GCSB logo. New Zealand SIGINT.

China’s Foreign Ministry expressed serious concern on Monday after a newspaper reported that New Zealand and U.S. intelligence services planned to hack into a data link between Chinese government buildings in Auckland.

New Zealand newspaper the Herald on Sunday, citing documents provided by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, said the project appeared aimed at tapping data between the Chinese consulate and its passport office.

One leaked document states :

(TS//SI//NF) GCSB has identified an MFA data link between the Chinese Consulate and Chinese Visa Office in Auckland. NSA and GCSB have verbally agreed to move forward with a cooperative passive and active efforts on this link.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing :

“We are extremely concerned about this report. We strongly urge the relevant countries to immediately stop using the Internet to damage the interests of China and other countries,”

Prime Minister John Key, speaking on Radio New Zealand, said he would not take “literally by any stretch of the imagination everything” said by Snowden and his local supporters.

“[Snowden’s] a thief and he stole and you’ve got a bunch of people who’ve been out there propagating information that’s actually been proven to be incorrect,” Key said.

He added that no country in the world, including China, talked about the work their foreign intelligence gathering services performed.

“They don’t do it in the United States … they don’t do it in China, they don’t do it anywhere else,” Key said.

“In the end we have legally established foreign intelligence gathering services – they are there for a reason, they are there for the protection of New Zealand and New Zealand interests and that’s what we do.”

China is frequently accused itself of carrying out hacking attacks on other countries, charges it always strongly denies.

Beijing has used Snowden’s allegations as ammunition to point the finger at Washington for hypocrisy.