A high-tech United States surveillance tool which sweeps up all communications without a warrant was sent to New Zealand for testing on the public, according to an espionage expert.
The tool was called ThinThread and it worked by automatically intercepting phone, email and internet information.
ThinThread was highly valued by those who created it because it could handle massive amounts of intercepted information. It then used snippets of data to automatically build a detailed picture of targets, their contacts and their habits for the spy organisation using it.
Those organisations were likely to include the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) after Washington, DC-based author Tim Shorrock revealed ThinThread was sent to New Zealand for testing in 2000-2001.
Mr Shorrock, who has written on intelligence issues for 35 years, said the revolutionary ThinThread surveillance tool was sent to New Zealand by the US National Security Agency. The GCSB is the US agency’s intelligence partner - currently under pressure for potentially illegal wide-spread spying on the public.
The claim ThinThread was sent to New Zealand has brought fresh calls for the bureau to explain what it does.
A spokesman said the bureau was currently reviewing how much it did tell the public - but it would not be making comment on the ThinThread test. He said the intelligence agency "won’t confirm or deny" the claim because it was an "operational" matter.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key also refused to comment saying it was an operational matter.
The claim emerged in an article by Mr Shorrock which ran in a magazine last month and featured whistleblower William Binney - a former high-ranking NSA official who designed ThinThread.
Mr Shorrock said the "ThinThread prototype" was installed at two NSA listening posts in late 2000 and at Fort Meade where the NSA is based.
"In addition, several allied foreign intelligence agencies were given the program to conduct lawful surveillance in their own corners of the world. Those recipients included Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia and New Zealand."
The "lawful" aspect was due to the software’s ability to mask the identities of those whose information was being intercepted - a technical work around of the legal barrier which prohibits New Zealand and the US from spying on its own citizens.
Mr Shorrock said ThinThread operated in three phases. It began by intercepting call, email and internet traffic on a network and automatically assessing it for interest. The scale of the traffic was such that it narrowed down targets of interest by focusing on patterns of information rather than the content of the information.
Secondly, ThinThread automatically anonymised the collected data so the identities stayed hidden "until there was sufficient evidence to obtain a warrant".
The magic was in the back end of the system which used the raw data "to create graphs showing relationships and patterns that could tell analysts which targets they should look at and which calls should be listened to" using "metadata" - the same type of "information about information" which featured in about 60 of the 88 potentially illegal spying cases identified in the GCSB review.
The Greens and Labour both said it showed the need for an inquiry into the GCSB - an investigation which both have repeatedly demanded. Greens’ co-leader Russel Norman said the Prime Minister and GCSB needed to explain to the public whether it was spied on by ThinThread.
"It reinforces why there is a different set of rules for the GCSB - they are integrated into this global spy network," he said.
The program would have used a technique of encrypting sensitive privacy information in order to comply with legal concerns, and would have automatically identified potential threats. The sources of the data for this program would have included "massive phone and e-mail data," but the extent of this information is not clear. [...]
The Pentagon report concluded that ThinThread’s ability to sort through data in 2001 was far superior to that of another NSA system in place in 2004, and that the program should be launched and enhanced. ThinThread was designed to address two key challenges: One, the NSA had more information than it could digest, and, two, increasingly its targets were in contact with people in the United States whose calls the agency was prohibited from monitoring. Source
Easter - Christian or Pagan? 2014 04 18
Contrary to popular belief, Easter does not represent the "historical" crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In reality, the gospel tale reflects the annual "crossification" of the sun through the vernal equinox (Spring), at which time the sun is "resurrected," as the day begins to become longer than the night.
Rather than being a "Christian" holiday, Easter celebrations date back ...
Man-Made Blood Might Be Used in Transfusions by 2016 2014 04 18 Researchers in the U.K. have created the first man-made red blood cells of high enough quality to be introduced into the human body
The premise of the HBO show and book series True Blood revolves around a technological breakthrough: scientists figure out how to synthesize artificial human blood, which, as an ample new source of non-human food, allows vampires to "come ...
The Trials of the Cherokee Were Reflected In Their Skulls 2014 04 18
Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee have found that environmental stressors – from the Trail of Tears to the Civil War – led to significant changes in the shape of skulls in the eastern and western bands of the Cherokee people.
The findings highlight the role of environmental factors in shaping our physical characteristics.
Our Fears May Be Shaped by Ancestral Trauma 2014 04 18
Last December, an unsettling Nature Neuroscience study found that mice who were taught to associate the smell of cherry blossoms with pain produced offspring who feared the smell of cherry blossoms, even if they had never been exposed to it before. We knew that the process was epigenetic—that it was not hard-wired in the permanent genetic structure of the mouse—but ...
Did vitamin B3 come from space? 2014 04 17
Ancient Earth might have had an extraterrestrial supply of vitamin B3 delivered by carbon-rich meteorites, according to a new analysis. The result supports a theory that the origin of life may have been assisted by a supply of key molecules created in space and brought to Earth by comet and meteor impacts.
"It is always difficult to put a value on ...