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.
According to the documents the operation was approved by senior level officials in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown,.
Those same documents reveal that the NSA was spying on Russian President Medvedev during the G20 in London:
The NSA interception of the Russian leadership at G20 came hours after Obama and Medvedev had met for the first time. Relations between the two leaders had been smoothed in the runup to the summit with a series of phone calls and letters, with both men wanting to establish a trusting relationship to discuss the ongoing banking crisis and nuclear disarmament.
In the aftermath of their discussions on 1 April, the two men issued a joint communique saying they intended to “move further along the path of reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms in accordance with the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons”.
A White House official who briefed journalists described the meeting as “a very successful first meeting focused on real issues”. The official said it had been important for the men to be open about the issues on which they agreed and disagreed. Obama had stressed the need to be candid, the official noted.
These releases may receive condemnation in Britain and the countries spied upon, but when it comes to the United States public this should be a big nothing burger. The NSA is supposed to be spying on foreigners (as opposed to the domestic spying revelations). And it should be of no surprise that British or American intelligence were spying on foreign leaders. What is also probably true (although there is no leak on the other side) is that foreign intelligence were spying on the American delegation. In this case the only thing the NSA did wrong is “get caught,” or get leaked.
The only thing this revelation proves is that Snowden isn’t really a whistle blower, by bringing out into the open “spying” that most people expected was happening anyway, Snowden crossed the line and proved his only real objective is to embarrass the US and to gain his 15-minutes of fame.