On Saturday 28 January 2017, seventy peace people gathered at the annual protest at the Waihopai spy base run by the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) on behalf the US National Security Agency (NSA). Surrounded by vineyards, trees laden with fruit and mountains, this abomination is near Blenheim on New Zealand’s South Island. People came from all over New Zealand, up from Dunedin, down from Auckland and Wellington, and I came over the Tasman from Australia with my swag to camp with the group in a gorgeous place called Onamalutu. Our Kiwi cousins thought I was quite mad to sleep under the stars. I thought they were a bit mad to be in tents when the stars were so magnificent. The conversation and food provided was humbly and gently offered and very good quality!
A convoy of cars got us all to the gates on a very sunny morning. After a warm welcome from a Maori elder, and talks from stalwart Murray Horton and Christian anarchist Adi (one of the dome busters featured of The Fifth Eye, a marvelous film soon coming to Australia) I was able to deliver the many solidarity statements gathered from Australia, the UK and Ecuador, which were very warmly and gratefully received. (you can read them below)
The group then piled into cars and headed for Blenheim for a day of workshops and talk. Given the entire town of many thousands of houses had received a leaflet inviting them to join us, only a few came along to hear from experts and activists, researchers and journalists.
Retired Greens politician Keith Locke provided the answers to 5 myths that he has devised over many years of being questioned about Waihopai by media and by citizens. I have asked him to share this so we can adapt these talking points and responses to people’s very common questions about the role of these bases, whether they protect or endanger and the threat of mass surveillance.
Activist researcher Warren Thomson reminded the group about what the Five Eyes is, what it does, and for whom. The starting point at this event was an understanding that Waihopai is a surveillance facility and the Five Eyes is a surveillance arrangement. Our Kiwi cousins understand, perhaps because of the work of Nicky Hager, that surveillance enables wars, fuels the preparation and the delivery of war; surveillance also routinely violates the sovereignty of neighbouring countries.
Nicky Hager, author of Secret Power, a book that is credited with triggering the European Parliamentary inquiry into ECHELON (that delivered a magnificent report and resolution on 5 September 2001 that was forgotten in the wake of events 6 days later) explained what researching surveillance facility entails: a) field work and observation (going and looking, and he took me on a private tour a little later and we noticed that there are 11 antenna at Waihopi right now, not just the two big domes and the Torus that can be seen from the road), b) looking at other countries for comparison c) seeing Britain as an early warning system for what will soon happen in the lesser eyes d) actually looking at the revelations from Snowden and WikiLeaks e) information from insiders.
Kyle Matthews a Masters student doing his thesis on the 30 years of protest at Waihopai explained the theory of nonviolent resistance as based on getting a reaction from authorities, which you then repeat, repeat, repeat. His challenge to the group was recognition that many items on the long list of nonviolent actions that have taken place over the years at the annual gathering does not get a reaction, as compared to the actions of the dome busters who caused a huge national conversation in facing court (they won the case).
Liz Remmerswaal Hughes reported back from her experience at Pine Gap – which was a great presentation, bringing news, colour and spirit from the actions in Australia in September.
Adi Leason one of the Waihopai Ploughshares 3 – shared his story about the huge personal cost of taking on the action to challenge Waihopai. He recalled the moment when all the planning seemed to go west, and the resolve of the group to continue, climbing the fence and deflating the dome. The court case came down to a jury believing the integrity of the activists, their motivation to end war and surveillance and to build peace.
The movement that successfully resisted visits of US nuclear weapons to New Zealand created a fundamentally different starting point for discussions about the US alliance, war, peace, surveillance and independence. The general population and virtually all political parties in New Zealand have a progressive position on nuclear weapons, well in advance of the majority of Australian citizens and all but one of our political parties.
This is a very different foundation for their peaceful and independent movement, perhaps in some ways more difficult. What do I mean by this? When comparing the positions taken by Australia and New Zealand at the UN over many years, it’s absolutely the case that New Zealand is better than Australia’s. But when it ends up doing the same thing, maybe it is also better at duplicity and self-delusion. After all, New Zealand is up to its eyeballs in US wars, and is a fully obedient member of the Five Eyes alliance. While holding proudly (and rightly so!) to its nuclear free status and working very hard to project a good international citizen identity, particularly in the Pacific, New Zealand is spying on all of the nations of the Pacific for the NSA.
As organisers, as movement builders, we have a lot to learn from our friends across the Tasman. There are some really mighty people over there! They think much more clearly as a nation in the Pacific, and have a strong and clear understanding of the linkages between surveillance, war and sovereignty. I think of the days of the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement, and how that brought together peace and nuclear free folks, anti-imperialist, anti-racist and women’s movements, and geez I reckon we need to build something pretty similar again. I really wish we worked more closely together with our colleagues in New Zealand. We are the minor minions, the conveniently located British Dominions, islands with aerials, two of the five blinking eyes, located in the Pacific hoovering up all of the communications of our neighbours, at our peril, at our expense and at our opportunity cost for better relations in the region.
It was a real honour to go to Waihopai and have made plans to bring some film makers and activists here to Australia in April – more on that soon!
PEACE PILGRIMS AUSTRALIA: Hello sisters and brothers in Aotearoa. We acknowledge the Maori people as custodians of your beautiful Land and acknowledge the strength and care they provide. We say Kia Ora to you all this day. We send a message of love, courage and commitment for your actions in the Shadow of the Waihopai spy base. We know that the evil spying and war making facilitated there, has no place in the exquisite valleys of southern Aotearoa. We stand with you and promise to pass your social media messaging far and wide as you challenge the client state relationship between New Zealand with the US. We will tell your stories. Thank you for your actions. May there be #nomoreUSwars.
AUSTRALIAN GREENS NSW SENATOR LEE RHIANNON: Your annual call for the closure of the Waihopai spy base is one of the world’s inspiring protests. Your 20 years of creative actions highlights how New Zealand/Aotearoa contributes to US global spying, invasions of other nations and ongoing wars. The Waihopai Base along with the US spy base in Australia, Pine Gap, and similar bases must close. The collection of private information is anti-democratic and cannot be justified. All strength to your 2017 protest and may there be many more until the people of New Zealand/Aotearoa force the closure of this spy base.
ICAN AUSTRALIA BOARD: Kia ora! The Board of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Australia sends our solidarity to the people gathered for the meeting of the Waihopai Spy Base Protest on 29th January 2016. We wish the participants gathered in Blenheim well as they consider the implications of the on-going Five Eyes Agreements, which we understand as being irrevocably linked to our own work to eliminate nuclear weapons across the globe. Standing together with people across our region, ICAN Australia has worked over the past ten years to raise awareness of the impacts of nuclear weapons on health, environment and human security through focussing on advocating for a ban on nuclear weapons. This year, the United Nations will begin negotiations on such a ban, starting in March and continuing in June. We remain hopeful that such a ban will serve to delegitimise nuclear weapons in the world and lead to the elimination of these ultimate weapons of mass destruction and the structures of control that support such inhumane power. We wish you well in your deliberations together and send our regards to all our friends and colleagues in the protests.
ACRONYM INSTITUTE – REBECCA JOHNSON: Solidarity from these spying islands over here to your WAIHOPAI Spybase protest over there! Together with friends from Acronym, ICAN, CND, Greens and Nukewatch I’m beaming (in my own way) our support, strength and courage for your actions for peace and privacy. We’re with you in spirit. As resisters to GCHQ, Croughton, Menwith, Waddington and all the other spies and abusers of power in our islands, thank you for your challenging work. Together we must take back our privacy Rights, Justice and Freedom.
WIKILEAKS – JULIAN ASSANGE: New Zealand’s protesters can be proud of their astounding contribution to exposing mass surveilance. These confrontations led to Nicky Hagar’s book “Secret Power” in 1996 which opened the first big window on how the NSA’s global spy system worked. Later in the United Kingdom, such protests at Waihopai’s equivallent, Menwith Hill, led to its inner working being revealed. There is no security reason why most of the functions of these bases cannot be revealed. Secrecy is applied because their is a perception that the population and the courts would stop many of its activities were they known. Most peoples do not want to approve of a dark network of spy agencies engaged in mass surveillance, assassination and war that does not respect democratic oversight and which can result in unpredictable conflicts with other nations. So continue on, using protests to draw attention and prosecutions that can reveal internal workings and encourage dissenters to step forward.
INDEPENDENT AND PEACEFUL AUSTRALIA NETWORK (IPAN): Dear concerned citizens of Aotearoa, gathered to protest the existence of Waihopai spy Base We, from the Independent Peaceful Australia Network, support your expose of Wiahopai’s role as part of the Five Eyes Spy ring. The base most directly related to it, in Australia, is Kojarena, on the west coast, 500 kms. north of Perth. Then of course, there’s the BIG ONE – Pine Gap, which some of your stalwarts have visited with us in the past. We duly commemorated its fiftieth anniversary last year, and had some very well attended meetings in Alice Springs to highlight its awfulness, particularly the enhancement which it gives to the U.S. drones killing machines. So, we send our supportive greetings for your gathering, mindful of the worsening global situation, and the fact that these American Spy bases in our neighbouring countries, do a great deal of harm in assisting the United States’ Government war-making. We commend Aotearoa citizens for having persuaded successive governments of your country to break free from the debilitating ANZUS alliance, and wish that our Government had the courage to do the same. The emerging global political situation may even cause some change to occur. With best wishes for successful meetings and protests.
Towards justice and peace, IPAN.
PEOPLE FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMANT WA: Best wishes to all Aotearoan friends from People for Nuclear Disarmament, W.A. Keep going!! With respect to Owen Wilkes, from many years back, and ongoing to Murray and Nicky Hager, and all others who continue the struggle to get the truth out there! Eventually, we will prevail – there is still some sanity in the universe, untapped by us mere humans…… Looking forward to some unexpected pleasant surprises in this year, despite all indications to the contrary. As our old friend Leonard Cohen said/wrote/sang “There’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.” Towards justice and peace, Jo Vallentine.
THE DISARMY: The Disarmy is a group of peace activists from many walks of life in Australia. We come together to interrupt and shine a light on the global military industrial complex and its trade in death and destruction. Thanks and solidarity to all First Nations Peoples, Whistleblowers, Activists, Hacktivists, Journalists, Human Rights Lawyers and Academics who are working to expose and oppose the Waihopai Spy base. Disarmy are with you in solidarity always. We recently participated in an action on Arrente land near Alice Springs to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Pine Gap agreement. Members of Disarmy shut down Raytheon HQ for a whole day in Alice Springs. Together with activists from all over Australia and a few from Aotearoa we gathered to share information, build movements, raise awareness and look back at the Five Eyes, letting them know we see what they are doing. We know more details thanks to the brave work of whistleblowers Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and journalists and publishers like Julian Assange, Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald and your own Nicky Hager, but we’ve always known enough to know that their wars, surveillance and domination must be resisted. Be brave. Be Strong. The Disarmy
MEDICAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE PREVENTION OF WAR: The National Council of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) wishes to send a message of solidarity to those gathered to protest at the Waihopai Spy Base on the 29th of January 2017. This base, like spy bases we have in Australia, is part of the “Five Eyes Agreement”. This agreement provides intelligence used for drone attacks, for targeting nuclear weapons strikes and for other intelligence gathering. MAPW is opposed to the use of drone strikes, given they are out-of-sight, out-of-mind remote-control warfare being prosecuted by our chief military ally without any clear public debate in the US, in Australia or in New Zealand on legality or consequences. Drone attacks are occurring in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan with whom we are not at war. US non-government research has found they are nowhere near as discriminating towards noncombatants as has been claimed, with hundreds of civilians killed. With regard to nuclear weapons, 2017 marks the year that negotiations will be held in New York to draft a treaty banning these weapons. We hope this development will lead to the stigmatisation and eventual elimination of these weapons, and that spy bases such as Waihopai will no longer be used for targeting these appalling weapons. MAPW wishes all participants well for this significant gathering.
WILPF: The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) sends solidarity and support to the activists gathering in New Zealand/Aotearoa to protest at the Waihopi electronic intelligence-gathering base on 28 January 2017. A critical node in the Five Eyes surveillance network, we appreciate your efforts in challenging its continued role in spying on citizens around the world and contributing to the US government’s manipulations of business and diplomatic affairs and its wars and military interventions abroad. At this time when human rights, peace, and justice are under threat by certain corporate and government interests, those that are committed to peace and justice must work to shut down the bases that contribute to these networks of inequality, injustice, and violence as part of our pursuit for peace.