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There has been fairly predictable outrage this week at the revelation by Judith Collins, the minister in charge of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and Security Intelligence Service (SIS), that China spied on our Parliament in 2021. China has denied the accusation, but knowing Judith Collins as I do – and have done for more than 20 years – I don’t doubt that she has good reasons for her claim.

What is not clear from media reports, however, is that the previous Government was aware of this spying incident, now three years ago. The intrusion into the Parliamentary computer systems was effectively blocked not long after it was discovered. The previous Government chose not to announce what had happened.

In Thursday’s New Zealand Herald, Matthew Hooton claims that the last time New Zealand was “attacked by a so-called friend was in 1985 when France sent spies from its Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) to bomb the Rainbow Warrior at Auckland’s Marsden Wharf”.

But what we all need to remember is that spying is something that Great Powers, and even some not-any-longer Great Powers, do much of the time.

Also in Thursday’s Herald there is an article by David Fisher in which he reminds New Zealanders of the extent to which the US has used New Zealand as a base for its spying without the knowledge of even the relevant Government minister:

“The Five Eyes spy equipment that was operating out of New Zealand’s electronic spy agency largely without its knowledge appears to be a [US] National Security Agency tool named ‘Apparition’ that has been used to hunt targets in the United States’ War on Terror – and to spy on China.

“The Apparition system was among those disclosed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013…

“The dates of the installation at a Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) facility match with information publicly disclosed last week by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Brendan Horan…

“The discovery of the system came in 2020 after it malfunctioned leading to Horan’s three-year-long inquiry.

“In his report last week, Horan said he was concerned that an intelligence ‘capability’ controlled by a ‘foreign partner’ had been able to operate without seeking Beehive sign-off or without the bureau’s Minister being told of its existence or purpose. Horan said he was also concerned the bureau’s current leadership had no knowledge of the system until they were told in 2020 after it broke down.”

Nearly nine years ago, in July 2015, Reuters reported that:

“The US National Security Agency tapped phone calls involving German chancellor Angela Merkel and her closest advisers for years and spied on the staff of her predecessors, according to WikiLeaks….

“WikiLeaks published what it said were three NSA intercepts of Merkel’s conversations, and data it said listed telephone numbers for the chancellor, her aides, her office and even her fax machine.

“’The names associated with some of the targets indicate that spying on the Chancellery predates Angela Merkel as it includes staff of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (in office 1998-2002), and his predecessor Helmut Kohl,’ WikiLeaks added in a statement.

“The latest WikiLeaks release comes just over a week after it published a report showing the NSA wiretapped the communications of two successive French finance ministers and collected information on French export contracts, trade and budget talks.”

It is pretty clear that China is not the only country which works hard to ascertain what other countries are doing, and contemplating doing. Spying is what Great Powers do.

As I said at the start of this column, I have absolutely no reason to doubt the statement by Judith Collins – we entered Parliament together in 2002 and became close friends.

But it is important that we all remember that the Government appears to be very keen to steer New Zealand into a closer military alliance with what are sometimes called “our traditional friends” at a time when many New Zealanders are more aware both of the importance of China to our economic prosperity and of the potential instability in the foreign policy of those traditional friends.

What better way to do that than to give maximum publicity to the fact that China is spying on us, even though that happened and was known about three years ago?

Don Brash

30 March 2024

Disclosure of interest: For the last 10 years, I have chaired the New Zealand subsidiary of ICBC, the largest bank in China.

2,129 views43 comments

43 comentários

Jake Dee
Jake Dee
07 de abr.

Has anyone considered the possibility that the spying equipment installed in NZ by a certain foreign power was used to spy on citizens of that certain foreign power? Plenty of advantages in doing work off the books and under the table in a foreign nation. Not subject to congressional oversight for one.

Why were the Taliban and Al Queda tortured in Guantanamo Bay Cuba and not in Alaska or Hawaii?

Guantanamo Bay is not the USA, legally it's still Cuba. No federal subpoenas.


Pretty typical of Brash these days.

China caught spying & he spins it by criticising the United States.

I’m starting to think he’s bought & paid for by the PRC.

Better wake up, Don.


It is just about impossible to believe anything you hear or read in the mass media these days. Where is the evidence that it was the Chinese? It is well known that sources can be manipulated to show a different origin. Where is the evidence that there was any hacking anyway? Why are we told this 3 years after it was alledged to happened? What is the significance of hacking into our parliament; are there some big secrets that the parliament is keeping from us? Is the government being pressured by third parties to paint a negatve image about others so that they can justifiably form an alliance against those others? The questions could keep going on. Just don't …


Just Boris
Just Boris
30 de mar.

Interesting to a point Dr Brash. You are a wise chap and your political observation re timing is likely correct. But I lean more toward the Stars & Stripes than I do the PRC. Can’t trust either of them with secret Government agencies, but the big difference is that the US won’t do us any harm. Or change our democratic way of life (limited & reducing democracy as it seems to be).

So sell our goods to anyone who buys them, and don’t go head to head with the Chinese, but occasionally standing up on the world stage for what we believe in should be expected. And hopefully is enough to keep the Giant Panda at arm’s length.


Andy Espersen
Andy Espersen
30 de mar.

Yes, Don Brash - As you note above : Government is keen "to steer New Zealand into a closer military alliance with what are sometimes called “our traditional friends” at a time when many New Zealanders are more aware both of the importance of China to our economic prosperity and of the potential instability in the foreign policy of those traditional friends" (much more so than Don and Helen!).

Both Judith Collins and Winston Peters were keen to emphasize this in Australia recently. And so it should be.

As the citizens of a tiny country in a very strategic position we must do what we have been doing ever since the Second War - simply holding on to the apron-string…

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