, Australian spies are targeting Indonesia's largest mobile phone network as well as the telecommunications systems of Australia's small Pacific island neighbours..

Leaked documents published in New Zealand late last week stated that Australia's top-secret electronic espionage agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), has been working with its New Zealand counterpart, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), to obtain comprehensive access to telecommunication networks across Indonesia and the South Pacific.

The documents show that ASD and GCSB spy intensively on small and vulnerable Pacific island countries, harvesting communications from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Tonga and French Polynesia.

Another US document published last year revealed that the ASD stole nearly 1.8 million encrypted master keys, which are used to protect private communications, from the Indonesian Telkomsel network and developed a way to decrypt almost all of them.

The ASD also accessed bulk call data from Indosat, Indonesia's domestic satellite telecommunications provider, including data on officials in various government ministries.

The top-secret NZ documents reveal details of cooperation between Australia and NZ to access South Pacific mobile phone networks, including in the Solomon Islands, where the two countries intelligence agencies "worked closely … to retain situational awareness as the Solomon Telekom network has expanded and evolved".

Fiji is another Australian intelligence priority revealed in the leaked documents, with GCSB reporting that it had assisted ASD's military support unit to conduct a "target systems analysis" on the command, control and communications of the Fiji government, military and police.

And it has been widely reported that, to get around local law that restricts spying on your own citizens in some countries, the members of Five Eyes simply other members to spy on their citizens.

With friends like Australia and New Zealand, who needs enemies?


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Peter Kranz

Chris - you are right. I think 'spying' is for most part extremely boring, trawling through thousands of pictures of babies and letters to Auntie Mary.

But once in a 100 thousand it might throw up something useful (a pollie paying a businessman here, a lawyer taking a bribe there). And the occasional info about secession movements in Bougainville or West Papua.

But the political masters deem it not worth using. Such as details of the financial transactions of PNG leaders buying property in other countries.

I'm sure ASIO and ASD have this info, otherwise what's the point of them? You can get the same from trawling the property registers in North Queensland.

Trouble is, it is never revealed, so the crooks go unmasked.

My favourite writer is Patrick O'Brian, whose second best hero, Maturin, is a spy.

“But you know as well as I, patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean either my country, right or wrong, which is infamous, or my country is always right, which is imbecile.”


“Wit is the unexpected copulation of ideas.”

And I haven't mentioned choosing the lesser of two weevils.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I've often wondered about that guy who hangs around my letterbox - now I know.

Chris Overland

For many of us, our ideas about spies and spying are derived from seeing James Bond movies or reading John Le Carre novels.

In reality, far from being an activity that always occurs in the shadows, most intelligence gathering occurs in broad daylight.

Public sources of information are the bread and butter of the intelligence service. It is astonishing how much information is freely available if you know where to look.

As well, we citizens make a substantial contribution through our use of credit cards, reward cards, internet purchasing and a host of other eminently traceable sources of raw data.

Our incessant chatter on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and other internet based fora (no doubt including this one) will be routinely scanned to see what can be found.

Some of us, for whatever reasons, become willing sources of information for intelligence agencies, thus forming part of the chain of "human intelligence" operatives.

Add to this the satellite imagery, observation drones, phone records and, now, TV's that observe us and no spy agency ever lacks for data.

The trick is to sift through it all and deduce something both accurate and meaningful from it.

As to the morality of spying, it has been said that either everybody spies or nobody spies.

Australia and NZ spy on their pacific neighbours not because they suspect them of knowingly doing anything against their interests but because they deal with others who definitely have interests or ambitions that are sometimes inconsistent with our own.

So long as that remains the case, then spying will be a necessary and sometimes embarrassing evil.

Peter Kranz

Well we've always been doing it (spying that is) going back to at least the ancient Greeks.

And didn't the Israelites send spies into Canaan? (Numbers 13)

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel."

But they weren't spying on all of us which the technology gives spooks the ability to do now. Even these messages on PNG Attitude will be intercepted, and maybe interpreted in the wrong way.

Just makes me think makes George Orwell wasn't too far wrong. Even the new generation of internet TV's can watch you while you are watching them.

John Kaupa Kamasua

I think it is in a country's interest to do that almost always covertly.

Australia and New Zealand will always be concerned with signs of instability in Pacific Island countries, as we tend to be unpredictable.

It is always in their strategic interests to do so.

The question to ask is whether it is encroaching on our national sovereignty. But with globalisation and other international forces so powerful, many developing countries' sovereignty have been sacrificed.

I endorse Peter's favorite quotes here. After all aren't we all spies in some sense?

The worst spies are ourselves, in the country, preying on others, looking over our shoulders and scheming and spying some more on those whom we are scheming to topple or embezzle from!

Philip G Kaupa

If they are scared of terrorism, why can't they spy on the Asians or the Middle Easterners.

The Pacific poses no threat of that nature. It's scary when these countries with great economic power and which are technologically advanced spy on the small Pacific nations. What are they silently looking for?

Philip, I believe they are greatly concerned about China and its influence - KJ

Peter Kranz

I'd like to see a response from PNG Telikom and Digicel and maybe Pangtel (the authorising authority).

Arnold Mundua

Australia and New Zealand's spy networks should be working around the clock to stop the boat people even before they set foot on the boats.

Why spy on Pacific islanders when there is zero threat posed against them by these island nations?

Peter Kranz

Some favourite quotes about spies and writers (which I think are related professions).

"See and keep silent." Sir Francis Walsingham

“No need to listen for the fall. This is the world's end.” Kipling

"You are not angry with people when you laugh at them. Humour teaches tolerance." Maugham

"It's part of a writer's profession, as it's part of a spy's profession, to prey on the community to which he's attached, to take away information - often in secret - and to translate that into intelligence for his masters, whether it's his readership or his spy masters. And I think that both professions are perhaps rather lonely." And "A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” Le Carre

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