The latest embarrassing detail to emerge from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden implicates the United Kingdom in a high-tech covert operation designed to give the country an advantage at the 2009 G20 summit in London. The Guardian reports that the British government monitored the communications of several foreign politicians, going so far as to set up fake Internet cafes to spy on their computer usage. Delegates' BlackBerrys were also targeted, and the NSA passed information on Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, to the Brits, according to the paper. The news comes as the U.K. prepares to host the G8 summit on Monday.
There have often been rumours of this kind of espionage at international conferences, but it is highly unusual for hard evidence to confirm it and spell out the detail. The evidence is contained in documents – classified as top secret – which were uncovered by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian. They reveal that during G20 meetings in April and September 2009 GCHQ used what one document calls "ground-breaking intelligence capabilities" to intercept the communications of visiting delegations.
• Setting up internet cafes where they used an email interception programme and key-logging software to spy on delegates' use of computers;
• Penetrating the security on delegates' BlackBerrys to monitor their email messages and phone calls;
• Supplying 45 analysts with a live round-the-clock summary of who was phoning who at the summit;
• Targeting the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party;
• Receiving reports from an NSA attempt to eavesdrop on the Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow.
The documents suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and that intelligence, including briefings for visiting delegates, was passed to British ministers.
More on the "who was phoning who" activity:
The September meeting of finance ministers was also the subject of a new technique to provide a live report on any telephone call made by delegates and to display all of the activity on a graphic which was projected on to the 15-sq-metre video wall of GCHQ's operations centre as well as on to the screens of 45 specialist analysts who were monitoring the delegates.
"For the first time, analysts had a live picture of who was talking to who that updated constantly and automatically," according to an internal review.
But top officials said on Saturday that data taken from the NSA's controversial data-gathering programs helped foil terrorist plots not only in the U.S., but also in more than 20 other countries worldwide. However, this doesn't sound even remotely like busting up terror cells, now does it?
This year's G8 summit ought to be a hoot.