Edward Snowden

Israeli PM among 1,000 US, UK spy targets, Snowden leaks reveal

Israeli PM, charities and energy companies were among those monitored by the NSA and GCHQ, latest Snowden documents reveal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 4:22pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 December, 2013, 5:34am

Secret documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of US and British surveillance in recent years, including the office of an Israeli prime minister, heads of international aid organisations, foreign energy companies and an EU official involved in antitrust battles with US technology businesses.

While the names of some political and diplomatic leaders have previously emerged as targets, the newly disclosed intelligence documents provide a much fuller portrait of the spies' sweeping interests in more than 60 countries.

Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), working closely with the US National Security Agency (NSA), monitored the communications of senior European Union officials, foreign leaders including African heads of state and sometimes their family members, directors of United Nations and other relief programmes, and officials overseeing oil and finance ministries, according to the various documents.

In addition to Israel, some targets involve close allies such as France and Germany, where tensions have already erupted over recent revelations about spying by the NSA.

Details of the surveillance are described in documents from the NSA and GCHQ dating from 2008 to 2011. The target lists appear in a set of GCHQ reports that sometimes identify which agency requested the surveillance, but more often do not.

The documents were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

More than 1,000 targets, which also include people suspected of being terrorists or militants, are in the reports.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission (EC), Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, said the latest revelations "are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation".

"This is not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners," she added.

The reports show that spies monitored the e-mail traffic of several Israeli officials, including one target identified as "Israeli prime minister", followed by an e-mail address.

The prime minister at the time of the interception, in January 2009, was Ehud Olmert.

The following month, spies intercepted the e-mail traffic of the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, according to another report.

Olmert confirmed on Friday that the e-mail address was used for correspondence with his office, which he said staff members often handled.

He added that it was unlikely that any secrets could have been compromised. He noted, for example, that his most sensitive discussions with former US president George W. Bush took place in private.

Also appearing on the surveillance lists is Joaquin Almunia, vice-president of the EC, which, among other powers, has oversight of antitrust issues in Europe.

The commission has broad authority over local and foreign companies, and has punished a number of US companies, including Microsoft and Intel, with heavy fines for hampering fair competition.

The reports say that spies intercepted Almunia's communications in 2008 and 2009.

Almunia said he was "strongly upset" about the spying.

Vanee Vines, an NSA spokeswoman, 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."

But she added that some economic spying was justified by national security needs.

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