Secret documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of American and British surveillance in recent years, including the office of an Israeli prime minister, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, African leaders and family members, representatives of United Nations agencies, a European Union official involved in antitrust battles with American technology businesses, heads of international aid organizations, foreign energy companies, and many more.
The names and details are the latest revelations to come from documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Many of the reports, written by British teams specializing in Sigint, shorthand for “signals intelligence,” are called “Bude Sigint Development Reports,” referring to a British spy campus on the Cornwall coast, a key listening facility that receives substantial funding from the NSA to undertake shared transatlantic surveillance operations. Her Majesty’s agents have been working at the site, where 29 satellite antennas are aimed skyward, for decades. The Cornwall intelligence base, once part of the Echelon global signals intelligence network, was previously known as “Morwenstow.” Today the site is known as “GCHQ Bude.”
In addition to its geographical conditions, which are ideal for monitoring important communications satellites, Bude has another site-specific advantage: Important undersea cables land at nearby Widemouth Bay. One of the cables, called TAT-14, begins at German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom’s undersea cable terminal in the East Frisia region of northern Germany.
According to the documents, the GCHQ Bude station listed phone numbers from the German government network in Berlin in its target base as well as those of German embassies, including the one in Rwanda. That, at least, was the case in 2009, the year the document in question was created. Other documents indicate that the British, at least intermittently, kept tabs on entire country-to-country satellite communication links, like “Germany-Georgia” and “Germany-Turkey,” for example, of certain providers.
One GCHQ document, drafted in January 2009, makes clear that the agencies were targeting an email address listed as belonging to another important American ally – the “Israeli prime minister”. Ehud Olmert was in office at the time.
Three further Israeli targets appeared on GCHQ documents, including another email address understood to have been used to send messages between the then Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, and his chief of staff, Yoni Koren.
Prominent names that appear in the GCHQ documents include Joaquín Almunia, a Spaniard who is vice-president of the European commission with responsibility for competition policy.
The French companies Total, the oil and gas giant, and Thales, an electronics, logistics and transportation outfit, appear as targets, as do a French ambassador, and “Estonian Skype security team.”
The lists also contain African leaders, their family members, ambassadors and businesspeople.
Names listed in the GCHQ documents including Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the current African Union-United Nations joint special representative for Darfur, as well as multiple African heads of state.
Imboden, from the non-profit Ideas Centre in Geneva, and Solomon Asamoah, deputy head of the Africa Finance Corporation, also appeared on GCHQ’s lists.
The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America’s National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones. The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) also appears in the documents, along with text messages he sent to colleagues.
They also include representatives of international organizations, such as those of United Nations agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). A noticeably large number of diplomatic missions to the United Nations in Geneva are also listed.
More obvious intelligence targets are also listed, though in smaller numbers, including people identified as “Israeli grey arms dealer,” “Taleban ministry of refugee affairs” and “various entities in Beijing.” Some of those included are described as possible members of Al Qaeda, and as suspected extremists or jihadists.
In all, communications from more than 60 countries were targeted in this particular operation.