Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 11
DAY ELEVEN: IN WHICH CELEBRATED HACKER AND FUGITIVE FROM JUSTICE EDWARD SNOWDEN APPEARS AT LAST NIGHT’S BIG REVEAL AT THE TOWN HALL TO INFORM NEW ZEALANDERS THAT THEIR PRIVATE EMAILS AND TEXTS ARE ROUTINELY INTERCEPTED BY SPY NETWORKS WITH THE FULL KNOWLEDGE AND BACKING OF PRIME MINISTER JOHN KEY – AND JULIAN ASSANGE SAID SOMETHING OR OTHER TOO
Photos by Gil Hanly.
Election 2014 streamed live on YouTube to an audience of 24,000! God almighty. Politics as The Show You’ve All Been Waiting For, staged at the Auckland Town Hall last night to an audience of 1500 with another 800 left seething outside, queues right down the block to the Civic, O pumping Queen St, O look there’s Marcus Lush and Alison Mau and isn’t that Leighton Smith (just jokes), every seat taken including the two upstairs balconies, motes of dust swirling in the stage lights, huge waves of excitement and anticipation rising, rising, rising in the packed old hall as the minutes ticked towards 7pm and the one-night-only stage performance of THE MOMENT OF TRUTH starring Kim Dotcom (German, large), Glen Greenwald (American, small), Bob Amsterdam (who?), Julian Assange (beamed in live from the Ecuador embassy in London), and Edward Snowden (beamed in live from somewhere that’s none of your business in Moscow), and Internet Party leader Laila Harre, who welcomed everyone in that sharp, honking voice of hers transmitted from somewhere within the echo chamber of her nasal passages: “Welcome, whanau!”
What a night it was. What kind of night was it? Immediately afterwards, a furry sound boom thing recorded the view of one of New Zealand journalism’s most decorated hacks: “A fizzer.” A fizzer! WTF! In his defence – ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have mercy – he got asked for his opinion on TV and you can imagine, can’t you, the temptation to blurt out something interesting. Jerk! Asshole! Sorry.
What he was getting at was that Dotcom fizzed. Dotcom billed the evening as the Big Reveal; he promised to produce a Big Email. It was supposed to prove that John Key conspired to allow US special ops to raid Dotcom’s home in Coatesville and extradite the motherfucker back to America where he could rot in jail for his crimes against Hollywood. But at the last minute, the email was said to be a fake. It’s been sent to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee for examination. O Big Parliamentary Privileges Committee Reveal! It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
But the email thing was a mere subplot. The night had bigger things on its mind. The night fizzeth not. The night shone a bright and shocking light into the darkest corners of the state’s surveillance programme. It was revealed that New Zealanders are spied on, watched, their emails and texts hacked into and read, stored, used – it was all in a day’s work, said special guest Edward Snowden, describing how he used to report to work at his job in Hawaii as a spook in the employ of NSA (good health programme and pension plan), sit behind his desk (armed, perhaps, with a slopoccino from Starbucks and a sugary paper bag containing six munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts), and thence commence to invade the privacies of individuals in Japan, in Sweden, in New Zealand.
“Prime Minister Key”, as Greenwald constantly referred to him from his seat onstage, or “President Key” in Snowden’s slight exaggeration, knew all about it. Key was the theme of the evening, its villain. Key and his lies. Key and his spies. Key and his ties with Five Eyes.
Key, and his “adolescent epithets!” mocked Greenwald, banging on and on about how the Prime Minister has called him a “little henchman” and “a loser”. O little lost henchman! Jesus that Greenwald can come across like a smarmy sonofabitch. “My arrival compelled Prime Minister Key to admit there was a programme of mass surveillance!” Yeah, yeah. Glenn! Your massive fucken ego is showing, bro.
But let us not be distracted from The Truth. Or from The Evidence, which may or may not be the same thing. Greenwald showed slides taken from Snowden’s famous cache of documents hacked from the NSA. (Greenwald, pompously: “I am the custodian of the Snowden archives.”) The slide read, “New Zealand: Partner cable access program achieves Phase 1.” Underneath, the caption, in case you had the notion to talk about it to your friends and neighbours: “TOP SECRET.”
And there was another slide which read, “IRONSAND Mission. Project SPEARGUN underway.” IRONSAND! SPEARGUN! Greenwald and Snowden helpfully translated these fantastic codes; what they meant, in essence, was that New Zealand’s spy agency, the GCSB, conducts mass surveillance on The People.
The People were not amused. There was much roaring outrage in the Town Hall, and stomping of feet – why not describe it as “the psychopathic fevers of the day”, in the words of the great Norman Mailer, whose 1968 political masterpiece Miami and the Siege of Chicago is the chief inspiration and guiding, flaming light of Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Days 1-11, three more to go. No one likes to be spied on, ever, but the revelation has special power and urgency after six years of Key Rule, of six years of having to put up with that bland mask of sanity. What was that chant at an Internet Party meeting in Dunedin? Oh that’s right. FUCK JOHN KEY! FUCK JOHN KEY! FUCK JOHN KEY!
That message was never far away during the two hours at the Town Hall on a Monday night in early spring. One of the loudest ovations was awarded to Bob Amsterdam, a tough little Brooklyn cookie who turned out to be one of Dotcom’s fleet of lawyers, when he said: “Your Prime Minister is a traitor.”
But even the fact that Dotcom got a hero’s welcome when he appeared onstage was an obvious reference to the depth and extent of the loathing towards President Key. Amsterdam, again to vast applause: “This is what Watergate looks like on email, ladies and gentleman!” O ghost of Nixon, haunting the ninth floor of that round dwelling in Molesworth St.
Amsterdam spoke last. He was the most vehement, even more so than the yelling Greenwald. “We need a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Key government! Do not accept the beast investigating its own belly!” And: “The raid on Kim Dotcom’s home was so illegal that Prime Minister Key should have resigned that day!” Also: “I want to thank you, Kim, for the privilege of representing you!” What?
Greenwald spoke first. Dotcom provided a mirthless canned laughter when his houseguest smirkingly boasted about the Prime Minister of New Zealand calling him names. The four of them sat behind a low table onstage; Harre drank from a bottle of Samoa artesian water (the preferred drink at Dotcom’s mansion), and Greenwald drank from a can of Diet Coke (so?); behind them were two vast screens, one for Snowden, one for Assange. The typography of the banner across the stage, THE MOMENT OF TRUTH, had a jauntiness that suggested a 1960s sex comedy. Harre as Doris Day, but who was her Rock Hudson? There could be no doubting the romantic lead of the evening was Snowden.
Snowden! Babe, sort of. His youthful face filled the screen, and his smile was so lovely and so warm. He wore a black jacket and a blue shirt. His face was smooth and soft, thin-lipped, faintly dimpled. It was a thoughtful face, nothing fervent or neurotic, nothing evangelical or tormented; he just looked like a hell of a nice guy.
He spoke fast. He had important things to say. He said there were two NSA facilities in New Zealand, and one of them was in Auckland. He talked about his dayjob at the NSA in Hawaii, and what access it gave him to our lives: “I can see the last books you looked at on Amazon.” Well, that’s no problem. Every home should have a copy of Human Anatomy and Physiology by Elaine Marieb and Peter Zao. But then he said, “I can read your text messages. I can read the emails you wrote…”
He was so very calm when he talked about all this. But it excited him, a bit, to reveal there was an NSA facility in Auckland – he said it two more times, describing it as a “sensory network”, or a “sensor”. What did it look like? Was it in an office? Near the Town Hall? Opposite the Town Hall, above Kebabs On Queen? Where? Where? Where? Tell!
“I’d like to bring Julian Assange into the conversation now,” honked Harre. Bother.
Assange appeared on the screen to the left of the stage. His face loomed large while Harre honked, and stayed there during Greenwald’s yelling; sometimes the screen went blank, and then he would return, for a minute, two minutes, longer; the screen would go blank again, and Assange would return – that large looming face, staring straight ahead. Big Julian was watching you.
Assange! What was that fantastic thing Nicky Hager said about him in Steve Braunias’ Campaign Diary: Day 4? “He’s an Australian guy who had a good idea, and changed the world.” The man who changed the world – and there he was, onscreen, in the Auckland Town Hall, with his pale face and his thin beard and his happy smile and his white, white hair, a remarkable man, in possession of genius, now apparently quite unwell and he didn’t look the best.
Greenwald, speaking on Sunday as Dotcom’s houseguest in that depressing mansion in Coatesville, said of Assange, “He has health concerns. The treatment he’s able to get in the embassy is not ideal… For somebody to be indoors, confined to a small room with no sun, is not helpful.”
Assange popped a pill, and sucked it. It might have just been a sweet. It might have just been something to do while he waited his turn to speak. Harre, honking… Assange, staring into space… Greenwald, yelling… Assange, staring into outer space… O patient albino! And then Snowden, that dreamboat, with his dimples and his fetching, bashful smile, talking so compellingly and lucidly about Things The Public Ought To Know, and receiving an ovation which was calculated by one hack at the Town hall as twice as loud as the applause given to the man who changed the world first.
Andrew O’Hagan’s exhilarating betrayal of Assange, published in the London Review of Books in March to such baffled wonder, kicked his man while he was down, thus: “A fair reading of the situation might conclude, without prejudice, that Assange, like an ageing movie star, was a little put out by the global superstardom of Snowden. He has always cared too much about the fame and too much about the credit… Snowden was eager for credit, too, but behaving more subtly, more amiably, and playing with bigger secrets. Julian said he hoped that others, I took him to mean the Guardian and Glenn Greenwald, didn’t claim too much credit for the flow of secrets… It was odd the way he spoke about Snowden, almost jealously…”
All of which might be, with prejudice, complete horseshit. “I’d like to thank Glenn Greenwald for an excellent presentation,” Assange began, at last taking control of the situation, “and Edward for coming on.” And then he proceeded to give a long discourse on, um, surveillance and state power and… things like that, sort of thing. He also said, “The air, the sky, the nature of our universe.” Metaphysical Assange!
But then he came down to earth with a bang. A lot of bangs! His star turn at THE MOMENT OF TRUTH was completely and utterly sabotaged by what appeared to be someone’s decision to give the Ecuadorian Embassy in London a bit of a reno.
It began when Assange was suddenly interrupted by a whooshing sound. A vacuum cleaner? Someone was doing the vacuuming! He turned in the direction, and kind of laughed. And then someone – a WikiLeaks staffer, perhaps, or a passing Ecuadorian, who knows? – crept behind Assange and headed towards the source of the whooshing. What’s Spanish for, “Can’t you see Julian is giving an important address at the Auckland Town Hall? Dios!”
The mysterious creeper must have had words with the maid, or whoever does the cleaning at the embassy, because the noise ceased, and Assange’s dark, beautiful voice continued: “Abuse and lies…”
But then someone began hammering. Bang! Bang! Bang! “Covert agencies…” Bang! Bang! Bang! “Cannot be trusted…” Bang! Bang! Bang! Crazy, ridiculous. A renovation in progress, a do-up – Assange, undone by noises off.
But he carried on, gamely, and concluded his assessment of The Way Things Really Are by warning the audience not to allow the US government to assume control of our rule of law. “Because,” he said, “that is what is happening to New Zealand.” Bang! Bang! Bang!
What a night it was, with all these Important Visitors appearing in person and onscreen, bringing incredible news of spying in New Zealand. What was the proper response? “It’s none of their business!” shrieketh right-wing harridan Michele Boag on The Paul Henry Show. “A fizzer,” blurteth the previously advertised hack on another show.
But these were just the kind of idiot voices you expect to hear on the idiot box. What was the vox of the populi? After the show, outside the Town Hall on Queen St, it was possibly informative to mill about on the pavement and eavesdrop.
Big Maori dude, sweating: “Fuck, man, I tell you what, man. Fucken papers tomorrow gonna say, FUCKEN KEY’S A FUCKEN LIAR. Eh.”
Slim white boy with an interesting beard: “Well, I thought I’d study 20th-century philosophy.”
Man in his 50s with jabbing fingers: “You want to look at my life. I’ve done the rallies, mate. I’ve been there. Springbok tour. I was on the Rainbow Warrior 36 hours before it was bombed.”
Blonde girl with a guitar: “I don’t like being spied on.”
Woman in her 50s wearing a shawl: “Was I surprised? Not a bit.”
Teenager in a beanie: “I’m hungry. How much is a kebab?”
Maori guy waving a Mana Party flag: “Vote Pene! Vote Pene!”
Two Mana Party cars were parked right outside the Town Hall. The license plate of one of them read JEHOVAH; the other had a sticker on the window which read, EZEKIEL.
Back inside the Town Hall, there was a lot of shouting at the press conference held by Dotcom and Greenwald.
Within an hour, a story appeared in the Wall Street Journal, headlined, “Edward Snowden Accuses New Zealand of Deceit over Surveillance.”
And allegedly somewhere in Auckland, in a downtown office on the eighth floor or third floor of some bland tower, or in Glen Innes or Te Atatu or Kumeu for all anyone knows, a “sensor”, reading, listening, looking.