OnPoint by Keith Ng


"Project SPEARGUN underway"

Let's get this out of the way: The Warner Bros email was a complete clusterfuck. Faced with claims that the emails were fake, TeamDotcom did a TeamKey - they got Hone to send it off to the Privileges Committee then flat out refused to talk about it because, apparently, it needs to work through that process and talking about it would somethingsomethingsubjudicelookoverthere. They refused to talk about where it came from, and when asked whether it was fake, Kim Dotcom could only manage a "to the best of my knowledge" response, and said they weren't there to talk about that email (contrary to what he's been saying for months, right up to yesterday).

Basically, they have no confidence in the veracity of that email - and so neither should we.


Glenn Greenwald's material, on the other hand, is solid. He has documents showing the progress of a programme called "SPEARGUN". According to Greenwald, this project involved the "covert installation of 'cable access' equipment" on the Southern Cross cable (i.e. Tapping into New Zealand's traffic with the rest of the world). The existence of this capability cannot be denied.

In response to the Southern Cross cable's operators saying that such a thing was impossible, Snowden (who videoconferenced into the event) asked (I'm paraphrasing): What makes the Southern Cross cable so special that it cannot be accessed undetected by the NSA, when everyone else around the world can be?

The new documents show that the GCSB had a cable access project underway, followed by another document that Phase 1 was "achieved". More crucially, he has a message showing:

(TS//SI//NF) New Zealand: GCSB's cable access program SPEARGUN Phase 1; awaiting new GCSB Act expected July 2013; first metadata probe mid 2013.

This shows that they had to wait for the GCSB Act to be passed before SPEARGUN could be used. i.e. The new GCSB Act - the one that supposedly wouldn't expand GCSB powers - expanded GCSB powers to allow them operate a metadata probe on the this cable which they'd tapped.

If this is false, John Key could simply say "SPEARGUN doesn't exist". If SPEARGUN never went anywhere, he could say that too.

Instead, what Key has done is release a bunch of documents about a programme called CORTEX. This was a plan to provide malware detection and disruption services to companies and ISPs.

CORTEX has nothing to do with SPEARGUN:

  • SPEARGUN sits at the major highways of our network, extracting metadata from the traffic that goes through and sending it elsewhere. CORTEX sits at the driveway of businesses and ISPs, checking what goes in and out for signs of malware activity. The two are very different beasts.
  • The metadata probes that Greenwald refers to are used to covertly extract metadata. According to the Cabinet papers, CORTEX "will in all cases operate with the consent of the participating organisations". The programme described in Greenwald's documents is not CORTEX.
  • According to Key, a "test probe" was built to sit on the Southern Cross cable. That is the whole country, not "participating organisations". Further proof that the purpose of the probe had nothing to do with CORTEX.

Why does the probe itself matter? It proves that most of what we know about SPEARGUN is correct. The Government was considering the use of such a probe to get metadata via cable access, and went - at the very least - as far as building one.

Key never said SPEARGUN stopped. He only said CORTEX stopped. In fact, all this elaborate song and dance has been put in place so he can *look like* he's addressing SPEARGUN, when he is doing nothing of the sort.

We are owed some real answers.

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