Kim Dotcom, Glenn Greenwald, and New Zealand’s Intelligence Service, GCSB

As New Zealanders will know, Kim Dotcom, a resident of New Zealand, is a very, very imposing German tech entrepreneur with a shady past, who has lately been the subject of much official attention from the US and NZ authorities (including jail time), for his facilitation of large scale worldwide copyright breaches via the file sharing service, “megaupload”, now expropriated and closed down.

Here’s the sort of place one saw megaupload in its heyday; along with many other file sharers, it provided a great way to knock off bloggers’ e-books, such as Econned, by one Yves Smith:

Megaupload Capture

You may assume that “Naked Capitalism” is not a massive fan of Kim Dotcom.

Dotcom, who now has a major bone to pick with the New Zealand authorities, has been promising election-influencing revelations about John Key, to be released on the 15th September. Just now, the pre-publicity went up many, many notches, with a huge assist from the redoubtable Glenn Greenwald, who is attending the Dotcom shindig on the 15th:

The Prime Minister has admitted for the first time that New Zealand spies did look into a form of mass surveillance on Kiwis, but never actually went through with it.

John Key was responding to the arrival of journalist Glenn Greenwald, with thousands of documents taken by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that he says prove New Zealanders have been subjected to wholesale spying by the Government.

Mr Key has always said that he would resign if that was proven, but tonight he’s launched a counterattack.

Mr Greenwald claims he will produce evidence that could take down the Prime Minister, but just a short while ago Mr Key hit back and upped the ante big time, promising to get ahead of Mr Greenwald and declassify top-secret documents that will prove him wrong.

Key is on the record with the resignation promise here. I suppose it’s not terribly surprising how suddenly the national security rationale for having those documents classified in the first place can evaporate, when a Prime Ministerial career might be at stake. Realistically, though, if there’s anyone left in New Zealand who thought national security issues ranked way ahead of party politics, they probably have funny ideas about Santa Claus too.

We now have a handy equivalent for the verb “leak”, as well: “declassify”.

In a day or two, New Zealanders will get to see whether they think John Key’s hasty declassification trumps Greenwald’s leak, and whether it matters. Greenwald, in this interview, sounds very confident, but then, that’s his style:

United States journalist Glenn Greenwald says there are serious questions about whether the New Zealand Government was truthful about the GCSB law change.

“What I can tell you is that the statement that the GCSB made to New Zealand citizens last year — ‘We do not engage in mass surveillance of New Zealanders’ — is one that is not truthful.”

The Government engages in “extraordinary amounts of analysis of metadata – meaning who’s talking to whom for how long, where they are when they speak – on a massive, indiscriminate scale, not just internationally but of New Zealanders as well”.

He says New Zealand is an active member of the Five Eyes Alliance and spends an extraordinary amount of resources on electronic surveillance.

“…Every single thing that the NSA does that we have been reporting on over the last year and a couple of months involves New Zealand directly.”

Eyes down for the 15th, then.

Updates: Clever interview with Greenwald in New Zealand.  TV barnstorming about the Internet, the TPP, NZ democracy and Kim Dotcom, by Dotcom’s lawyer.



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  1. ambrit

    Now we’ll find out if ‘privacy’ concerns translate into election results. The outcomes of the next set of elections after this revelation will help other activist types chart their own courses. How hard do we have to push this meme to gain traction is one question. What groups take this seriously is another question. A third question will be, do people view public and private spying differently? (What kind of meta data mining did Dotcoms organization do itself?)
    The fun never stops!

  2. unpc

    The claim was that that NZ GCSB did not engage in mass surveillance. However at the least any data sent overseas was likely or almost certainly intercepted. Oh that is from or to NZ so ignore it – ha. Secondly data within the country could also be intercepted. Whether it was through the GCSB rather than through the agency of another power or a private contractor and then made available to the NZ GCSB is irrelevant to the larger question

    1. Hysteria

      “Whether it was through the GCSB rather than through the agency of another power or a private contractor and then made available to the NZ GCSB is irrelevant to the larger question”

      No, that would be quite relevant. Because we are talking about news and revelations in 2014 and not the 1980s when that surveillance agreement was news.

  3. Andy Monniker

    What is noticeable here in New Zealand is that despite clear evidence of the most sleazy of activities by Government Ministers, resulting in the sacrificial sacking of one when the heat on the Prime Minister began to embarrass even him, has in fact had only a marginal effect on the results of public opinion polls.

    An editorial in New Zealand’s widely-read magazine of TV listings and news, ‘The Listener’, observed, “What’s not clear is the impact the ‘Dirty Politics’ saga will have on the election result. Two days after the announcement of Collins’ departure, a poll of pools – an arithmetical average of four reputable polls – found that although National had taken a hit, it was far less pronounced than the media firestorm might have led people to expect.”

    I suspect the reason for this is that for many if not most people ‘Dirty Politics’ has become par for the course. It’s expected of politicians of all colours. Asking if any politician is a lying, conniving, self-interested con-artist is like asking if the Pope is Catholic. And of course politicians have only themselves to blame for this. No doubt there are on the Back-benches many well-intentioned, basically honest and hard-working politicians, but these are the ones no-one ever hears about and who never get to be Ministers with power let alone Prime Minister because like most things in life the lying, conniving, Machiavellian con-men and women will always find it easer to climb hierarchies than the sincere and honest.

    New Zealand’s one saving grace, however, might be its recent adoption of the MMP voting system which allocates seats in Parliament according to a Party’s share of the vote and thus can give smaller, even fringe or special interest parties not only some representation but even a potential role as king-maker by adding its two or three votes to a take a coalition into a majority position. This risks of governmental paralysis, or of minorities weilding an outsized influence in Government under such a system are not to be discounted, but it surely offers a more democratically representative system than the effectively two-party system still in use elsewhere, as in the US, where the elctorate must shoe-horn its political feet into one of just two available shoe-sizes.

  4. Andy Monniker Again

    Ps I have noticed that in my posting above as in other posts since the Comments font changed a say or two ago, all apostrophes and quotation marks have been expunged. While minor I regard this as unfortunate and would ask if it could be rectified, particularly with regard to the quotation marks, as it can sometimes be relevant to know what is quoted from another, and where the quote ends.

    1. Yves Smith

      We don’t control that, so you must have done something that our software expunged, so we can’t retrieve it. We’ve never had that happen before. What operating system and browser do you use?

      1. Andy Monniker

        I use a PC with Windows 7 and Firefox 32.0.1, tho’ the latter incorporates NoScript. Also I won’t have Java on my machine.

        NCs format changed I believe last Friday, for no reason I am aware of. Font is now Calibri, quotes and apostrophes don’t appear – nor is there a space for them – although other punctuation seems OK.

        No other sites appear affected so I assumed it was universal here, but if it’s just me I apologise for mentioning it.

        Sorry, I don’t speak html so can’t dig into the coding.

          1. Andy Monniker

            Looks like you are correct. Restarting Firefox in troubleshooting mode with all apps disabled solves the problem. So I’ll have to do some digging at this end. Strange that it only seems to have affected NC, tho’.

            Sorry to have flushed a phantom fox.

  5. trish

    “And of course politicians have only themselves to blame for this.” or commend themselves? since “clear evidence of the most sleazy of activities… [have] in fact had only a marginal effect on the results of public opinion polls.”

    Lowering the bar more and more and more seems only to have helped them. Here in the US it seems generally only affairs, groping male staffers, sending explicit photos…assorted sex scandals… the sleazy behaviors that DON’T really harm the public, violate crucial public trust- result in resignation.

    1. Hysteria

      Would what impact NZ? That story says that GCHQ spied on German networks, as though a Germany is a foreign country and that’s GCHQ’s job.

      I expect the NZ public would find the suggestion funny. I don’t expect that the 3rd time NZ has partnered up with the same foreign powers in an agreement to target Germany is really going to be an outrage, considering what the first 2 times involved.

  6. Brooklin Bridge

    I’ve no doubt at all that New Zealand, like most nations, spies on it’s citizens, but I’ve gotten to be a little skeptical when Greenwald sets a date on which he promises some revelation will be published.

  7. juliania

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, but Americans ought to be a tad interested in what happens down there in that tiny country, since the fatuous claim ‘we don’t spy on New Zealanders’ has to be followed up by the question, ‘Ah then, whom do you spy upon?’ It has been revealed that countries in Five Eyes happily swap spying data as guests at the Mad Hatter’s tea party swap chairs, in order to virtuously claim they don’t spy on their own citizens – it’s a seamless arrangement of nonaccountability.

    Yes, Kim Dotcom is the big fella with a previous mega operation everyone can definitely disapprove of, but he’s raised legal issues on how the government conducts its operations in a way that perhaps no ordinary citizen could – though Nicky Hager has done an amazing job with his books.

    An Auckland Town Hall meeting tonight (wee hours for us) will be particularly interesting. I hear it will be live-streamed.

    Yves may certainly strongly disapprove of the Dotcom operation – that’s understandable. But I think she’s fair enough to also disapprove of the manner in which a small democratic country is being used and abused by mega-corporate government collusion with the Big Guys far across the sea. We are watching TPP here; this is more of that. We are watching genetic modification of foods; this is more of that. We are watching land grabs and shell corporations. This is more of that. We are watching global invasions and occupations. There’s a spy base in Waihopai…

    And that’s what the uproar is about. It’s not really about Kim Dotcom. It’s actually about us all.

  8. James Cole

    I would bet a lot of Naked Capitalism’s friends disagree with it about copyright and intellectual property in general.

      1. Sam Kanu

        There is no such thing as “intellectual property”. Copyright is just that: a time-limited right, set within a context of balancing incentives for creativity/innovation and desire for create control of expressions…. against the public interest in enabling access to that innovation.

        Not speaking specifically about the Dotcom guy – just saying that “intellectual property” as a concept is a myth created of the agents of greed. The thing is not the same as owning a house or a car. it doesnt even get close unless you start including a whole bunch of stuff that would be analogous to the concept for example eminent domain, public access rights to cross or use your yard or even the entire house, etc. It’s fairly complex subject even conceptually.

        We can have very useful conversations about how to protect the rights of creators and the public interest when we stop ourselves from falling into the “property” trap that certain people keep hanging out.

        1. MDZX

          Exactly. Astra Taylor came out with a book on this topic a while ago.

          The problem is twofold: IP as a concept is absurd (how can you “own” an idea or even a piece of writing?), BUT content creators need to make a living. The traditional compromise was a limited IP legal regime that made it easier for the people making ideas to eat, but that’s unravelling faster and faster from both ends, as copyright law gets ever more ridiculously draconian and piracy makes circumventing it a joke.

          Personally I like Dean Baker’s tax incentive scheme, where everyone gets $1000 or whatever in tax rebates a year to give to various participating artists and authors of their choosing, who agree to place everything they produce into the public domain in trade.

          In the meantime, being of extremely limited funds, I “steal” the ideas of those who for various reasons probably wouldn’t make good use of the money (e.g being dead, John Lennon ain’t gonna care whether I download Imagine or not) – it’s a subjective utilitarian thing – and I “buy” the ideas of those who I feel need it more (hello indie band swag!)…

          At the end of the day, though, it’s either “I have more content that I didn’t pay for” or “I don’t have the content” – they aren’t better off either way, because I don’t have the money.

  9. Marcos

    Greenwald, a “libertarian” seems to have no problem at all with “shady” media oligarchs. He’s on the payroll of at least one, Omidyar. This seems to me to be consistent with the “libertarian” worldview .

  10. ChrisPacific

    Dotcom is on record as saying that New Zealand is boring because there isn’t enough for multi-millionaires to do here in comparison to the US and Europe. He’s obviously chosen to entertain himself by seeing if he can buy an election, which it seems like he will be unable to do, although he has successfully purchased the souls of some minor parties and elected politicians.

    He enjoys something of a following here due to the quality of his enemies. The US government is determined to extradite him over Megaupload, and has an ongoing difference of opinion with the New Zealand courts on whether it should be expected to comply with New Zealand law in doing so. The right-wing NZ government naturally sided with the US, which has put them embarrassingly at odds with their own justice system at times (this is the main reason why Dotcom holds a grudge against Key). After seeing Megaupload razed to the ground, he has launched a new service called Mega that features client-side encryption and doesn’t hold decryption keys for customer data (meaning they can’t be forced to unencrypt it and hand it over) which goes against pretty much everything the NSA stands for. Given his admitted past hacking activities, there is a certain amount of chutzpah in presenting himself as a defender of Internet privacy – kind of like Al Capone selling tax preparation advice.

    It’s hard not to like him sometimes. I’m sure he would be on the same side as NC on issues like TPP, and while he might be trying to buy an election, at least he is up front about it. (I imagine the Masters of the Universe calling him up and telling him not to give the game away). But I suspect the US allegations about him turning a blind eye to piracy on Megaupload are nothing less than the truth, and I wouldn’t trust him even a little bit. As a thorn in the side of the powerful I think he is worth keeping around, but we shouldn’t lose sight of who he is, and I hope the NZ public knows better than to buy what he is selling.

    By the way, I’m not sure that “declassify” is an exact synonym for “leak”. Leaks are usually anonymous, while it seems like declassifying is anything but. Yes, it’s a confidential document. I’m releasing it. You want to make something of it? Maybe Key is taking a leaf out of Dotcom’s book: it’s OK to be self-serving and morally questionable, as long as you do it with style.

    1. Richard Smith

      You are right about my imprecision: leaks are anonymous.

      Having now seen the “Moment of Truth”, the Dotcom part of it was so vestigial as to be a distraction, and I didn’t think much of the uplift from Assange either. A more swingeing verdict on the Dotcom part here

      However the Greenwald and Snowden stuff, if tenaciously pursued, may give Key a problem that he won’t be able to solve with a declassified (or leaked) document. Let us see how the NZ press get on in this next phase.

      1. ChrisPacific

        I haven’t watched it yet but I’ve seen the summaries. I could have done without the Dotcom involvement altogether, and I think Snowden and Greenwald made an error in judgement by linking themselves to him. It makes Greenwald’s assurances about the non-political nature of the disclosures ring a bit hollow (Glenn, did you somehow miss that the general election is days away and that Dotcom is funding a party?) It was nice to see him make the same point you did about the reasons for the declassification though.

        As you say, it will be interesting to see if the media go baying off after the scent with the same enthusiasm they showed for the Cameron Slater hit job.

    2. Hysteria

      “launched a new service called Mega that features client-side encryption and doesn’t hold decryption keys for customer data (meaning they can’t be forced to unencrypt it and hand it over) ”

      Really? There’s a difference between saying that’s what you’re doing and doing it.
      Snowden used Lavabit because they said they did the same thing with email. They didn’t. It was all marketing and anyone with access to the servers also had access to private keys, fully compromising user privacy.

      The guy who ran that one-concept service and completely failed in delivering it, actually had that as his primary interest. Whether you should assign a higher degree of trust in someone whose primary interest was previously piracy and transfats should be obvious.

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