Snowden leak: How UK spies attacked delegations to the 2009 G20


On the eve of the G8 summit (taking place in a specially prepared Potemkin village in N. Ireland), the Guardian has published another Edward Snowden leak, this one describing how the UK spying agency GCHQ aggressively spied upon delegates to the G20 summit in 2009. According to the documents, UK spies attacked foreign delegates by "reading their email before they do" intercepting their BlackBerry messages and calls in real-time; capturing logins at special Internet cafes so as to spy on delegations after the event; getting NSA reports on attempts to crack Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev's satellite calls; and continuously logging and analyzing who was calling whom.

The report suggests that British delegation was briefed throughout, and that the operation was "sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.


A briefing paper dated 20 January 2009 records advice given by GCHQ officials to their director, Sir Iain Lobban, who was planning to meet the then foreign secretary, David Miliband. The officials summarised Brown's aims for the meeting of G20 heads of state due to begin on 2 April, which was attempting to deal with the economic aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis. The briefing paper added: "The GCHQ intent is to ensure that intelligence relevant to HMG's desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20 reaches customers at the right time and in a form which allows them to make full use of it." Two documents explicitly refer to the intelligence product being passed to "ministers".

According to the material seen by the Guardian, GCHQ generated this product by attacking both the computers and the telephones of delegates.

One document refers to a tactic which was "used a lot in recent UK conference, eg G20". The tactic, which is identified by an internal codeword which the Guardian is not revealing, is defined in an internal glossary as "active collection against an email account that acquires mail messages without removing them from the remote server". A PowerPoint slide explains that this means "reading people's email before/as they do".

The same document also refers to GCHQ, MI6 and others setting up internet cafes which "were able to extract key logging info, providing creds for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished". This appears to be a reference to acquiring delegates' online login details.

Another document summarises a sustained campaign to penetrate South African computers, recording that they gained access to the network of their foreign ministry, "investigated phone lines used by High Commission in London" and "retrieved documents including briefings for South African delegates to G20 and G8 meetings". (South Africa is a member of the G20 group and has observer status at G8 meetings.)

I love that BlackBerrys are singled out as especially easy to intercept, something that is widely rumored. The entire piece is amazing, with specific revelations of spying. I'd love to know what the G8 delegations are making of all this as they head to NI. Perhaps GCHQ could tell us?

GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits [Ewen MacAskill, Nick Davies, Nick Hopkins, Julian Borger and James Ball/The Guardian]

Crappy YouTube trailer leads to death of US diplomat and others in Mideast

Update: The whole thing sounds like a weird disinfo job. But, by whom and to what end? The AP has outed "Sam Bacile" as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian who claims the film supports the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims. On The Media notes that there's something fishy about the film dialogue. And Gawker has spoken to one of the actresses in the film, who says she had no idea what the film was really about.


The Associated Press identifies Sam Bacile as an Israeli filmmaker based in California who made an independently produced and financed anti-Muslim movie that's sort of "Birth of a Nation" meets "Bed Intruder." The YouTube trailer is embedded above, and it unapologetically attacks Islam’s prophet Muhammad. Bacile has no known prior history as a filmmaker.

His D-grade web trailer inspired (or, alternately, was used as cover for) attacks by ultra-conservative Muslims on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. J Christopher Stevens, America's ambassador to Libya, and three American members of his staff were killed today in resulting violence.

From the Associated Press:

Speaking by phone Tuesday from an undisclosed location, writer and director Sam Bacile remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that the 56-year-old intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion. Protesters angered over Bacile’s film opened fire on and burned down the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Libyan officials said Wednesday that Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed Tuesday night when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob firing machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.

Bacile is a real estate developer in California who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew. “Islam is a cancer, period,” he told the AP. The video above is a trailer for his two-hour movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” which cost $5 million to produce and was, according to the director, backed by funding from 100 Jewish donors. There's an English version and an Arabic-dubbed version of the trailer here. Bacile reports that the entire film has been shown "once, to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood earlier this year."

Read the rest

Is open diplomacy possible?

orpen-versailles.jpg

Bioethicist Peter Singer has a thought-provoking piece on Wikileaks' Cablegate, in which he discusses The Treaty of Versailles, one of the most notable pieces of secret diplomacy. Since the treaty bore substantial responsibility for several of the conditions that led to World War II, Singer says "it has a fair claim to being the most disastrous peace treaty in human history." He brings up points both pro and con:

Openness is in this respect like pacifism: just as we cannot embrace complete disarmament while others stand ready to use their weapons, so Woodrow Wilson's world of open diplomacy is a noble ideal that cannot be fully realized in the world in which we live.
We could, however, try to get closer to that ideal. If governments did not mislead their citizens so often, there would be less need for secrecy, and if leaders knew that they could not rely on keeping the public in the dark about what they are doing, they would have a powerful incentive to behave better.
Is open diplomacy possible? (project-syndicate.org)

via @EvgenyMorozov (Image: Detail from William Orpen (1919). The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28th June 1919. via Wikimedia Commons)

TSA subjects India's US ambassador to public grope because of her sari

The TSA is refusing to apologize to India's ambassador to the USA, who was flagged for an extended public grope because she was wearing a sari.
The Clarion-Ledger writes Ambassador Meera Shankar was in Jackson last weekend as a guest of Mississippi State University.

"While in town, Shankar met with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, representatives from the Mississippi Development Authority and members of the Indian community in Jackson, and she spoke to more than 100 people at the Executive Lecture Forum of Jackson," the paper writes.

Shankar apparently was selected for enhanced screening, even though she did not set of the airport's metal detectors. Witnesses tell the Clarion-Ledger security agents told Shankar she was singled out because she was wearing a sari, which the paper notes is as "a traditional Indian robe that is draped across the body..."

The Clarion-Ledger writes "witnesses said Shankar asked for a private screening, but she was led to a clear box where two officers searched her in clear view."

"She is a very strong woman, but you could see in her face that she was humiliated," Tan Tsai, a research associate at MSU's International Security Studies center who witnessed the screening, tells the paper. "The Indian culture is very modest."

It all goes to show you: security theater means never having to say "your sari."

India diplomat gets 'humiliating' pat-down at Mississippi airport (Thanks, Zarabanda via Submitterator!)