A high-tech United States surveillance tool which sweeps up all communications without a warrant was sent to New Zealand for testing on the public, according to an espionage expert. The tool was called ThinThread and it worked by automatically intercepting phone, email and internet information.
ThinThread was highly valued by those who created it because it could handle massive amounts of intercepted information. It then used snippets of data to automatically build a detailed picture of targets, their contacts and their habits for the spy organisation using it.
Those organisations were likely to include the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) after Washington, DC-based author Tim Shorrock revealed ThinThread was sent to New Zealand for testing in 2000-2001.
Mr Shorrock, who has written on intelligence issues for 35 years, said the revolutionary ThinThread surveillance tool was sent to New Zealand by the US National Security Agency. The GCSB is the US agency’s intelligence partner – currently under pressure for potentially illegal wide-spread spying on the public.
The claim ThinThread was sent to New Zealand has brought fresh calls for the bureau to explain what it does.
A spokesman said the bureau was currently reviewing how much it did tell the public – but it would not be making comment on the ThinThread test. He said the intelligence agency “won’t confirm or deny” the claim because it was an “operational” matter.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key also refused to comment saying it was an operational matter.
The claim emerged in an article by Mr Shorrock which ran in a magazine last month and featured whistleblower William Binney – a former high-ranking NSA official who designed ThinThread.
Mr Shorrock said the “ThinThread prototype” was installed at two NSA listening posts in late 2000 and at Fort Meade where the NSA is based.
“In addition, several allied foreign intelligence agencies were given the program to conduct lawful surveillance in their own corners of the world. Those recipients included Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.”
The “lawful” aspect was due to the software’s ability to mask the identities of those whose information was being intercepted – a technical work around of the legal barrier which prohibits New Zealand and the US from spying on its own citizens.