Key hits back at Greenwald's claims of mass surveillance

Saturday 13 Sep 2014 6:00 p.m.

The Prime Minister has admitted for the first time that New Zealand spies did look into a form of mass surveillance on Kiwis, but never actually went through with it.

John Key was responding to the arrival of journalist Glenn Greenwald, with thousands of documents taken by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that he says prove New Zealanders have been subjected to wholesale spying by the Government.

Mr Key has always said that he would resign if that was proven, but tonight he's launched a counterattack.

Mr Greenwald claims he will produce evidence that could take down the Prime Minister, but just a short while ago Mr Key hit back and upped the ante big time, promising to get ahead of Mr Greenwald and declassify top-secret documents that will prove him wrong.

Mr Key has repeatedly denied spy agency the GCSB conducts mass surveillance of New Zealanders, even saying he would resign if it were proven, and he was standing by that today.

"What I can tell you is that the statement that the GCSB made to New Zealand citizens last year that 'we do not engage in mass surveillance aimed at New Zealanders' is one that is not truthful," Mr Greenwald said on The Nation today.

Mr Greenwald has revealed mass surveillance in the United States and United Kingdom after gaining access to  hundreds of thousands of documents obtained by Snowden. He says now it's New Zealand's turn. He says "without question" New Zealanders have something to be concerned about in terms of their own mass surveillance.

Mr Greenwald is here for Kim Dotcom's Auckland Town Hall meeting on Monday, called the "moment of truth".

"It's the perfect time to have citizens become aware on the truthfulness of these politicians who are asking to be kept in power," says Mr Greenwald.

"Dotcom's little henchman is wrong," says Mr Key.

Mr Greenwald says he has spent months poring through the Snowden files researching the role of New Zealand's GCSB spies in the Five Eyes network. On The Nation, in his first New Zealand interview, Mr Greenwald said he would produce evidence on Monday night of "mass indiscriminate spying" on Kiwis.

"I'm probably not going to jump in front of what information he's got," says Mr Key. "It's up to the henchman to go and deliver that information I suppose, but mark my words, he's wrong. I'm right and I'll prove I'm right."

The man Mr Key calls a "henchman" won a Pulitzer Prize for his work with Snowden.

"I think it's preposterous to suggest that I as an American citizen who lives in Brazil am driven by anything other than journalism, and in particular that I'm driven by some desire to influence the outcome of the New Zealand election," says Mr Greenwald.

But Mr Key is suspicious of his motives.

"Kim Dotcom is a man who is trying to gerrymander the election," says Mr Key. "He's paying a guy who's coming to New Zealand to make claims."

Mr Greenwald denies he's being paid by Kim Dotcom to be here and says he's donating his fee to charity.

But Mr Key had little charity for Snowden, describing him as a hacker, not a whistleblower.

"Unfortunately he may have hacked some information, but not all of it," says Mr Key.

Mr Key says that bit they missed is what he's about to release.

Mr Key has admitted for the first time that yes, New Zealand spies did look into what he calls a "mass protection" option that he concedes could have been seen as "mass surveillance" or "wholesale spying", but that, and this is the important bit, he says it never actually went ahead.

Mr Key has revealed that after two major cyber-attacks on New Zealand companies, in late 2011 and early 2012, the GCSB stared to look at options with the help of partner agencies like the NSA.

But Mr Key says this idea never got past the business case stage because he deemed it too invasive.

This was before the Snowden leaks, and Mr Key says the fact he said no is why he has been able to be so resolute that there was no mass spying on Kiwis.

Mr Key believes that Snowden and Mr Greenwald have presentation slides, documents and wiring diagrams relating to the mass protection/surveillance option, but says they are missing the crucial fact that it never went ahead.

Mr Key has promised to declassify and release top-secret documents proving this, either tomorrow or the next day, getting in ahead of Dotcom and Mr Greenwald.

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