WELLINGTON (AFP) ― Former U.S. intelligence operative Edward Snowden and fellow fugitive and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange joined forces Monday to attack the New Zealand government, accusing it of mass surveillance on its people, five days before the country goes to the polls.
The appearance of the fugitives together, albeit by satellite links, was part of “The Moment of Truth” event organized by Kim Dotcom, the Internet mogul fighting extradition from New Zealand to the United States to face online piracy charges.
Dotcom, who has campaigned for the center-right National Party-led government of Prime Minister John Key to be voted out of office on Saturday, promised many weeks ago he would drop a “bombshell” before the election.
Snowden, appearing live from Moscow, where he has been granted three year’s residency, claimed the U.S. National Security Agency had a facility in New Zealand.
He said that during his work as an analyst with the NSA he regularly came across communications of New Zealanders, and New Zealand also housed one of a network of sensors around the world which allowed access to email addresses.
Assange, speaking from the Ecuador Embassy in London, where he has been holed up for three years, spoke of New Zealand’s role within the Five Eyes intelligence network with the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia.
U.S. investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, who appeared live at the forum held in the Auckland Town Hall, said the Key government had planned to exploit laws passed last year to broaden its intelligence gathering.
He said it had completed the first phase of accessing a telecommunications cable into the country.
However, ahead of the event Key released a series of papers that he said would counter “misinformation” about the workings of New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau.
“There is not, and never has been, a cable access surveillance program operating in New Zealand,” Key said.
“There is not, and never has been, mass surveillance of New Zealanders undertaken by the GCSB.”
Key also dismissed an email which purported to show he was involved in a plan to have German-born Dotcom settled in New Zealand so he could be extradited to the United States.
The email, dated Oct. 27, 2010, is said to be from Warner Brothers chairman and chief executive Kevin Tsujihara to a senior executive at the Motion Picture Association of America.
It said in part, “I see strong support for our antipiracy effort. John Key told me in private that they are granting Dotcom residency despite pushback from officials about his criminal past.”
Warner Brothers called the email a “fabrication” and senior vice president Paul McGuire told the New Zealand Herald that Tsujihara “never had any such conversation with Prime Minister Key.”
U.S. prosecutors say Dotcom’s now-defunct Megaupload sites netted more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and cost copyright-owners more than $500 million by offering pirated copies of movies, TV shows and other content.
The entrepreneur with a reputation for a colorful lifestyle was arrested in 2012 by New Zealand police acting on behalf of the FBI.
He denies any wrongdoing and is on bail while he fights extradition proceedings.