Waihopai Station

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Coordinates: 41°34′33.6″S 173°44′20.4″E / 41.576000°S 173.739000°E / -41.576000; 173.739000

The Waihopai facility
One of the domes collapsed after the 2008 Ploughshares attack

The Waihopai Station is a secure communication facility, located near Blenheim, run by New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau. Several protests and disputes surrounding its use and the wider implications of the information gathered has gained the facility some local and international notoriety.


It has been operating since 1989, and was expanded with the construction of a second interception dish in 1998. It is described as a satellite communications monitoring facility in the Waihopai Valley, near Blenheim.[1][2] The facility has been identified by MP Keith Locke[3] as part of ECHELON, the worldwide network of signals interception facilities run by the UKUSA consortium of intelligence agencies, which shares global electronic and signals intelligence among the intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.[4]

The dishes are shielded by giant radomes.[5] Few details of the facility are known, but it is believed that it intercepts and processes all phone calls, faxes, e-mail and computer data communications. It is thought that this data is then sorted and shared with the other members of the UKUSA group.[citation needed]

The new station on 30 hectares of stony ground was authorised by the Prime Minister David Lange and Finance Minister Roger Douglas in 1987. Gerald Hensley comments that Lange: "was ready to work with the Australians [as] .... international communications were shifting to satellites .... Lange was regularly briefed by me and despite his later claims knew exactly what was involved and why the station was needed. .... The Australians were building a similar one at Geraldton [Western Australia] and their Defence Minister explained to the PM why the two installations separated by five time zones would enhance the benefit to both countries."[6]

Protests and security breaches[edit]

The site is a regular target for protesters and activists who are attempting to have the base closed down. The Anti-Bases Campaign have had regular yearly protests at the base. In 1996 Nicky Hager entered the base at night with John Campbell and a TV3 film crew, and managed to film the operations room through a window. Hager returned in 1999 with Mikey Havoc and Jeremy Wells (as his "Newsboy" persona). They sneaked into the base and danced in front of cameras for a television show in which Havoc and Newsboy were starring.

In April 2008 three Ploughshares Aotearoa[7] or Anzac Ploughshares activists breached three security fences to enter the base and then used a sickle to deflate the kevlar covering over one of the two satellite dishes.[8] Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned the attack on the spy base as a "senseless act of criminal vandalism".[9][10] They waited there until they were arrested and charged with intentional damage and unlawful entry. They were tried in March 2010 where they readily admitted their actions in court but defended it as a "claim of right" to save human lives.[11] The jury agreed and the three activists were acquitted on all charges.[12] One of the protesters said "we broke a law to protect plastic to uphold a law to protect human life."[13]

The New Zealand government sued the trio and won damages of $1.2 million toward the repair of the dome, however, it chose not to pursue the payment. With the publicity surrounding the base and this case, the GCSB directors took the "highly unusual" step of announcing that "The claims that the Waihopai station is 'a United States spybase in our midst', contributing to 'torture, war, and the use of weapons of mass destruction' and other 'unspeakable evil' cannot be left unchallenged ... It was not - and is not - contributing to 'unspeakable evil'. Quite the reverse."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ About us. Government Communications Security Bureau.
  2. ^ Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). GlobalSecurity.org.
  3. ^ Speech in Parliament's General Debate, Wednesday, March 1, 3.55pm.
  4. ^ Submissions on the GCSB Bill
  5. ^ Eyeballing the Waihopai facility at Cryptome.org
  6. ^ Final Approaches: A Memoir by Gerald Hensley (2006, Auckland University Press) p.304 ISBN 1-86940-378-9
  7. ^ Ploughshares Aotearoa
  8. ^ "Three arrests after spybase attack". The Marlborough Express. 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  9. ^ "Three arrested as activists attack Waihopai spy base domes, deflating one". TV3. 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  10. ^ "Waihopai spy base attack 'senseless' - PM". New Zealand Herald. 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  11. ^ "show/314463,three-new-zealand-peace-protestors-cleared-of-spy-base-sabotage.html". Earth Times. Retrieved 2013-01-17. 
  12. ^ "Not guilty verdicts in Waihopai trial". TVNZ. 2010-03-17. Retrieved 2010-03-17. 
  13. ^ "Waihopai spy base protestors reflect on verdict". 3 News. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 1 October 2011. 
  14. ^ "Security agency refutes Waihopai claims". www.stuff.co.nz. 2010-04-08. Retrieved 2010-04-08. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hager, Nicky (1996). Secret Power: New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network. Nelson, NZ: Craig Potton Publishing. ISBN 0-908802-35-8.

External links[edit]