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.
The construction of a 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."
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. The facility has been identified by MP Keith Locke 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.
The dishes are shielded by giant radomes. 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. In June 2007, a torus antenna was installed, which is able to receive the signals of up to 35 satellites simultaneously. This antenna is not covered by a radome.
Southern Cross Cable interception
In August 2014, it was revealed that an engineer from the United States National Security Agency had visited New Zealand and held a meeting at Waihopai Station. The topic of discussion was interception of all traffic on the Southern Cross Cable. Due to New Zealand's isolated location, the cable is the only point of international internet and telecommunications access to and from New Zealand. New Zealand politician and Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman, criticised this, saying that it would enable the New Zealand and United States Government to spy on all of New Zealand's internet traffic. The office of National Party Prime Minister, John Key, denied these claims but admitted they were negotiating a "cable access programme" with the NSA but refused to clarify what that was or why the United States NSA was involved.
In May 2014, 3 months prior to this revelation, John Minto, vice-president of the New Zealand Mana Party, had alleged that the NSA was carrying out mass surveillance on all meta-data and content that went into and out of New Zealand through the cable. This followed disclosure in 2013 by the New Zealand Herald that the owners of the cable had asked the NSA for monetary compensation for mass surveillance on the cable.
Protests and security breaches
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 snuck 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 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. Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned the attack on the spy base as a "senseless act of criminal vandalism". 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. Samuel Land (one of the 3) was represented by prominent human rights barrister Antony Shaw.[not in citation given] The jury agreed with the argument of the three activists and despite their earlier admissions were acquitted on all charges. One of the protesters said "we broke a law to protect plastic to uphold a law to protect human life."
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 released an announcement stating 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."
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