She is one of the most accomplished independent New Zealand journalists on the international stage, but most New Zealanders have never heard of her. We Are Change investigative reporter Suzie Dawson is a renowned journalist whose work has been recommended by a Pulitzer Prize winner, Hollywood celebrities and WikiLeaks. She is presently living in Russia, awaiting a decision on her application for temporary asylum.
Dawson has written for a number of American and European mainstream and alternative media outlets over the years and her photos, videos and social media commentary has been featured in dozens of others. She may be the first NZ journalist ever to seek asylum—certainly the first to do so in Russia—yet despite her having been amplified by countless media organizations and public figures like WikiLeaks, Kim Dotcom, Russell Brand, Glenn Greenwald, John Cusack, Roseanne Barr, Bianca Jagger and more, media in New Zealand have so far completely ignored her achievements, her persecution by intelligence agencies opposed to her work and her plea for asylum in Russia. By all appearances, New Zealand media have been complicit in a full blackout on her entire situation.
The abysmal state of media freedom in New Zealand hasn’t gone unnoticed. Kim Dotcom has publicly called out ex-Prime Minister John Key for it, who unexpectedly stepped down in December 2016 after a seven year reign, and WikiLeaks have been bringing attention to Dawson’s work and the divide between the corporate and alternative media sphere in New Zealand for years.
You won't find investigative journalism like this anywhere in the NZ mainstream media. John Key made sure of that. https://t.co/l4vYPkVW1r
— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 14, 2016
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 4, 2014
So why is Dawson seeking asylum? It stems from her fearless approach to journalism; digging as deep as she can and exposing the corruption of her government. Her early interest in the FBI raid on Kim Dotcom and the revelations of the illegal spying on him by the GCSB (New Zealand’s NSA counterpart – one fifth of the ‘Five Eyes’) gave her post-Occupy work a firm focus on the illegal activities of Western intelligence agencies. Her relentless support for WikiLeaks gave her a natural interest in whistleblowers and whistleblowing activities. Because of this, Dawson has etched in her Twitter bio: “Real journalists whistleblow every time they write.”
Dawson’s “baptism by fire” was as an Occupy Auckland media team member who covered Occupy and other activism events in New Zealand, starting in 2011.
Whether it was Occupy that first brought her to the attention of the intelligence agencies (which is likely) or her campaign against the Government Communications Security Bureau, known as the GCSB, (Dawson was the #1 influencer in a social media campaign against the spy agency that went viral in New Zealand) is yet to be determined. But recent revelations leading to her asylum claim indicate that Suzie Dawson may have been one of at least 88 New Zealanders who were illegally surveilled by the New Zealand spy agencies in conjunction with the NSA.
In addition to being spied on, she was also targeted for harassment and sabotage and threatened on numerous occasions. Dawson’s media team coordinator in New Zealand confirmed the harassment and threats on Occupy Auckland activists and its media in an interview in November, noting that this could happen to anyone anywhere in the world:
“Personally I was harassed, I would be picked up at will by the police, interrogated, harassed, even when I had my son, which was not very cool, and a few other things as well. Another one of our media team members, she pretty much lost her house, had her dog taken off her and impounded, faced jail time, harassment by the police. Another one of our media team members, he actually identified when we got evicted, the fact that several police officers were wearing the same CIB, which is the police identification badge, and he really pushed this story out along with us. He lost his house, lost his relationship and then was put into a custodial position within a hospital. What I saw with Suzie is that she was targeted, she was followed, she had private investigators coming after her, she was trailed, her communications… the list just goes on and on and on. I remember later on in the piece, there was a huge event, you may or may not remember this, it was called the Moment of Truth. It was run by the Internet Party and Kim Dotcom and basically they were coming out swinging against our current government and the GCSB which is the international spy agency which is part of the Five Eyes and Echelon. Saying that New Zealanders were being spied on illegally. They had Julian Assange speak on livestream and also Edward Snowden. That very night [leading up to the event] Suzie had been really concerned that she was being targeted and harassed so she came and sought refuge with me because it was a safe space. She did an interview that night with Perthtones, [the interview is posted] on another blog, I remember quite clearly that things were going awry and it wasn’t the first time I had seen it. The whole time, during our first few months to a couple of years, that I’d known Suzie, she was never really one to stand up and be like ‘look at me’. She always used to hide from the camera if I was livestreaming, always made me do all the interviews, which I didn’t mind because I loved playing with the mainstream media. This is just how it is. So I’ve never seen her as being a person wanting or seeking attention, it’s just the way that things have come full circle that she’s had to really fight for her freedom. Simple. And she’s had to come out and go ‘I’m here, I’m doing this, I need to be safe.”
Another member of her media team, Lyn Ny, also stepped forward in an interview to back up Dawson’s claims, including those of car tampering and road incidents that were tantamount to attempts on her life:
“Suzie was thrown in the deep end… I watched Suzie arrive at Occupy green and immerse herself and take the penalty that goes with it. Her personal life became public and she rose to the challenge and became a fantastic journalist and advocate for change. It drew a big target on her arse! … Suzie was integral to the media team… it wouldnt have been as effective without her… Suzie was definitely targeted… because she was effective. The internet expose springs to mind. Her family home, car and all other details are probably still available on the internet for the world to see thanks to that crap. That definitely endangered Suzie and her family. We were all watched electronically and physically. Some of us were given special attention from Police and Council … any opportunity to make life difficult was exploited against us. I know her car was messed with and we both had road events that were threatening and unsettling. Its hard to say categorically that someone was trying to kill us but someone was certainly trying to tell us they could… I dont think they would mind if they ran her off the road and killed her or the kids and I wouldnt be surprised if that was their aim… [Suzie] was targeted specially for her high profile in media in NZ. I know she was because ALL high profile occupiers were given special attention. She was more vulnerable in some ways than me… young kiddies make you more vulnerable. And she was more publicly visible and therefore more effective. This meant more effort went into trying to shut her down, move her out of Occupy or out of town, or, as it turned out, out of the country… “
When asked if the political situation in New Zealand has improved, Lyn Ny responded:
“No… it’s worse. Many times worse. Those who are still effective as activists are discouraged by any means possible. It is deadly dangerous to speak against the government.”
Double-platinum New Zealand rock musician and music television host Chris Yong, who stood as a candidate for Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party of New Zealand in 2014, also came forward to express his support.
“The truth is something that I feel really strongly about. I know Suzie as a good friend and I respect what she does as a journalist so that’s why I’m there for her. Someone has to be brave enough to back someone like Suzie, to share what’s going on and let people know.”
Since she left New Zealand, Dawson’s work has continued. She analyzed legal documents relating to the Patriot Act’s Section 215 and Edward Snowden’s revelations, wrote an investigative piece about then-Prime Minister John Key’s ties to the Panama Papers and followed up her work on the movement against the TPPA in New Zealand by covering a 250,000+ person rally in Berlin against the TTIP.
In December, Dawson released an exclusive interview with Kim Dotcom who claimed that New Zealand will be rocked by a 2TB leak of government data in 2017, and she recently began analyzing the SIDToday Files from the Snowden archives published by The Intercept. Part One and Part Two of the “hidden gems” discovered by Dawson have been published on We Are Change. We recently took the opportunity to talk to Suzie about her experiences and her application for asylum.
Our Exclusive Interview with exiled Kiwi journalist Suzie Dawson is below:
WRC: While being harassed what happened to you?
Suzie: “Unfortunately the targeting of me escalated from being followed and spied on 24/7, harassed and constantly interfered with, to receiving death threats, and then in 2014 several actual attempts on my life. That is why I had to leave New Zealand. What happened to me, why, who did it and how is all covered in detail in my documentary ‘Diary of a Person of Interest’ which I released for free on Vimeo and YouTube.”
WRC: Why did you choose Russia for asylum?
Suzie: “The targeting and surveillance of me continued after I left New Zealand and followed me through a host of countries. The harassment and interference didn’t stop until I got out of NATO territories. I didn’t choose Russia for asylum, it was just where I happened to already be when I received answers back to Privacy Act requests I had made of the New Zealand intelligence agencies. The nature and particulars of their responses seemed to dramatically increase the likelihood that I am in fact one of the New Zealand citizens who was illegally spied on by them and whose data was passed to the National Security Agency. This, along with unfolding events in New Zealand (continuing legislative measures to increase powers for the spy agencies, including the ability to revoke the passports and/or citizenship of targets) led me to believe that it was extremely risky for me to travel. Subsequently, I applied for asylum.”
WRC: Did you consider any other countries for asylum?
Suzie: “My situation was not one where I picked a country for asylum. Circumstances and timing of events outside of my control selected for me. My situation has progressively gotten more and more serious over the course of five years. It has been a slow escalation. Earlier this year, a non-violent, peaceful movement that I have been associated with was branded a threat to national security. In August, TVNZ and The Intercept revealed the name of the first of the 88 people targeted. He was a non-violent democratic activist and his passport was revoked by the government. By the time I received the responses from the spy agencies in September and applied for asylum, my legal advice was that there was a real risk that I may also have my passport cancelled, as had happened to others who have been targeted by the New Zealand and US Governments, and that if it was cancelled, that they would likely wait until I was in transit to do so, leaving me in a legal and physical grey zone. Especially as I have two young children, for us to be effectively stateless and stuck in an airport somewhere would present an unacceptable risk to us. It was on that basis that I claimed asylum.”
WRC: What’s your biggest story you have ever written in your opinion?
Suzie: “It is hard to quantify my ‘biggest’ story. Biggest in terms of reach is probably the handful of stories that WikiLeaks has shared. Each of those are stories that are consequential to that organisation or historically significant in their own right and them sharing my work on each occasion they have, has had a really big impact for me. Biggest in terms of hits was where I revealed that I had been targeted by the FBI agent ‘Sabu’. That article got over 100,000 hits. Biggest in terms of consequence is probably the series of articles I wrote called ‘The Weaponising of Social‘ which was an in-depth 4-part investigation comprising over 20,000 words, into the allegations against the tech expert and activist Jacob Applebaum. I was the first in the world to write a long form analysis of the case and my findings caused a huge response in the activism community and particularly among European media outlets, several of whom picked up where I left off and undertook their own investigations into the affair, with similar findings. My biggest pieces in terms of geopolitical consequence would also be the closest to my heart – my pieces ‘The Desecration of New Zealand‘ about what has been done to my country by the powers that be, ‘The Agenda to Destabilise Europe‘ about the Libyan War creating the refugee crisis and the reasons that powerful American factions want to bring an end to the Schengen Zone, and my most recent long-form opus which is probably the most significant piece I’ve ever written in my opinion, called ‘Understanding World War III‘, an in-depth historical analysis of the preconditions that lead to World Wars.”
WRC: Why did you want to join WRC over joining a mainstream outlet or other alternative media outlet?
Suzie: “We Are Change are like family to me – because like me, WRC’s genesis was in the Occupy movement and many of their writers and founder Luke Rudkowski are former Occupiers. I can’t think of any outlet better suited to me in terms of where we’ve come from, our relentless thirst for truth, belief in the power and importance of independent media and our methods of dissemination. I am extremely proud to be working with you guys.”
WRC: If your asylum application is successful what does that mean for you?
Suzie: “If I am granted temporary asylum it means that I will be able to live free from persecution and harassment by those who oppose my journalism. I will be able to work and earn money legally in Russia, which I presently cannot. It means we will legally be able to reside here and my children will be able to go to school. It will give us a chance at resuming a semblance of a normal life. That was ripped from us by the NZ and US government and at the present moment we are still in limbo.”
WRC: What’s your advice to others in NZ and elsewhere in the U.S. being targeted and harassed be it by direct energy weapons or physically having things happen to them like their homes broken into, tires slashed etc?
Suzie: “My advice to other targets is to be really up front about what is happening to you, be open about it, be public about it and be visible. And ask for help. Resist becoming angry or aggressive in response to the attacks on you. Resist becoming isolated, let the general public be aware of what is happening and why (if you know why). I think the first years in which I worked anonymously online provided a cover for the people who were hurting me. It is a lot harder for them to persecute you once you are in the public eye. Obviously, it won’t stop them entirely – Julian Assange being the classic example. He is being tortured to death in front of our eyes and not enough is being done about that. But he is also achieving incredible advances in human social evolution and in the information sciences and historically that has always come at a price for those with the courage to push humanity forward in a better direction.”
WRC: You told me before that they canceled your credit cards/debit cards and this is something that several sources of mine have alleged over the years as being a harassment technique for targeting individuals. How did you work your way around this?
Suzie: “My cards and internet banking access were periodically frozen and very difficult to get reinstated. I was stranded with no access to funds several times. Each time, my bank claimed that it was an algorithm doing it and that it was a consequence of the “Anti-Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism Act” that had been instituted in New Zealand and many Western countries in the wake of 9/11. Needless to say, I am neither a money launderer nor a financier of terrorism and of course, we now know that it is the United States themselves who have been funding and arming terrorists, without any apparent sanctions being applied to them for it. It seems that the anti-terrorism legislation, like anti-terrorism resources, have been used to suppress dissent and to target activists and journalists more so than to stop actual terrorism, which is clearly being fuelled by the support of major states such as the USA and other NATO factions. Since I have applied for asylum, the interference with my bank accounts has stopped. Which again seems to indicate that once light is shed on the perpetrators, it becomes much more difficult for them to harass us under these false pretexts.”
WRC: What’s it like as a New Zealander living in Russia?
Suzie: “The reaction of local people here when I tell them we are from New Zealand is overwhelmingly positive. New Zealand was a politically independent country for many decades and comparatively few people know the extent to which it was utterly subjugated by the United States economically, politically, environmentally and militarily in the period 2008 – 2016. So it still enjoys a really good international reputation, probably better than it deserves. Russia itself is phenomenal and nothing like I ever heard or expected. In the West we are taught all kinds of horrible things about Russia that simply don’t add up once you experience it in person. Moscow in particular is cultured, well developed, enormous, friendly, and very safe by comparison to the streets of Auckland where I am from. The food is incredible. The people are wholesome, cultured and subtle in their nuances and I am really enjoying learning Russian language.”
WRC: What’s it like living the real life movie of the “Enemy Of The State?”
Suzie: “The ‘Enemy of the State’ analogy is a good one. When I watched the movie I thought it was just a great yarn. A fairy tale. I didn’t realise how many of the methods of oppression depicted in the movie were in fact ‘tools of the trade’ employed by intelligence agencies against targets in real life. The truth is, it is scary. It is daunting. It is oppressive. You feel like you may never escape it. You become conditioned to it. You become extremely disillusioned about the state of the world and the state of humanity, that such things can be done to suburban housewives rather than murderers or rapists or actual terrorists. But ultimately, every Empire that has employed such systems of oppression has fallen and fallen hard. This kind of tyranny is not sustainable forever. I once wrote that “it is from within the ranks of the system itself that we shall be emancipated” and whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and others yet to come, are the proof of that. Those within the system itself, do not approve of what they see the system is doing to us and they are acting on their conscience. The current global balance of power will change and the oppressors will become the oppressed. That is karma. As it comes, so it goes. There will be an accounting.”
WRC: WikiLeaks has been a huge proponent of your journalism constantly sharing your work have you sought any advice from them or asked for help from them to spread your own story?
Suzie: “Because of being targeted by the same powers who I write about, my story became inseparable from my reporting, and WikiLeaks’ sharing of my work dates back years. So in this way, by amplifying my work, they have already been sharing my story. Had they not given me the visibility they did, I may never have made it out of New Zealand at all. For that I credit them with our lives. There is much talk of whether WikiLeaks endangers lives but very little talk of the lives that they save. In my opinion, WikiLeaks are life-savers. I did apply to Courage, but Courage is a tiny organization with nowhere near enough resources or funding and we are all to blame for that. Ultimately if people want to see me or others like me getting support from Courage, they will have to step up and support Courage. Courage are currently doing a donations drive for core funding that is desperately needed – anyone that is reading this who is willing to make a contribution please do so here.”
WRC: Do you have anybody you would like to thank for supporting you all these years?
Suzie: “It’s a big ask to say to people “hey, there are billion-dollar agencies trying to destroy my life” and expect them to leap up and help you. But I have been really impressed and surprised by how many people have done exactly that. So I would like to thank everyone who has been brave enough to acknowledge my situation, to read and share my work, to give me the platform and visibility that I need in order to make these agencies think twice about what they’re doing to me, and to make me significant enough that I have a chance at protection and sanctuary. Many targets of these agencies never get that chance. They are quietly killed and no one ever knows any different. They count on being able to operate under cover. The more light that is shined directly on me, the better chance I have at surviving to continue telling truth, serving the interests of everyday people in my country and still being here for my family.”
WRC: Thank you Suzie for doing this interview and we wish you the best. Thank you for being a part of We Are Change.
The media blackout about Dawson’s case is unlikely to be able to hold much longer. Despite the best efforts of governments and conventional media organizations to suppress her work and silence her, the cat is well and truly out of the bag. Dawson’s press release about her application for asylum has hundreds of organic shares on it, her documentary is accruing thousands of views without any media acknowledgment whatsoever, and her journalism continues to reach a wider audience on a daily basis.
Yet another clue to why Suzie has been so heavily targeted is that more than a year prior to Snowden’s disclosures she was quoted in an interview saying this:
Me warning in April 2012 about pervasive surveillance by corporations & that mobiles can be turned into microphones pic.twitter.com/K9P3ptmIkU
— Suzie Dawson (@Suzi3D) February 19, 2016
Like the United States, New Zealand has become yet another country that persecutes media and whistleblowers to a degree where they are forced to seek sanctuary from the persecution in order to save their very lives. Once that fact gets out to the global public, this is going to be a huge story that the powers that be can no longer keep a lid on.