NSA spied on 35 world leaders

A leaked 2006 memo from the NSA to staffers in the White House, State and the Pentagon asked them to search their rolodexes for the personal numbers of world leaders so the Agency could spy on them. At least 35 world leaders were subsequently wiretapped by the NSA.

The memo, dated October 2006 and which was issued to staff in the agency's Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID), was titled "Customers Can Help SID Obtain Targetable Phone Numbers".

It begins by setting out an example of how US officials who mixed with world leaders and politicians could help agency surveillance.

"In one recent case," the memo notes, "a US official provided NSA with 200 phone numbers to 35 world leaders … Despite the fact that the majority is probably available via open source, the PCs [intelligence production centers] have noted 43 previously unknown phone numbers. These numbers plus several others have been tasked."

The document continues by saying the new phone numbers had helped the agency discover still more new contact details to add to their monitoring: "These numbers have provided lead information to other numbers that have subsequently been tasked."

But the memo acknowledges that eavesdropping on the numbers had produced "little reportable intelligence". In the wake of the Merkel row, the US is facing growing international criticism that any intelligence benefit from spying on friendly governments is far outweighed by the potential diplomatic damage.

NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts [James Ball/The Guardian]

Notable Replies

  1. Only 35? Their job, and the CIA's, is to spy on all world leaders. The President needs enough information to make smart choices. I would assume the Mossad and MI5 and their ilk are also busily spying on our leaders. That's their job.

    That's not at all the same thing as invading the privacy of our own citizens. There was an uproar about this in the 60s - something involving Mr. Hoover and Dr. King, among others. As a result, a Chinese wall was erected between the cops and the spies. That wall has been torn down now, and it's not a good thing.

  2. It's also part of their job not to get caught, thus alienating our allies. Either way they f***ed up.

  3. IMB says:

    Yeah, but I'm not so sure back then the "pipeline" was so direct. How would the CIA wiretap everyone? Maybe the occasional bugged room, but how much private information are they also getting from this now, things that may not have anything to do with governing?

  4. "Yeah, everyone's naive if you don't already know.....blah blah blah." I don't know what I'm more weary of - the ravenous surveillance state or the "look at how realpolitik I am!" commentators who rush to tell the world that this is all business as usual. It's as if they are anxious for all the spy novels they've read to come to life as soon as possible because, you know, it's so Bourne-like and exciting and their acceptance of it shows how worldly they are.

    When the US is so hell-bent on listening in on the conversations of its allies it's most likely a case of industrial/financial espionage or just plain old "we can do it so that means we should". It's proof that the government has truly become an arm of the corporate world. It has little to nothing to do with the safety of citizens and everything to do with making sure their friends in high places (and boardrooms that they themselves sit on or soon will) have as much advantage as possible. I don't pay taxes and vote for representatives so they can man a government that spends billions on industrial espionage to benefit private corporations. It's bullshit.

  5. bkad says:

    My perception, right or wrong, was that you were always being spied on it you were a willing participant in 'the game' so to speak. If you are in the military, or work for a defense company, or have a leadership role in any high tech company really, or are an influential politician (all of which are choices), you probably should assume that powers both foreign and domestic are keeping an eye on you. (Disclosure: I fall into at least one of those categories; in my case warnings about this are part of employee training.) Before Snowden though, while I believed it was possible for the three letter agencies to monitor anyone and everyone, I didn't think it was worth the cost or data reduction effort, and that civilians, totally disconnected from defense or military matters, could live in safe anonymity. That is what offends me. Sure, countries spy on each other, even allies, and if you choose to go into national politics you're signing up for that. But mundane folk are not supposed to be targets.

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