Unmasking Waihopai – War Complicity Exposed

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 45, Pentecost 2008

By Jim Consedine

The duty of the Christian in this crisis is to strive with all his power and intelligence, with his faith, his hope in Christ, and love for God and man to do the one task which God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for the total abolition of war. —Thomas Merton, 1961

This quote from Trappist monk Thomas Merton seems appropriate to begin a reflection on the action of the three Ploughshares peacemakers, Sam Land, Fr Peter Murnane OP and Adrian Leason. While Merton was reflecting on the crisis facing the world at the time of the Bay of Pigs missile crisis, his words are needed today more than ever, nearly 50 years later. How do we make an impact through peacemaking in a world overloaded with murderous weapons of mass destruction? And what is the obligation of one seeking to follow Christ’s teaching in our time?

We seek here to reflect on the place of the Waihopai spybase in the overall scheme of things. Just how important is this facility? For it is from Waihopai near Blenheim that all New Zealand ‘intelligence’ is intercepted and sent on to overseas ‘intelligence’ agencies. Those working legitimately and openly for social justice and social change are among those targeted by the controllers of this spybase. Their masters want no change because they and their vested interest friends benefit from the global inequalities currently in place.

The Role of Waihopai

Waihoipai is the key facility in New Zealand to our involvement with maintaining the status quo in the world – global poverty, oil wars and mass exploitation of workers and the poor. It is through Waihopai that the phone, text, faxes and email messages of any grouping or individual seeking to create a more just and equitable world flow and are scrutinised. They are our ‘big ears’ checking up on everything that might suggest change. Encrypted messages are decoded before being processed. Most of the key words are supplied by the US. Communications of interest are sent directly to the National Security Agency in Washington.

Waihopai is New Zealand’s largest spy base. According to research by John Minto and Nicky Hager, ‘in everything but name, Waihopai is a US spybase operating on New Zealand soil. It is operated in the US national interest – both militarily and commercially. It is a critical link in their worldwide surveillance network and in this way it is our greatest contribution to US global strategies such as the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq….It is clear that the information contained includes commercially sensitive material on trade and investment involving private companies as well as diplomatic communications between governments and international communications involving New Zealanders.’

While the SIS spies within New Zealand, Waihopai eavesdrops on other countries as well as our own. Murray Horton, veteran social justice campaigner, is clear as to Waihopai’s objectives: ‘It is operated by New Zealand Government’s Security Bureau (GCSB), in the interests of the foreign powers grouped together in the super-secret UKUSA Agreement, which shares global electronic and signals intelligence among the intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and NZ. Its two satellite interception dishes (shielded by giant domes – until recently!!)) intercept a huge volume of phone calls, plus telexes, faxes, email and computer data communications. It gathers this data from our Asia/Pacific neighbours and forwards it on to the major partners in the UKUSA Agreement, specifically the US National Security Agency. Its targets include international communications involving New Zealanders.’

‘The codename for this – Echelon – has become notorious worldwide. New Zealand is an integral, albeit junior, part of a global spying network, one that is ultimately accountable only to its own constituent agencies, not government, and certainly not to citizens.’

‘Waihopai’s ‘big ears’ cover a vast area of the Pacific. Although Iraq is on the other side of the world, the US military/intelligence network that is planning that war is global and depends on global facilities. Waihopai is strategically situated in the Pacific for spying on several countries, such as Indonesia, that do not support US war plans or the so-called ‘war on terror’. If New Zealanders disagree with US policies and warmongering, then Waihopai is located right here to monitor our own international e-mails and phone calls and report directly to Big Brother at our expense – because we pay for Waihopai with millions of our tax dollars every year.’

‘The Bush Administration has pronounced intelligence to be the key component of all the wars that it is fighting, or planning to fight, throughout the world. Thus, much more so than any token commitment of the SAS or a frigate, the Waihopai spybase is New Zealand’s key contribution to all these American wars.’

It is clear that despite New Zealand’s refusal to publicly back the disastrous, immoral American-led invasion of Iraq, we have supported the Iraqi war through intelligence reports emanating from Waihopai. We have been doing so for 20 years. So we really have been part of ‘the coalition of the willing’, although admittedly a covert part.

Theological reflection

More than 40 years ago, Martin Luther King described the US as ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.’ How much more is that so now? New Zealand is a small but vital player in perpetuating that violence through its military and intelligence links to the US.

Thomas Merton says ‘the one task which God has imposed on us in the world today…is to work for the total abolition of war.’ If Waihopai is complicit in keeping wars going, how can ordinary people who oppose war have any real input into these matters done in their name by their governments? How can concerned citizens help prevent war when so many countries like the US are totally geared to creating it?

Why should we allow so-called US allies like Australia and New Zealand to participate without disclosure or accountability in a world wide web of secret military installations that maintain war and other global inequalities in our name?

It is clear Waihopai has helped maintain the Iraqi war. This is a war condemned so often by John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI, and challenged by the teachings of the non-violent Jesus and by the social teachings of the Church. There has never been any moral justification for going to war in Iraq. All we have ever had has been smokescreens and lies. It was always primarily an oil war. Saddam Hussein, a former ally of the US, was the scapegoat. Fictitious ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ the excuse. ‘Intelligence’ the underlying cause.

If the results of Waihopai ‘intelligence’ help maintain war and inequality, then does not Waihopai help form a ‘structure of sin’ as defined by John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical On Social Concerns? Does it not sit alongside Asian sweatshops, arms manufacturers, missile factories, organised paedophile and prostitution rings and similar sinful structures around the world, which have a destructive effect on humanity and God’s creation? As Jesus said, ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’

The prophet Dom Helder Camara used to speak of ‘a spiral of violence’ and link international banks, arms manufactures, exploitative corporations, military installations and corrupt politicians with the oppression of millions through the violence of systemic poverty held in place by these institutions. Is not Waihopai one such institution, thus forming part of the ‘spiral of violence’ in our part of the world?

Breaking the Spiral of Violence

The issue is – what can ordinary people do that can be effective in taking a moral stance? People can wring their hands in frustration. Millions do. They can sign petitions. They can vigil outside appropriate installations and military sites. They can march in protest. Hundreds of thousands worldwide have marched and continue to march against the Iraq war. Hundreds of peace activists, particularly in the US, have served prison time as a result of taking direct non-violent action against the war. But no one in authority has taken any notice.

In the world of international power politics, real political power ultimately lies neither with democratic processes nor ordinary people. Real power, especially in the US, lies with corporate businesses like oil companies, arms manufacturers, international banks – and the military. These are often linked. War is profitable. Always has been. Always will be. Hence the permanent war economy prevailing in the US.

The ANZAC Ploughshares peacemakers, special agents of God’s grace, felt the call to take prophetic symbolic action to highlight our government’s complicity in this global terror and unmask Waihopai. They practised ‘divine disobedience’ to the law of the land in response to acting in obedience to the law of conscience. For a time, they broke the ‘spiral of violence.’ And they stood with millions of the victims of injustice and war all over the world. They will pay a price – possibly go to prison. But they have done us all a great favour, reminding us that ultimately we are all responsible for what happens to our neighbour. We are our neighbour’s keeper. Jesus taught us that. These prophetic voices have reminded us again.

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