Inside N.Z. Police Megaupload Files: U.S. Investigation Began in 2010

Kim Dotcom. Photo: Kim Dotcom

U.S. and New Zealand law enforcement action against filesharing kingpin Kim Dotcom and associates was set in motion over a year ahead of the raid on the Megaupload founder’s mansion in January, and police knew their tactical assault by helicopter would be perceived as overbearing, redacted police documents show.

Known as the “Blue Folder,” the planning documents obtained by Computerworld  from the Auckland High Court reveal that that N.Z. Police enlisted the assistance of the SWAT-style Special Tactics Group (STG) and Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) for an armed, helicopter-borne assault on the Dotcom mansion at 0700 hours on Jan. 20 this year, New Zealand time.

The documents shed more light on the U.S.’s determined prosecution of Dotcom and fellow executives, which involves felony charges of racketeering, a complete shutdown of one of the net’s most popular file-sharing sites and legal theories that could just as easily been wielded against YouTube. Dotcom remains free in New Zealand, pending an extradition hearing scheduled in the spring of 2013.

Further evidence of overeager and illegal police work emerged Thursday in New Zealand as Inspector General of Security and Intelligence Paul Neazor released a report on the illegal bugging of Kim Dotcom and Megaupload programmer Bram van der Kolk. Two GCSB officers were present at a police station nearby Dotcom’s mansion as the raid took place.

Neazor’s report says the signals intelligence service GCSB did not check police information about Dotcom and van der Kolk’s immigration status, and thought the pair weren’t permanent residents but foreign nationals. Under law, the GCSB cannot intercept N.Z. citizens’ and residents’ communications.

The request for assistance from the STG, dated Jan. 9, also shows that police knew Dotcom and his then-heavily pregnant wife Mona were New Zealand residents before the raid. Under New Zealand law, the GCSB is not permitted to intercept the communications of the country’s citizens and residents.

But the police and the GCSB say they misunderstood the N.Z. Immigration Act and interpreted Dotcom’s residence class visa as not being enough to make him a protected permanent resident.

The director of the GCSB, Ian Fletcher has apologized to the New Zealand Prime Minister for the errors. It’s not clear what effect, if any, the admission of illegal interception will have on the extradition case against Dotcom and his four co-accused, or if the GCSB shared information with the FBI. The GCSB is in charge of New Zealand’s contribution to the global Echelon SIGINT network under which the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Canada share information with each other.

Police weighed several options for the raid named “Operation Debut,” undertaken at the behest of U.S. authorities, and sought to take Dotcom and associates with the “greatest element of surprise” and to minimise any delays the in executing the search and seizure operation should the German file sharing tycoon’s staff be uncooperative or even resist officers on arrival.

According to the documents, the preferred option for the police was to drop a “primary arrest team proximate to the dwelling” with STG and AOS officers in “lower standard of dress” following in vehicles on ground.

However, police were concerned that their actions could be seen as “heavy handed” and the use of helicopter as “possibly seen as over the top use of resources”.

Furthermore, police also questioned the scale of the operation, as Dotcom and associates faced only fraud offences and asked “why a tactical intervention?” in the planning documents.

Due to “the international interest this warrant execution may bring” police officers were to dress and interact “in as lower [sic] key manner as possible” the planning documents dictated.

Police classified the entire operation as “Low Risk” even though the documents said there would be firearms on the premises.

The police planners also noted that “Dotcom will use violence against person’s [sic] and that he has several staff members who are willing to use violence at Dotcom’s bidding” after a U.S. cameraman, Jess Bushyhead, reported the Megaupload founder for assaulting him with his stomach after a dispute.

Based on Dotcom’s license plates such as MAFIA, POLICE, STONED, GUILTY and HACKER, police said this indicates the German “likes to think of himself as a gangster” and is “described as arrogant, flamboyant and having disregard for law enforcement.” However, the documents show that Dotcom had only been caught violating the speed limit in New Zealand.

The request for assistance from the STG notes that the U.S. investigation against Mega Media Group and Dotcom was started in March 2010 by prosecutors and the FBI.

According to the documents, U.S. prosecutors and FBI “discovered that the Mega Media Group had engaged in and facilitated criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale around the world.”

FBI in turn contacted N.Z. Police in “early 2011”, requesting assistance with the Mega Media Group investigation as Dotcom had moved to New Zealand at the time.

N.Z. Police agreed and set up Taskforce Debut “to action requests made by the FBI through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) which includes the execution of search warrants, seizure of assets, arrests of targets under warrant and the extradition of targets.”

Even though the search and arrest warrants were later found to be invalid and unlawful, N.Z. police categorically state in the documents that they have been “thoroughly evaluated” and their legal authority is current.
STG Request for Assistance -Blue Folder- [Redacted] [Revised]