Protesters say spying ‘goes on’ at Waihopai Station

By Matthew Hampson,
Published by Stuff, 17 February 2023

Protesters will descend on a spy base in rural Marlborough this weekend, a site made famous by its now deflated domes that once intercepted satellite communications.

Organised by Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC), a press release issued by the group said the “peaceful protest, calling for its closure” at Waihopai Station, also known as the Waihopai Valley spy base, would start at 4pm on Saturday.

“For 35 years Waihopai has been New Zealand’s most significant contribution to Washington’s global effort to manipulate world business and diplomacy. And for 35 years the Anti-Bases Campaign has protested at Waihopai, calling for its closure,” the press release said.

The two radomes at Waihopai Station were deflated on April 4, 2022, and the steel antennae underneath, containing two identical 18-metre satellite dishes, were later dismantled in sections.

Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) director general Andrew Hampton said in April last year that a decision was made in November 2021 to retire and remove the radomes and dishes after almost 35 years of service.

“Changes in global telecommunications and information technology meant the interception of satellite communications from Waihopai had declined over the years to the point where dish use had become virtually obsolete,” Hampton said.

Waihopai Station would continue to operate and support the GCSB’s ongoing national security activities, he said.

Protest organiser and ABC secretary Murray Horton said the group’s protests had “never been for example about the domes, but the whole place.”

Anti-Bases Campaign secretary Murray Horton speaking at the most recent protest at Waihopai Station in January 2021.

“Anti-Bases Campaign has always consistently called for Waihopai to be closed down, as not serving New Zealand’s national interests and effectively being, in all but name, an American intelligence gathering establishment operating on New Zealand soil, staffed by New Zealanders, paid for by New Zealanders taxpayers, but effectively working at the bidding of the biggest of the five eyes,” Horton said.

“Anti-Bases Campaign have always said that Waihopai is New Zealand’s most important contribution to the military/intelligence alliance with the US.”

Protester numbers at Waihopai Station would likely be effected by transport difficulties caused by Cyclone Gabrielle he said, but the group was expecting up to 40 people at the facility on Saturday.

“It’ll be a small but gallant band. We’ll have some banners, and we’ll have some placards, and it will be the first time we will have seen the place since 2021,” Horton said.

Waihopai Station continues to operate and support the Government Communications Security Bureau’s ongoing national security activities.

A Government Communications Security Bureau spokesperson said GSCB existed to protect New Zealand’s “way of life – which includes the right to peaceful protest”.

“While GCSB’s activities always need to be undertaken in accordance with the Government’s priorities, and the law, we do work closely with our international partners, particularly the Five Eyes, which brings significant intelligence benefits. All information we share with our Five Eyes partners is done in accordance with our legislation, policies, and human rights obligations,” the spokesperson said.

“We fully understand that some people will always hold particular views about our work. We are an intelligence and security agency and, as such, much of what we do is done in secret. In recent years we have strived to be as open as possible about what we do. Today we say a lot more that we used to about our work, including our cybersecurity and intelligence missions, and the benefits it brings to Aotearoa New Zealand.”

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