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Snowden papers: UK’s GCHQ spied on G20 delegates

Computers, emails, phone calls monitored; BlackBerrys hacked during 2009 summits

Snowden's revelations have now extended beyond the US intelligence services and have exposed operations on the other side of the Atlantic.
Snowden's revelations have now extended beyond the US intelligence services and have exposed operations on the other side of the Atlantic.

Foreign delegates attending two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers and telephone calls monitored by UK intelligence services, The Guardian reported yesterday.

Documents handed to the British newspaper by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, have now extended beyond the US intelligence services and have exposed operations on the other side of the Atlantic.

The papers reveal that Britain's communications agency GCHQ was central to an operation conducted in April and September 2009, that involved systematic surveillance of data and communications during the international G20 summits. In some cases foreign officials were lured into making use of Internet hotspots that had been rigged to scan network traffic.

The revelation comes as the UK hosts the G8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, which is being attended by many of the same attendees as that of the 2009 meetings.

Snowden has leaked a number of documents regarding an NSA surveillance project, dubbed Prism, which involved the reportedly unwilling participation of several Internet services companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft. While the US campaign has been defended by officials as necessary in the fight against terrorism and serious crime, the UK operation was reported by the Guardian to be "for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings".

Apart from the Internet hotspots, other specific initiatives included the monitoring of the Turkish finance minister and his entourage; liaising with NSA operatives on an attempt to monitor the communications of the then Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev; regularly updating 25 analysts with information on calls made by delegates; and hacking attendees' BlackBerrys.


Bloomberg reported today that BlackBerry had defended its security measures in an emailed statement to the news network.

"We remain confident in the superiority of BlackBerry's mobile security platform for customers using our integrated device and enterprise server technology," the statement read. "There is no ‘back door' pipeline to that platform."

However, BlackBerry also said it could not comment on the Guardian report.

According to The Guardian, Snowden's documents suggest the 2009 operation was sanctioned at the highest level. One paper is a briefing prepared for GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban by his staff, prior to a meeting between Lobban and David Miliband, who was serving as foreign secretary in Gordon Brown's government at the time.

"The GCHQ intent is to ensure that intelligence relevant to HMG's [Her Majesty's Government] desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20 reaches customers [recipients of the intelligence ‘product'] at the right time and in a form which allows them to make full use of it," the briefing read. Two documents explicitly refer to the intelligence being passed to "ministers", The Guardian reported.

Other documents include a PowerPoint presentation that explains a clandestine means of "reading people's email before/as they do" without removing it from the host server.

In a communiqué sent to the GCHQ surveillance team following the September meeting, analysts praised the operation.

"Thank you very much for getting the application ready for the G20 finance meeting last weekend ... The call records activity pilot was very successful and was well received as a current indicator of delegate activity.

"It proved useful to note which nation delegation was active during the moments before, during and after the summit. All in all, a very successful weekend with the delegation telephony plot."