Waihopai spybase - it's not all bad
The spy base at Waihopai has certainly generated its fair share of controversy over the years. About 30km outside Blenheim on the Waihopai Valley Road, the base, with its two white globes, has stood in the Waihopai Valley since 1989, writes The Marlborough Express in an editorial.
The Waihopai spy base is operated by New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau. Exactly what goes on at the base is not 100 percent clear but its two satellite interception dishes (shielded from public view by giant domes) are said to intercept a huge volume of telexes, faxes, emails and computer data communications. Opponents of the base believe it is part of Echelon, the worldwide network of signals interception facilities run by the American and British intelligence agencies.
They do not want New Zealand to be part of Uncle Sam's spy network, and were particularly fired up by revelations found in former prime minister David Lange's papers that this country spied on friendly countries in the 1980s.
Anti-base campaigners say the base's existence makes New Zealand complicit in America's wars. Some say it is the key contribution New Zealand makes to any American war anywhere in the world, and leaves New Zealand with blood on its hands. It also places an unreasonable burden on New Zealand taxpayers, who have paid about half a billion dollars in the last 20 years.
The spy base has been the site of protests over many years. Every year it is the venue for an annual protest that sees a group of protesters stand around outside its gates with placards, yelling slogans and generally just expressing their displeasure at the base.
The base attracted international attention on April 30 when three sickle-wielding protesters broke on to the site and deflated one of the large inflatable domes covering a radar dish. The men were members of Ploughshares, a London-based movement which delivers its disarmament message by attempting to disable warplanes and other military equipment.
The group describes itself as "people committed to peace and disarmament and who nonviolently, safely, openly and accountably disable a war machine or system so that it can no longer harm people". Whether the Waihopai spy base can truly be called a "war machine" or whether it really "harms people" is debatable.
The Waihopai Satellite Communications Station is part of a signals intelligence alliance between New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. It plays a vital role for New Zealand in being a part of that international network, which directly benefits New Zealand. Experience over the past few years shows that it is better to be forewarned than forearmed. Intelligence gathering plays a significant role in tracking extremists and has been proved worthwhile internationally.
The spy base employs local people, it does not emit any poisonous gases or spill pollutants into the soil or rivers. If it were not for the annual protests most people would not really give a hoot about it. There are valid concerns that privacy could be invaded by the base's interception of communications. But if that interception of communications was responsible for saving a life then having two oversized golf balls in our backyard is a small price to pay.