By Richard Miller
Up to 40 banner-waving demonstrators shouted “close Waihopai down” as a protest took place on Saturday both in Blenheim and at the spy base station.
Organiser of the protest, Murray Horton of the Anti-bases Campaign, welcomed protesters from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to Blenheim where speeches and messages of support were read out before a march through the town.
Mr Horton said he was pleased with the “quite good turnout” and praised the local people that had turned up to protest.
“Local Marlburians have got to have a lot of courage to join us because in the past we have been seen as outside trouble makers,” he said.
He described Blenheim as a “military” town with RNZAF Base Woodbourne and Waihopai spy base, operated by the Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB), on its doorstep.
The base was an outpost of American intelligence and should be shut down, he said.
Mr Horton said the base claimed it did not spy on domestic communications but he believed local people in Blenheim were at risk if they were making international calls.
“If you ring up relatives in the UK and utter certain key words like bomb, security or terrorist for example you could activate certain key words operated by US intelligence.”
He described the almost completely automated system as a “vaccum cleaner of the skies” and said that the vast majority of the information gathered went to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) in Wellington and to America.
Green MP Keith Locke said the base was “a huge waste of money.”
He said Waihopai and the processing of intercepted communications took up “most of the $54 million budgeted this financial year for the operations of the GCSB.” In the past decade GCSB funding had gone up from $21 million to its present figure, he said.
Political activist John Minto said New Zealand’s most decorated living soldier Willie Apiata was “no hero” compared to three peace activists who attacked Marlborough’s Waihopai spy base.
“The real heroes of Afghanistan are the three Kiwis who popped the dome two years ago,” he said. Mr Minto said that Corporal Apiata, who won the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan in 2007, “was no hero compared to Sam, Adrian and Peter.”
Sam Land, Adrian Leason and Peter Murane from the Anzac Plougshares group will stand trial in Wellington on March 8 accused of causing $1 million worth of damage to the Waihopai base in April 2008.
When protesters arrived at Waihopai in the afternoon, they were refused entry through the outer gate to the base and had to remain some distance away. They shouted anti-base, anti-war and anti-American slogans and popped white balloons to show solidarity with the group that attacked the base two years ago.
A Blenheim police spokesman said there was no trouble caused by the protest which passed off peacefully in line with other protests the group had made over the past years.
CLOSE IT DOWN: Activist John Minto speaking at the protest at the Waihopai spy base in Marlborough on Saturday.
ANT1-AMERICAN: Protesters say the Waihopai spy base is “an outpost of American intelligence.”