Waihopai and the Troublesome Priest

By Gordon Campbell
Interesting headline in the NZ Herald this morning about the Waihopai spy base invasion : “ Spy Base Priest’s History of Trouble…” In fact, the only ‘trouble” the Herald can dig up on Dominican priest Peter Murnane is that he took in the Algerian asylum seeker Ahmed Zaoui. Right. So he enabled a recognised refugee and an asylum seeker to be kept in humane conditions until the claims against him were proven to be unfounded. Sounds like a very bad egg. Oh, and he once spilt blood on the floor of the US consulate in Auckland, as a protest against the Iraq war. I guess that really means Murnane has been trouble for the Establishment and for Granny Herald, its media mouthpiece. Who, to this day, still can’t get its Zaoui story straight.

This morning for instance it carries this sentence : “Australian-born Peter Murnane provided accommodation in Auckland to Ahmed Zaoui, the Algerian refugee accused of being a terrorist but later cleared.” To repeat for the 1,000th time for the Herald’s benefit : Zaoui was never accused by the authorities of being a terrorist, so he could hardly be cleared later, of a charge that was never laid. As usual, Ron Mark doesn’t let the fact that the hysteria over Zaoui was finally proven groundless last year stop him from launching another ridiculous panic attack on the Algerian :

“We wonder if the people who stupidly broke into the base, causing a lot of expensive damage, maintain their links with Mr Zaoui and his ilk. Will the courts give them more terrorist suspects to look after?” etc etc. Mark wonders darkly whether ‘a fifth column of activists’ exists in this country. He’s right. They’re under his bed, cackling silently.

For the record, even Crown Law Office lawyers told our highest courts that Zaoui was not considered a terrorist risk. Instead, the SIS Director chose to withdraw a certificate claiming he was a risk to national security – the meaning of which, in their view, included giving us a bad look. And why did the SIS backtrack? Because for four years, it had put the wrong spin on Zaoui’s political history. Am I nitpicking? No. The Zaoui family is trying to make a new life in Auckland, and it doesn’t need the local newspaper, or an idiot like Ron Mark, re-raising a baseless ‘ terrorist’ slur against him.

Back to Waihopai. In the coming weeks and months, it will be interesting to see which charges are laid is against the Waihopai Three. As in the ‘ terrorism’ raids in the Ureweras last year, the authorities may be happier to press lesser charges – arms charges in the Ureweras, trespass and wilful property damage charges here – than to lay the kind of charges (e.g. sabotage) that would give the accused the chance to raise in court the wider national and international security dimensions of their protest action, and of whatever it is the GCSB do. If the role of the GCSB – sorry, if the GCSB’s ‘history of trouble’ – is deemed relevant, we might even have the agency’s embarrassing past incidents dragged into the courtroom, via the accidentally archived Lange papers, such as its spying on UN diplomatic missions on behalf of the Americans.

So far, there hasn’t been much effort put into up-dating what the Waihopai actually does these days. Basically, the GCSB ( and other linked bases in the network) intercept regional civilian communications that are transmitted by satellite, download these stolen communications and send them in unprocessed form on to the NSA in Langley, Virginia. Presumably, these intercepts can range from diplomatic communiqués from countries that are our trading partners and rivals, to satellite phone messages from…almost anyone.

How this activity feeds into and assists the actual war making effort on the ground in in Afghanistan or Iraq is not readily apparent – to me, anyway. Historically, from the time it was founded by Father Philip Berrigan and other radical Catholics protesting against the Vietnam War, most Ploughshares actions I’m aware of overseas ( against war planes, missiles etc) have had a more direct connection between the protest action and the war weaponry than seems the case at Waihopai.

So if anyone out there does have reliable information on whether and how the Waihopai and/or Tangimoana bases play a direct military role – say, in the positioning of Predator drones or other GPS dependent weaponry – I’d be interested in hearing about it.

ENDS