(MICHAEL FIELD 06/03/2009) - A leaked American study into military actions in Afghanistan reveals New Zealand is now plugged into the world’s most secret intranet, allowing access to the Pentagon’s battle plans.
“Secret Internet Protocol Router Network”, or SIPRNET, is a sophisticated alternative to the internet, allowing New Zealand frigate control rooms and armoured vehicles access to material seen on generals’ desks in Washington.
Defence Minister Wayne Mapp refused to comment on the link. “We don’t discuss security matters,” he said through a spokesman.
A spokeswoman for the United States embassy in Wellington said it would not comment on security or intelligence matters. “What I can say is that the US considers New Zealand a partner, a team-mate and an extremely close friend.
“Bilateral communication is an obvious part of such a friendship but the specific mechanisms we use for government-to-government communication are not something we discuss publicly.”
New Zealand’s place in the network has been revealed by whistleblower Wikileaks, which published a Rand Corporation study into intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wikileaks says the study into counter-insurgency is a notable news and policy source for the wealth of revealing interview quotes it contains.
Rand says that, in Iraq and Afghanistan, coalition forces often did not have access to US intelligence and at times this put British soldiers at “mortal risk”.
As a result the US National Security Agency and Defence Department opened SIPRNET “to a small pool of trusted allies”, including Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand.
There are no New Zealand forces in Iraq, but a reconstruction team works in Afghanistan and at times the Special Air Service is deployed there.
New Zealand’s high level of trust contrasts with the official political line that it is a friend but not an ally of the US as a result of its ban on nuclear weapons.
Few details of SIPRNET are public. It is a closed system with no access to the internet, thus protecting it from virus attacks. Last year Colonel Mike Convertino of the US Air Force Cyber Command told media: “We conduct wars on SIPRNET, so it’s very important that there is little to no chance that it can be interfered with.”