GCHQ and NSA spied on charities, allies, and an EU official

By Sooraj Shah
20 Dec 2013 View Comments
Joaquin Almunia is vice president of the EC

The spy agencies of the UK and US, GCHQ and NSA, have been targeting heads of international charities, German government buildings, the office of an Israeli prime minister and the EU's competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, new documents have revealed.

The papers, leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times, show that GCHQ and NSA worked together to monitor a list of surveillance targets from more than 60 countries.

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Other organisations on the list included the United Nations Development Programme, Unicef and French health expertise provider in conflict zones, Médecins du Monde. 

The timing isn't good for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is attending an EU summit in Brussels, where German chancellor Angela Merkel is also in attendance. In October, he said an EU statement that condemned NSA spying on world leaders, including Merkel, was 'good and sensible'.

The reports showed that the agencies monitored the email traffic of several Israeli officials, including the prime minister, who at the time was Ehud Olmert. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and Israeli embassies were also on the list of targets.

Joaquin Almunia, the vice president of the European Commission (pictured) who deals with competition and privacy issues with major technology companies such as Google, was also on the list of names.

The Commission has punished Intel and Microsoft with fines for unfair competition. Alumnia's communications were intercepted between 2009 and 2009, and could alert European countries to whether data from influential EU officials is being shared with the US. 

The documents revealed that the programmes were run from GCHQ's Bude 'listening' facility, which receives funding from the NSA, and has both GCHQ and NSA employees at its base.

According to documents, dated from between 2008 and 2011, a unit at Bude monitored satellite communications between Europe and Africa, looked to find new 'carriers' used by telecoms companies in order to judge whether they were worth intercepting, and tested samples of data to see whether surveillance targets already on GCHQ and NSA databases were using these new connections.

None of the documents give any insight into why GCHQ or NSA thought the targets needed to be monitored.

On Monday the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times all approached GCHQ for comment.

A GCHQ spokesperson said: "One of the purposes for which GCHQ may be authorised to intercept communications is where it is necessary for the purpose of safeguarding the economic wellbeing of the UK", but that this had to be "directly related to state security. Interception under this purpose is categorically not about industrial espionage".

A spokesman for the NSA said: "As we have previously said, we do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of - or give intelligence we collect to - US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line. The United States collects foreign intelligence just as many other governments do.

"The intelligence community's efforts to understand economic systems and policies, and monitor anomalous economic activities, are critical to providing policy-makers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security.

"As the administration also announced several months ago, the US government is undertaking a review of our activities around the world - looking at, among other issues, how we co-ordinate with our closest allies and partners. 

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