NSA & GCHQ spy on Russian President & G20 Delegates

Further documents revealed by Edward Snowden to the Guardian indicate a thorough, if not sophisticated, spying campaign by GCHQ on foreign politicians and officials attending two G20 meetings in London in 2009 as the world banking crisis unfolded. Ironically, Britain is currently hosting a G8 meeting in Northern Ireland at this moment; and there can be little doubt that GCHQ and the NSA will again be attempting to gain as much additional information as possible. It’s their job: spies spy – but it’s also their job not to get found out.

The latest revelations have found them out; and although few people will be surprised that it happens, it is nevertheless a huge embarrassment to Obama and Cameron. As the Guardian reports, “From a technical point of view, spying on those negotiating on the territory of a country doesn't present any great difficulties", pointed out Nikolai Kovalev, the former head of the FSB, Russia's powerful domestic spy agency. Kovalev however, added: "To avoid diplomatic and international scandal security agencies are forbidden from doing this. And usually they don't do it.”

Snowden’s disclosures indicate that the NSA used its huge listening station at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire (Wikipedia), manned by NSA agents and supported by GCHQ staff, to listen into telephone conversations of the then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev emanating from the Russian embassy in London. Meanwhile, GCHQ set about spying on other delegates. That they did is disclosed; how they did it is left to conjecture from hints in the leaked documents.

One method appears to have been the establishment of local internet cafés where, says the Guardian, “they used an email interception programme and key-logging software to spy on delegates' use of computers.” Another method was “penetrating the security on delegates' BlackBerrys to monitor their email messages and phone calls.”

The surprising element is that this could work. It is hard to believe that delegates and their entourages would not have been warned against the use of internet cafés anywhere – and the vulnerability of standard phones, even BlackBerrys, is hardly news. Nevertheless, the righteous indignation of the targeted is both necessary and apparent. The leaked documents specifically mention Russia, Turkey and South Africa. 

In Russia, Igor Morozov, a senator in Russia's Federation Council, told RIA-Novosti, “Won't the US special services now start spying on Vladimir Putin, rather than correcting their actions? This isn't just an act of inhospitality, but a fact that can seriously complicate international relations,” he said. “Big doubts about Obama's sincerity appear.”

In Turkey, the UK ambassador was summoned to Ankara. An official statement says, “The allegations in the Guardian are very worrying... If these allegations are true, this is going to be scandalous for the UK. At a time when international co-operation depends on mutual trust, respect and transparency, such behavior by an allied country is unacceptable.”

The response from South Africa was measured. “We do not yet have the full benefit of details reported on but in principle we would condemn the abuse of privacy and basic human rights particularly if it emanates from those who claim to be democrats,” said a spokesperson from the South African foreign ministry.

All of this is just business as usual in the modern world. Spies spy, and politicians seek political advantage. The moral, however, is simple: don’t get caught.

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