New Zealand has been spying electronically on its Pacific Island neighbors and Indonesia and sharing the intelligence with Wellington's international allies, according to documents released Thursday.
The papers, released by former National Security Authority contractor Edward Snowden and dating back to 2009, reveal that New Zealand's electronic spy agency intercepted emails, mobile and fixed line phone calls, social media messages and other communications in small Pacific states including Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and French Polynesia.
The material gathered by New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was shared with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), which along with agencies in Australia, Britain, and Canada, make up the 'Five Eyes' surveillance network.
“They've gone from some selected targeting of the South Pacific states and other targets to a new stage of where they just hoover up everything,” investigative writer Nicky Hager said on Radio New Zealand. “They take every single phone call, every single email, and they go straight off into databases, which are U.S. National Security Agency databases.”
Hager, who is collaborating with the New Zealand Herald newspaper and The Intercept website in revealing the documents, said there would be further disclosures.
"In effect, the New Zealand spy agency gathers information on the country's nearest neighbors to help secure its place in the US-led alliance," the New Zealand Herald said.
The Intercept said the GCSB used its Waihopai base in the country's South Island to collect vast amounts of data from the region, most of it from friendly nations. It said the base was upgraded to "full take" operations in 2009, meaning it collects both the content and metadata of all communications, rather than targeting specific individuals or agencies.
The documents also said a GCSB officer had worked with the Australian Signals Directorate in spying on Indonesian cellphone company Telkomsel.
Prime Minister John Key refused to comment on the disclosures, but had said on Wednesday when asked about their expected release that they were bound to be wrong. The GCSB also refused comment.
The role of the agency, which has a large eavesdropping facility at the top of the country's South Island, was an issue in last year's general election, with documents released by Snowden suggesting the GCSB was planning to conduct mass domestic surveillance.
The GCSB is banned from spying on New Zealand citizens, unless authorized to support other agencies, but has no legal restrictions on foreign activities.
The South Pacific region has seen military coups in Fiji, inter-communal armed strife in the Solomon Islands, while France maintains military bases in Tahiti and New Caledonia.
China has also been increasing its influence and development aid to small island states.