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Spotlight goes on spy base
Editorial, Waikato Times, 25 February 2000.
With the end of the Cold War, spy bases like Waihopai seemed redundant. The base was set up as part of the West's global spy network and intercepts phonecalls, faxes and e-mails that travel via satellite. But now there are fears information collected at the base is being sold to companies seeking an advantage over their competitors. If it is happening, it could prove damaging to New Zealand. Waihopai is part of Echelon, an intelligence network run by the US, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and reportedly capable of monitoring satellite communications anywhere in the world. Waihopai's domes, 15km from Blenheim, have been the target of a number of protests over the years. Those opposed to it see the base as a tie that keeps New Zealand aligned to the US and a likely target for anti-US groups. What information Waihopai actually discovers isn't exactly clear _ and never has been. Past Governments have consistently given few details about the base or justification to spend $20 million a year running it. A former section head of Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation once said that only two interpretations could be placed on a station like Waihopai. He said it was there to either spy on New Zealand's neighbours and friends _ or its own citizens. This week some of our friends started raising some objection to New Zealand's involvement in this global information gathering. There have been suggestions that some of the information being gathered by Echelon is being used for commercial purposes. The European Union Parliament's justice and home committee is considering a report about the system which claims that American spy chiefs have passed commercially sensitive information on to US companies. One Euro MP claims European businesses have lost more than $41 billion as a result of the spying.
The Americans have denied it and Prime Minister Helen Clark has been assured that it does not provide intelligence to non-government channels. But they would be expected to say that. The concern is that New Zealand cannot be sure what happens to the information gathered here. Waihopai critics say that continued operation of the station could now trigger a major trade and diplomatic backlash. Much of the European opposition comes from members of the Green movement and they have strong support from Green MPs in this country. Ron Donald and Keith Locke were both protesting at Waihopai this year and have put pressure on Miss Clark over the base. This is likely to increase especially if the Europeans get confirmation that something dodgy is going on. But that could be the best thing to happen for New Zealand. It would give Helen Clark a just cause to get Waihopai out of the Echelon link without causing too many problems with the US. It would also pacify this country's European markets. If New Zealand comes out of this with a minimum of mud on its face it will be very lucky. Espionage is a dirty game - especially when you get caught out.
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