New Zealand base in Afghanistan was secret CIA station, book claims

Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager

A Kiwi “peacekeeping” and “civil reconstruction” base in Afghanistan was a secret station for the US Central Intelligence Agency, according to a new book by New Zealand’s preeminent investigative writer. Nicky Hager first made international headlines in 1996, with his groundbreaking book Secret Power: New Zealand’s Role in the International Spy Network. In it, he revealed the existence of the UK-USA Security Agreement and of ECHELON, a US-managed signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis platform that serves as an intelligence-sharing mechanism between UK-USA signatories. The publication of his latest book, entitled Other People’s Wars: New Zealand in Afghanistan, Iraq and the War on Terror, is scheduled to coincide with the ten-year anniversary of 9/11. The book focuses on —among other things— the Bamyan Province base in central Afghanistan, which serves as the center of operations for the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Central Asian country. It serves as a symbol of New Zealand’s cautious contribution to the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, by allowing Kiwi forces to participate with boots on the ground, while performing strictly noncombatant functions, officially described as “peacekeeping” and “civil rebuilding”. But Hager’s book alleges that the “noncombatant” mission of the Bamyan base was simply a cover, devised by the New Zealand Defence Forces’ public relations apparatus, and aimed at pacifying the country’s population. The real mission of the Bamyan base, says Hager, was to “help the Americans” by essentially concealing a covert CIA station. The author further alleges that the Kiwi forces at Bamyan were instructed to keep the presence of the CIA team secret. This they did, even as they shared daily meals with American spies in civilian clothes, who refused to disclose even basic details of their mission to their New Zealand guardians. Hager alleges that New Zealand’s defense establishment took the decision to help the CIA as part of a broader strategy of rapprochement between Wellington and Washington. Why rapprochement? It was in 1984, when, under mounting popular pressure, New Zealand’s Labour government of David Lange voted to bar nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from entering New Zealand territorial waters. At the time, the nuclear ban imposed by New Zealand was heralded by the global nuclear disarmament movement as a major victory. But Washington did not see it this way. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #577

Waihopai base

Waihopai base

►►Interview with Michael Hayden. The former director of the CIA and the NSA gave a lengthy interview in preparation for his keynote speech at the Raleigh Spy Conference. Among other things, he says that he does “not immediately conclude that senior levels of the Pakistani government knew about” Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.
►►CIA denies helping police spy on NY Muslims. The Central Intelligence Agency is denying a news report that it helped the New York Police Department conduct covert surveillance on Muslims. The agency said suggestions that it engaged in domestic spying were “simply wrong” and that the report “mischaracterized the nature and scope” of the CIA’s support for the New York police.
►►Spy base reservoir not a pool after all... A journalist at New Zealand’s Marlborough Express newspaper noticed what looked suspiciously like a swimming pool on a satellite photo (pictured) of the super-secret Waihopai listening base near Blenheim. Do spies go swimming on the base, he asked? It turns out they don’t. According to Government Communications Security Bureau Waihopai station chief Chris Farrow, the landmark is in fact a water reservoir, to be used in case of fire.

News you may have missed #572

David Wise

David Wise

►►New Zealand spy service now welcomes online tip-offs. Ten years ago, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) introduced a free telephone number that people could ring if they suspected any suspicious intelligence activity. Now the spy service has entered the 21st century by changing its website so the public can provide details online.
►►Book claims Coco Chanel spied for Nazis. Frankly, who gives a damn? Is anyone surprised to hear that yet another member of French high society was pro-Nazi in the lead-up to World War II? It is disappointing to see how many news outlets are going over-the-top with this story, while mostly ignoring the truly important historical revelation of the last few days, namely the declassification of the CIA’s Official History of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
►►David Wise on Sino-American spy wars. Longtime investigative journalist David Wise, who focuses on the intelligence community, talks to Democracy Now! and Amy Goodman about his new book Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War with China.

New Zealand investigates ‘suspicious’ Israeli spy activity [updated]

Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi

Ofer Mizrahi

Authorities in New Zealand have confirmed that they investigated a series of suspicious actions by alleged Israeli intelligence operatives, in the days following last February’s earthquake in Christchurch. According to publicly available data, at least three of the 181 people who died in the February 22 earthquake were Israelis. Admittedly, the number of Israeli victims was relatively small, which is why New Zealand authorities were baffled by the Israeli government’s intense concern about the earthquake. On the day of the disaster, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the telephone no fewer than four times with his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, which some New Zealand officials found odd at the time. Even stranger was a subsequent encounter between an armed New Zealand security force and an unauthorized Israeli rescue squad, in the days following the earthquake. The Israeli squad was found roaming in Christchurch’s cordoned ‘red zone’, without an official rescue accreditation by either the United Nations or the New Zealand government. After a brief but tense exchange, the Israelis were escorted out of the ‘red zone’, and the episode led to “intense diplomatic exchanges” between Wellington and Tel Aviv, according to New Zealand media. A possible solution to the riddle came with the discovery in Christchurch of the dead body of an Israeli named Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi. Mizrahi, who died when part of a building fell on the van he was riding in, was found to be carrying at least five different passports bearing his photograph. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #526

  • Russia convicts colonel of exposing US spy ring. Colonel Alexander Poteyev has received a (relatively lenient) 25-year sentence for exposing a Russian ‘sleeper cell’ network in the United States. The sentence was delivered in absentia, as Poteyev is believed to have defected to the US, where he probably lives under an assumed identity. As he was fleeing Russia in June 2010, he texted his wife: “try to take this calmly: I am leaving not for a short time but forever. I am starting a new life. I shall try to help the children”. Here is the most detailed recent account the Poteyev’s case in English.
  • Libyan defector holed up in luxury hotel. Moussa Koussa, Libya’s former intelligence chief and foreign minister, faced calls last night to return to Britain for prosecution after he was tracked down to a penthouse suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where he has been living under the protection of the Qatari security services.
  • New NZ SIGINT spy agency boss named. The government of New Zealand has appointed Simon Murdoch as the acting chief executive and director of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) intelligence agency.

News you may have missed #517

  • New Zealand to launch new cybersecurity agency. The new National Cyber Security Centre will protect high-risk government agencies from attacks by cyber spies and criminals. It will also take on the functions of the Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection, which helps protect critical national infrastructure such as the computer networks of banks and power companies.
  • New book on China-US spy wars. An extensive review by Joseph Goulden (author of SpySpeak: The Dictionary of Intelligence) of David Wise‘s new book, Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War with China, which has been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Over 1,000 cyber attacks against UK MoD last year. Criminals and foreign spy agencies launched more than 1,000 cyber attacks on Britain’s Ministry of Defence last year in an effort to steal secrets and disrupt services, Britain’s Defence Secretary Liam Fox has revealed.

News you may have missed #514

  • The spy kid. Multipart series by The Oregonian‘s Bryan Denson, on Nathaniel James Nicholson, son of CIA double agent Harold James Nicholson, who was convicted for spying on the US for Russia. Nathaniel was convicted in 2009 for maintaining contacts with his father’s Russian handlers.
  • Listening bug found in NZ MP’s home. Sources close to New Zealand’s Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB) have said that at least one clandestine listening device has been found after a sweep of senior government officials’ homes.
  • Israel sells spy camera to Turkey despite concerns. Israel’s defense establishment has approved the sale to Turkey of the Long-Range Oblique Photography pod, a sophisticated intelligence system considered the pinnacle in Israeli military technology, despite worsening relations between the two countries.

News you may have missed #473

  • Cyprus recognizes Palestine as independent nation. The Israeli assessment is that other European Union countries, including Britain, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Malta, Luxembourg, Austria and perhaps others are considering a similar move.
  • Top NZ intel scientist had falsified CV. British-born Stephen Wilce was hired as chief of New Zealand’s Defence Technology Agency in 2005, having got top level security clearance. Last year, he had to resign after it emerged that he had made a series of false claims about his past. But the question is how he passed security checks when he applied for the post in 2005.
  • Report uncovers widespread FBI intelligence violations. A new report by the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation has found widespread violations in FBI intelligence investigations from 2001 to 2008. The EFF report suggests that FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of Americans to a greater extent than was previously assumed.

News you may have missed #464 (Mossad edition)

Leaked cable confirms end of US-NZ spy quarrel

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

To regular readers of this blog, this is not so much a revelation, as it is a confirmation. Back in October of 2009, we wrote about a peculiar comment made Hillary Clinton. The United States Secretary of State had told a press conference that “we [the US] are resuming our intelligence-sharing cooperation [with New Zealand], which we think is very significant”. Resuming? When had it been disrupted, and why? Most intelligence observers agree that the only glitch that could have caused the cooperation to end would have been New Zealand’s nuclear ban. It was in 1984 when, under mounting popular pressure, the Labour government of David Lange voted to bar nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from entering New Zealand territorial waters. At the time, the ban was heralded by the global nuclear disarmament movement as a major victory. But Washington did not see it that way. Successive US administrations pressured Wellington to repeal the nuclear-free legislation and allow US warships to make use of strategic New Zealand ports. Washington’s pressure increased in the years after 9/11, culminating in 2006, when it threatened to cancel a free-trade agreement between the two countries if New Zealand refused to repeal the ban. It appears that, at some point in time, possibly after 9/11, the US actually terminated intelligence sharing between the two countries in order to force New Zealand to comply. Read more of this post

Location of massive Israeli eavesdropping site uncovered

Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager

An author and investigative journalist from New Zealand has uncovered one of the world’s biggest government-sponsored eavesdropping sites in a desert in Israel. Writing in French monthly review Le Monde Diplomatique, Nicky Hager reveals that the site acts as a base for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, also known as Unit 8200, which is responsible for collecting and decrypting signals intelligence. In his article, written in French, Hager describes the base as one of the world’s largest, and says it is located near the Urim kibbutz, about 30 kilometers west of Beersheba, in Israel’s Negev desert region. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #388

  • Political policing rising in US, ACLU report warns. A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union chronicles government spying and what it describes as the detention of groups and individuals “for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights”.
  • Mistrust still marks ISI-CIA ties, say US officials. John Tierney, chairman of the US House Armed Services Committee, told a Pakistani delegation that there is mistrust between the CIA and ISI, according to a report by the Pakistan Senate’s Standing Committee on Defence. Regular intelNews readers should not be surprised.
  • Britain releases secret document at heart of UKUSA agreement. Authorities in the UK have released a six-page document dating from 1946, which describes the “British-US Communication Intelligence Agreement”, known as BRUSA, later UKUSA. The deal has tied the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand into a worldwide network of electronic listening posts.

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We use false passports too, Australians admit

Julie Bishop

Julie Bishop

Israeli intelligence agencies are not alone in using false passports. In fact, intelligence and law enforcement agencies in Australia, the country that is currently involved in a diplomatic spat with Israel due to the latter’s use of forged Australian passports in spy operations, also use forged travel documents. This admission was made yesterday by Australian senior opposition politician Julie Bishop during a live session in the Australian parliament. The parliamentary debate concerned recent revelations that agents of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad used forged Australian passports during an assassination operation against Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was found murdered in a luxury Dubai hotel last January. Australian government officials were quick to condemn Ms Bishop’s revelation as “a grievous breach of national security”. But Australian daily newspaper The Age reports that the opposition politician “merely made public an inconvenient truth”. Read more of this post

Comment: Major changes in Australian, NZ spy agencies

Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd

This website has been keeping tabs on the ongoing transformation of New Zealand and Australian intelligence agencies. Recent media reports from both countries indicate that the changes, many of which are still underway, will mark the broadest reorganization in New Zealand and Australian intelligence agencies’ operational focus and mission in over half a century. Read more of this post

Mossad agent in Dubai assassination also wanted in New Zealand

Zev William Barkan


An Israeli Mossad officer wanted by New Zealand authorities is among five suspects recently identified and named by Dubai police in connection with the assassination of a Hamas official. The officer, Zev William Barkan, has been identified as a major suspect in last January’s assassination of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in a luxury Dubai hotel. In 2004, Barkan was one of three Mossad agents who engaged in an aborted attempt to acquire a New Zealand passport, using the birth certificate of Auckland resident Tony Resnick. New Zealand authorities managed to arrest Barkan’s two associates, Uriel Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara, both from Israel; but Barkan and Resnick managed to escape arrest by flying to Sydney, Australia, before fleeing to Israel. The case caused a major –albeit temporary– rift in New Zealand-Israel relations. Read more of this post

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