Dotcom's 'Moment of Truth': cheers, cringes, no bombshell

READ ALSO: ASK ME ANYTHING: Independent international security expert Paul Buchanan

The Internet Party's "Moment of Truth" rally has wrapped up without any bombshell being dropped on the Prime Minister. After months of hype, the Warner Bros email did not even get a look in, let alone any kind of defence against allegations it's a fake.

A couple of disturbing claims were made about mass surveillance. But with no new documentary evidence, supporters on each side of the Dotcom divide were left in a he-said/she-said stalemate on social media. 

The low-point came as Kim Dotcom launched into an infomercial for the company he founded, Mega; a gift to his opponents. At a stroke he reinforced every negative stereotype about his intentions. It was a strategic blunder that must have made moderator Laila Harre's heart sink. It made Dotcom and Internet Mana look manipulative (of the crowd, and Greenwald, Assange and Snowden), and other parties that also want surveillance reform more attractive.

Southern Cross Cable tapped — Greenwald
The packed-out event started reasonably strongly, with US journalist and Dotcom houseguest Glenn Greenwald reprising his slanging match with the PM, and giving an encore to his accusation this afternoon about that the Southern Cross Cable has been subject to mass surveillance.

A cache of top secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden to Greenwald apparently shows that the GCSB, with ongoing NSA cooperation, implemented phase one of the mass surveillance programme codenamed 'Speargun' at some point in 2012 or early 2013.

Speargun involved the covert installation of "cable access equipment" —  an apparent reference to surveillance to the Southern Cross Cable, which links Australia, NZ and the US and forms our only major broadband link to the outside world.

Greenwald said Speargun then moved to phase two, under which "metadata probes" were to be inserted into the cables. The NSA documents note that the first such metadata probe was scheduled for mid-2013.

"The technique is almost by definition a form of mass surveillance; metadata is relatively useless for intelligence purposes without a massive amount of similar data to analyse it against and trace connections through," Greenwald said.

Southern Cross Cable (50% owned by Spark) has dismissed claims its network was under surveillance as "nonsense".

CEO Anthony Briscoe said it would have impossible for probes to be inserted without his company noticing an impact on performance.

Yesterday afternoon, John Key did go as far as acknowledging a "test probe" was created; a startling admission to those in the ICT industry, or anyone concerned that the privacy vs security debate has fallen out of kilter.

However, the PM also said the plan did not go ahead, in part for logistical problems about storing so much data.

Greenwald talked about NSA documents that apparently contradicted the PM, but did not produce them.

The US journalist didn't seem to have picked up on one recent development that would arguably bolster his case: the network security and monitoring deal announced in June between Emulex and Crown-owned company Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand (REANNZ). 

Emulex is the US company that bought NZ's Endace. The selling point of Endance's hardware and software is that it can monitor traffic without impacting performance.

Reannz is using Emulex's technology to monitor performance and the integrity of its research data, but both former Endace CEO Selwyn Pellett and current management have told NBR that Emulex's clients include security agencies around the world.

Mass surveillance tool XKeyScore includes NZ results — Snowden
The proceedings peaked as Edward Snowden appeared (via a videolink from Vladimir Putin's Russia). A sharp-sounding Snowden said that while working as a contractor for the NSA, he routinely accessed communications by New Zealanders, using the XKeyScore tool.

XKeyScore, which the PM refused to discuss yesterday, searches for keywords and phrases that justify opening an intercepted message.

It was not limited to or even used largely for the purposes of cyber security, as has been claimed, but was instead used primarily for reading individuals' private email, text messages and internet traffic, Snowden said.  

It could be used to see everything about a person, from who they messaged to what books they browsed on Amazon, he said.

"I know this because it was my full-time job in Hawaii, where I worked every day in an NSA facility with a top secret clearance."

XKeyScore featues an optional filter that allows analysts to prevent research results from a particular Five Eyes country (Australia, Canada, NZ, UK or US from a particular search, Snowden claimed.

"Ask yourself: why do analysts have a checkbox on a top secret system that hides the results of mass surveillance in New Zealand if there is no mass surveillance in New Zealand?," he asked.

Again, disturbing, but the former NSA contractor offered no smoking gun evidence (and remember he has a small mountain of searchable documents onhand).

As thing's stand, it's his word against Key's' with almost all webmail and VoIP calls being routed via servers in the US, it would have taken no mass surveillance by the NZ government. And it's a leap from an NSA analyst like Snowden accessing data about New Zealanders to the GCSB using XKeyScore to monitor locals.

Internet Mana leader Laila Harre's take is that Edward Snowden has yet to be proved wrong on any of his allegations, so has credibility on XKeyScore. The PM's refusal to talk about XKeyScore serves to reinforce her claim.

NSA has facilities in Auckland, north of Auckland — Snowden
But Snowden took things a step further, saying XKeyScore relied on a network of sensors around the world, including one in NZ, which collect not just metadata. There is an NSA office in Auckland, and one north of Auckland, the exile alleged. If evidence emerges to back that claim, it could be a real firecacker (if not a bombshell of the type to move middle NZ). But tonight, we only had Snowden's word to go on (NBR has asked the PM's office for comment. I'd like to see him address the NSA facility and XKeyScore claims directly. But with no direct bombshell evidence, I suspect he'll kick for touch).

"The Prime Minister's claim to the public, that 'there is not and there never has been any mass surveillance', is false," the former National Security Agency analyst wrote earlier. "The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio and phone networks."

Greenwald said the GCSB contributed large amounts of metadata on New Zealanders to the XKeyscore database. Snowden said the GCSB didn't merely use X Keyscore but also actively and directly developed mass surveillance algorithms for it.

Assange cleaned up
From there, it was all downhill. Julian Assange spoke — another videolink speaker, this time from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. 

Assange brought his star power, but little else, as he meandered through a long speech, and looked peeved when the attention turned back to Snowden.

At one point a cleaner appeared in the background, making things look like nothing less than an episode of Leigh Hart's Late Night Big Breakfast (aptly , the comedian was reportedly in the audience).
A TPP tangent
Robert Amsterdam, a US trade and human rights lawyer who has worked on a couple of reports for Kim Dotcom, then spoke about the Trans Tasman Pacific Agreement (TTPA), claiming it was an agreement that would "take from you your sovereignty."
The international trade lawyer warned the US could block any benefits from the proposed regional free trade agreement between 12 countries, claiming Hollywood and other big businesses used trade agreements to impose American expectations in the domestic laws of other countries.  He said the US Congress could veto any trade benefits or even impose sanctions on countries that didn't meet US expectations. Dotcom is facing a legal battle over copyright issues. But it wasn't clear clear why Amsterdam had raised the trade issue in terms of any kind of survelliance or bombshell context.

When did John Key know? 
Dotcom's earlier promise to prove the PM knew about him earlier than he publicly acknowledged went unfilled.

This afternoon, there was a brouhaha over an email from a Warner Bros exec to a an MPAA member that appeared to prove Dotcom's theory. However, the studio staunchly maintains it is a fake.

Dotcom maintains the email is "100% genuine". 

But it didn't get an outing tonight. It was explained it couldn't be discussed at the "Moment of Truth" because Mana leader Hone Harawira has referred it to Parliament's Privileges Committee — a statement that drew puzzlement from several Press Gallery reporters given Parliament has risen for the campaign, and there simply is no Privileges Committee at present. [UPDATE: On Firstline Tuesday morning, Laila Harre dodged a yes/no answer the question "Is the email fake?" She said it was not included on legal advice.]

Dotcom did step up to promote Mega. 

And at a press conference afterward, which at times degenerated into a shouting match, he told reporters they need to do their job. Which rather begged the question: why has he held on to information for months? Why not give it to the press immediately to give more time for said job rather than dumping it on the eve of the election? There's too much secrecy and gameplay on all sides.

Russell Brown, Patrick Gower and others complained the press conference was cut short before they could ask real news questions.

Paled in comparison
A maniacal laugh and jazz hands during the event didn't help, but Dotcom's main problem was he failed to meet expectations.

"Moment of Truth" was conceived before the release of Dirty Politics, and beside Nicky Hager's closer-to-home revelations, and the loss of John Key's nice-guy image that has already taken place, it did pale.

Into the arms of the Greens
We'll see how things play out over the next couple of days, but my feeling is that there was nothing tonight at the bombshell level to move Internet Mana above its 2% or so in the polls.

And with his clumsy, self-serving Mega advertorial, Dotcom might have driven those who are concerned about Snowden's revelations away from Internet Mana and toward the Greens (who have pledged to review the GCSB and close the Waihopai spy base). For Labour it's lose-lose. The "Moment of Truth" has sucked all the oxygen out of the news cycle, and the party is not well positioned to capitalise on the spying controversy.It did oppose the GCSB Bill, but much of the current surveillance setup (whatever it is, exactly) was engineered on Helen Clark's watch.

The real fight
If I'm right, then Internet Mana's chances now totally depend on Hone Harawira holding Te Tai Tokerau.

There was disturbing news for the party on that front tonight (ironically, drowned out by events at the Town Hall).

A poll for Maori TV's Native Affairs put Harawira on 38%, Labour challenger Kelvin Davis on 37% and the Maori Party's Te Hira Paenga on 9%.

It's going to be a nail-biter.

What do you think? How do you rate the moment of truth? Click here to vote in our subscriber-only business pulse poll.

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Twitter sampler

(There's also a couple of choice ones from Nicola KeanNat Torkington and Russell Brown that I haven't included for language; see them herehere and here)

So Ed Snowden stole 1.7m documents but can't release one that backs up his claims re NZ mass surveillance #mot

— Matthew Hooton (@MatthewHootonNZ) September 15, 2014

Monty Python Moment with Julian Assange and a vacuum cleaner #MoT

— Helen Baxter (@msbehaviour) September 15, 2014

Was wondering about that Mega logo.

— Keith Ng (@keith_ng) September 15, 2014

oh bollocks, Kim Dotcom is plugging his company now. #moodkiller

— Andrea Vance (@avancenz) September 15, 2014

“Really long-winded, self-serving, rambling discussion of Truth” doesn’t have the same ring a about it. #MoT

— Ben Gracewood (@nzben) September 15, 2014

There has been a lot of talk tonight but I’m not seeing a lot of evidence to back it up #MoT

— Ian Havill (@iHavill) September 15, 2014

#MoT bought to you by the Infomercial of MEGA Communications suite

— Nathan Mercer (@nathanm) September 15, 2014

Dare you RT @dpfdpf: Am thinking National should just use footage of Dotcom laughing tonight as their campaign closing advert.

— Colin Jackson (@ThisCJ) September 15, 2014

The #mot event should have stopped after Greenwald, Snowden and half of Assange. Now it’s just juvenile mudslinging and poor KDC advertorial

— Lance Wiggs (@lancewiggs) September 15, 2014

Where is the Dotcom bomb???

— Brook Sabin (@BrookSabin) September 15, 2014

wtf, that's it? #mot

— kyhwana (@kyhwana) September 15, 2014

I mean this was an interesting event but Greenwald was the only one with any documented evidence and Snowden's anecdotal evidence

— Naly_D (@Naly_D) September 15, 2014

Well that was entertaining, up to halfway through Assange's speech. But I'm confused about what "the moment of truth" was?? #mot

— Richard MacManus (@ricmac) September 15, 2014

Snowden and @ggreenwald seriously impressive; Assange embarrassing and #MoT ended as a @KimDotcom infomercial.

— Richard Easther (@REasther) September 15, 2014

@ricmac The truth is that KDC is playing us all and completely self-interested #MoT

— Ben Kepes (@benkepes) September 15, 2014

Nothing about Dotcom's 'bombshell'. Did Harre or Greenwald nix it on grounds of credibility?

— Danyl Mclauchlan (@danylmc) September 15, 2014

Nothing we didn't already know. No bomb shell. Nothing new here. Kids still starving. Kim using it as an advertorial for MEGA. FAIL. #MoT

— Ian Apperley (@ianapperley) September 15, 2014

Time to show this arrogant out of control govt who's boss at polling booths. Time for NZ to lead the world in privacy reform #TPPANoWay #MoT

— Seeby (@seeby) September 15, 2014

Postmatch #MomentOfTruth: Where was the smoking gun? Spoke to the already-converted. Great speeches but anti-climactic. #nzpol #decision14

— Vernon Tava (@vernontava) September 15, 2014

But I’d strongly prefer that @NZNationalParty and @nzlabour also change tune on privacy & surveillance - we need a grounds up review.

— Lance Wiggs (@lancewiggs) September 15, 2014

The worst part of tonight is that it took a self-interested political manipulator to get the excellent Greenwald, Assange, & Snowden to NZ.

— Nat Torkington (@gnat) September 15, 2014

The more I think about it, the more disappointed I am by the lack of bombshell - especially the promised "Key knew all about me" #MoT

— Dylan Reeve (@DylanReeve) September 15, 2014

This press conference is going South. Lots of yelling going on.

— Brook Sabin (@BrookSabin) September 15, 2014

Metro editor Simon Wilson arguing with Greenwald, accusing him of disrupting the "our democratic process". It's getting hot in here. #MoT

— Russell Brown (@publicaddress) September 15, 2014

@secondzeit I'm just gutted the the principle of privacy, my abiding principle of the free society, was crucified on Dot-cons revenge lust.

— Mark Hubbard (@MarkHubbard33) September 15, 2014

Audrey Young: Snowden "has not provided evidence beyond circumstantial…. He is really saying, trust me" -

— Bryce Edwards (@bryce_edwards) September 15, 2014

The really excellent work of Snowden and @ggreenwald is sullied by KDC's release of the allegedly fake Warner Borther email

— Andrea Vance (@avancenz) September 15, 2014

2 cents: #Mot pulled pretty huge allegations against the NZ Government... but nothing tangible enough to worry or swing the average voter.

— Guy Williams (@guywilliamsguy) September 15, 2014

To @NZNationalParty backers who don't get the big deal: Put it this way, would you trust Cunliffe with the power to read your emails? #MoT

— David Tong (@Davidxvx) September 15, 2014

Disappointed 'Moment of Trurth" didn't include live cross to Bono explaining why there's a U2 album on my iPhone

— Bill Bennett (@billbennettnz) September 15, 2014

You have to ask yourself whether there would be different debate today if a non-partisan group like InternetNZ hosted Snowden and Greenwald

— Miki Szikszai (@mikiszikszai) September 15, 2014
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