GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief

The Guardian reports: British and American intelligence agencies had a comprehensive list of surveillance targets that included the EU’s competition commissioner, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, and the heads of institutions that provide humanitarian and financial help to Africa, top-secret documents reveal.

The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America’s National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones. The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) also appears in the documents, along with text messages he sent to colleagues.

The latest disclosures will add to Washington’s embarrassment after the heavy criticism of the NSA when it emerged that it had been tapping the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

One GCHQ document, drafted in January 2009, makes clear that the agencies were targeting an email address listed as belonging to another important American ally – the “Israeli prime minister”. Ehud Olmert was in office at the time.

Three further Israeli targets appeared on GCHQ documents, including another email address understood to have been used to send messages between the then Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, and his chief of staff, Yoni Koren.

Prominent names that appear in the GCHQ documents include Joaquín Almunia, a Spaniard who is vice-president of the European commission with responsibility for competition policy.

Britain’s targeting of Germany may also prove awkward for the prime minister, David Cameron: in October, he endorsed an EU statement condemning NSA spying on world leaders, including Merkel.

They have both been in Brussels, attending an EU summit that concludes on Friday.

The names and details are the latest revelations to come from documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. They provoked a furious reaction from the European commission, Almunia and others on the target lists.

• The commission said the disclosures “are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation. This is not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states.” Almunia said he was “very upset” to discover his name was on GCHQ documents.

• Leigh Daynes, UK executive director of Médecins du Monde, said he was “bewildered by these extraordinary allegations of secret surveillance. Our doctors, nurses and midwives are not a threat to national security. There is absolutely no reason for our operations to be secretly monitored.”

• Another target, Nicolas Imboden, the head of an NGO that provides help to African countries, said the spying on him was “clearly economic espionage and politically motivated”.

• Human Rights Watch, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch condemned the targeting.

• Labour said the committee that oversees GCHQ should be given extra powers.

The disclosures reflect the breadth of targets sought by the agencies, which goes far beyond the desire to intercept the communications of potential terrorists and criminals, or diplomats and officials from hostile countries. [Continue reading…]

Pro forma denials from GCHQ and the NSA that they are engaged in economic espionage are to be expected. But agencies that don’t provide clear explanations about what they are doing, can hardly be expected to have such denials accepted without question.

The targeting of NGOs will probably heighten suspicions that these organizations are being used to provide cover for intelligence agencies and that in turn will undermine relief and development work in countries where populations are in need but their governments feel easily threatened.

The New York Times reports: The reports show that spies monitored the email traffic of several Israeli officials, including one target identified as “Israeli prime minister,” followed by an email address. The prime minister at the time of the interception, in January 2009, was Ehud Olmert. The following month, spies intercepted the email traffic of the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, according to another report. Two Israeli embassies also appear on the target lists.

Mr. Olmert said in a telephone interview Friday that the email address was used for correspondence with his office, which he said staff members often handled. He added that it was unlikely that any secrets could have been compromised.

“This was an unimpressive target,” Mr. Olmert said. He noted, for example, that his most sensitive discussions with President George W. Bush took place in private. “I would be surprised if there was any attempt by American intelligence in Israel to listen to the prime minister’s lines,” he said.

Mr. Barak, who declined to comment, has said publicly that he used to take it for granted that he was under surveillance.

Despite the close ties between the United States and Israel, the record of mutual spying is long: Israeli spies, including Jonathan Jay Pollard, who was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison for passing intelligence information to Israel, have often operated in the United States, and the United States has often turned the capabilities of the N.S.A. against Israel.

The interception of Mr. Olmert’s office email occurred while he was dealing with fallout from Israel’s military response to rocket attacks from Gaza, but also at a particularly tense time in relations with the United States. The two countries were simultaneously at odds on Israeli preparations to attack Iran’s nuclear program and cooperating on a wave of cyberattacks on Iran’s major nuclear enrichment facility.

A year before the interception of Mr. Olmert’s office email, the documents listed another target, the Institute of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an internationally recognized center for research in atomic and nuclear physics. [Continue reading…]

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1 thought on “GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief

  1. Norman

    On thing seems quite clear, there are no secrets when one uses any form of communication, aside from whispering in another’s ear.

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