The NSA tapped a major undersea telecommunications cable connecting Australia and New Zealand to North America, Edward Snowden has revealed on The Intercept (opens in new tab).
The documents published show that New Zealand's electronic spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), played a part in the implementation of a mass metadata surveillance system, involving access to the Southern Cross undersea cable network.
The documents aired by Snowden show how the GCSB, working with the US National Security Agency, executed Phase I of a mass surveillance initiative. Codenamed "Speargun", the programme was effected at some time in 2012 or early 2013.
Phase II, which Speargun moved to after the first phase's completion, entailed plans to insert "metadata probes" into the cables. These are used by the NSA and its "5-eyes" partners including the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to access the data sent through high capacity fibre-optic communication cables, including dates, times, phone calls, email recipients, and actual content.
Snowden accused New Zealand Prime Minister John Key of deceiving the New Zealand public about GCSB's role in observation of citizens, the minister having claimed that "there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance".
"The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargetted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks," Snowden wrote.
"At the NSA, I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders in my work with a mass surveillance tool we share with GCSB, called 'X-Keyscore'"
"The GCSB provides mass surveillance data into X-KEYSCORE. They also provide access to the communications of millions of New Zealanders to the NSA at facilities such as the GCSB facility in Waihopai, and the Prime Minister is personally aware of this fact."
Mr Key refused to discuss the X-Keyscore programme.
"We don't discuss the specific programmes the GCSB may, or may not use," he said.