The spy in the sky
The United States-led Echelon electronic espionage network has spied on Japan's diplomatic messages for years, particularly concerning its trade, claims a New Zealand peace activist Nicky Hager. Nicky Hager said that New Zealand and Australia had played a role in the spying, monitoring diplomatic traffic and employing Japanese linguists to decode it on behalf of the US National Security Agency. The US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are involved in the Echelon espionage network. New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau, which operates two listening posts, has never admitted membership of Echelon. Britain and the US have acknowledged their involvement. Both Britain and the US denied that Echelon was used to gather economic information on allies. Mr Hager said that the US agency set up a program, targeting Japanese diplomatic traffic, which was running as late as 1996 and there was no reason why it would not still be in operation. "I interviewed the people who do this — it was a really large part of the effort", Mr Hager said. He added that the snooping on Japanese messages had been going on since at least the early 1980s. "People who worked on it were quite clear about the fact that it was a five-nation thing which had been initiated by the United States because of its economic competition, its concerns and interests in Japan as a regional power". Mr Hager's claims cover a period of tense trade negotiations between Japan and the US, including talks on car exports from Japan that almost caused a trade war in 1995. Mr Hager said that the US agency supplied New Zealand monitors with the key to the less sophisticated of two Japanese diplomatic code levels, which was used for the bulk of diplomatic messages. He also said that Echelon monitors tracked Japanese plutonium shipments through the Pacific.