Colourful political world map with countries labelled.

When you think of countries spying on their neighbours without wishing to perpetuate stereotypes, you probably think of Russia, China, America maybe and in the old days, East Germany. So it comes as something of a surprise that this otherwise well-behaved, generally quiet little nation has been caught trying to spy on its allies with a mass surveillance programme spanning at least twenty nations. The president of the said nation has even promised to resign if the allegations prove true.

So, who has been spying on their neighbours?

According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, New Zealand (yes, New Zealand) has been trying to covertly view emails and social media messages and listen to telephone calls from devices in countries including China, Japan, India, Vietnam and trade partners in the Pacific Nations of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Tonga and French Polynesia.

The documents, leaked in 2013, allege that New Zealand's spy chiefs at the countrys Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) used its base on the South Island to spy on allies. According to the American website, The Intercept, the spies were running a full take programme, meaning they kept all content of all communications, rather than just the content of specific targets of interest. Essentially they were trawling with a big net and scooping up whatever they could get. The information acquired was then made available to the United States National Security Agency, the organisation from which Edward Snowden leaked information.

According to quotes from the New Zealand-based news website Stuff, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said: "If I was a New Zealander and the New Zealand prime minister got up and told me we had a foreign intelligence service that wasn't gathering some foreign intelligence, I'd ask him 'what the hell are we paying the money for? And what the hell are you doing?'" New Zealand's Stuff website quoted him as saying. Andrew Little, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, told reporters for Radio New Zealand he was "stunned at the breadth of the information that's been collected".

Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Mr Little said GCSB seemed to be "hoovering" up information and "supplying it to the United States" So it's been a bad week for New Zealand's spies, but perhaps they'll take some comfort from a study by Stormline, a New Zealand-based foul weather clothing manufacturer which found that intelligence analyst is the tenth most manly job in the world.

Snowden's five most shocking leaks

  • * All of America's mobile phone providers had been handing over customer phone records to the NSA. This was Snowden's first leak; why all the fuss?
  • * PRISM lets the American government see what you've been doing online. That was the basis of the original leak, but it later turned out that it wasn't entirely accurate. The government could only request that information. But the Internet service providers were compelled by law to hand it over. So that's OK.
  • * GCHQ (Britain's version of the NSA) had tapped fibre optic cables around the world, just for a little nosey, nothing sinister.
  • * XKeyscore exists. This is just a little programme that tracks almost everything a user does on the Internet. No biggie, chill out.
  • * The NSA collects 200 million text messages a day. Again, no big deal.