NSA Spied On Allies, Aid Groups And Businesses

N.S.A. Spied on Allies, Aid Groups and Businesses (New York Times, Dec 20, 2013):

Secret documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of American and British surveillance in recent years, including the office of an Israeli prime minister, heads of international aid organizations, foreign energy companies and a European Union official involved in antitrust battles with American technology businesses.

While the names of some political and diplomatic leaders have previously emerged as targets, the newly disclosed intelligence documents provide a much fuller portrait of the spies’ sweeping interests in more than 60 countries.

Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, working closely with the National Security Agency, monitored the communications of senior European Union officials, foreign leaders including African heads of state and sometimes their family members, directors of United Nations and other relief programs, and officials overseeing oil and finance ministries, according to the documents. In addition to Israel, some targets involved close allies like France and Germany, where tensions have already erupted over recent revelations about spying by the N.S.A.

Details of the surveillance are described in documents from the N.S.A. and Britain’s eavesdropping agency, known as GCHQ, dating from 2008 to 2011. The target lists appear in a set of GCHQ reports that sometimes identify which agency requested the surveillance, but more often do not. The documents were leaked by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden and shared by The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel.

The reports are spare, technical bulletins produced as the spies, typically working out of British intelligence sites, systematically tapped one international communications link after another, focusing especially on satellite transmissions. The value of each link is gauged, in part, by the number of surveillance targets found to be using it for emails, text messages or phone calls. More than 1,000 targets, which also include people suspected of being terrorists or militants, are in the reports.

It is unclear what the eavesdroppers gleaned. The documents include a few fragmentary transcripts of conversations and messages, but otherwise contain only hints that further information was available elsewhere, possibly in a larger database.

Some condemned the surveillance on Friday as unjustified and improper. “This is not the type of behavior that we expect from strategic partners,” Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, said on the latest revelations of American and British spying in Europe.

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