Joint reporting by the NZ Herald and The Intercept has broken the news this morning that the GCSB was involved in spying on other candidates for the WTO director general role, which our esteemed Minister for Trade, Tim Groser, was campaigning hard for.
From The Intercept:
In the period leading up to the May 2013 appointment, the country’s electronic eavesdropping agency programmed an Internet spying system to intercept emails about a list of high-profile candidates from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, and South Korea.
… when it had become clear that Groser was not going to make the final shortlist, New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, expressed his disappointment. “At the end of the day it was always going to be a long shot – so he gave it his best go with the support of the government,” Key said.
What the public didn’t know was that this support had included deploying the GCSB to spy on communications about the competitors.
There are two questions many New Zealanders may be asking themselves this morning. The first is, “Well, what does the Director General of the WTO actually do?” You’d assume it would be something important and influential, given that we deployed our own intelligence agency to dig dirt on the other candidates.
Wikipedia summarises the role thus:
Because World Trade Organizations’ decisions are made by member states (through either a Ministerial Conference or through the General Council), the Director-General has little power over matters of policy – the role is primarily advisory and managerial.
Not so heavy on the “influential”, then.
The second question is, “Why exactly was Tim Groser considered such a good candidate for the role that our government not only deployed our spies on his behalf, but allowed him to spend a quarter of a million dollars on travel to lobby for it?”
To your average New Zealander who doesn’t closely follow international trade, Tim Groser is best known as “that Cabinet Minister who spends an unbelievable amount of our money on hotel minibars.”
In 2010, he was in the news for a $466 minibar bill in Copenhagen – defended as “squarely within the rules” – and $1500 dinners in Peru. In 2012, he budgeted $44,000 for a two-day trip to Paris, and in 2014 splashed out on endangered Chilean sea bass in Singapore.
The biggest achievement noted on his Wikipedia page is announcing New Zealand’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.
So we have a Minister best known for his credit card bill having literally every resource of the state thrown at getting him a junket job with no actual influence, to the extent of accessing the NSA’s mass surveillance network to find out what anyone, anywhere in the world is saying about him and his competitors.
XKEYSCORE this: Tim Groser is an embarrassment and the GCSB’s lack of oversight is astounding.