Edward Snowden strikes again.
This time, however, it's Great Britain in the doghouse. Britain, it is being reported, allegedly spied on foreign leaders during a 2009 G-20 economic summit. The British GCHQ, a rough equivalent of America's NSA, is reported to have listened to phone conversations between delegates and their home countries as well as tracked and viewed various other forms of communication.
The GCHG employed a series of sneaky tactics to pull this off, including setting up internet cafes rigged with spy equipment, hacking BlackBerries, intercepting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's calls as they passed through satellite links, and employing 45 analysts to monitor phone calls from the summit as they happened round-the-clock.
This information has come out as part of a series of leaked documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to the Guardian newspaper. The documents in question "suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and that intelligence, including briefings for visiting delegates, was passed to British ministers."
There is little ambiguity on the deceitful nature of the activities. In fact, a briefing paper for GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban laid out the plan rather clearly prior to the summit. "The GCHQ intent is to ensure that intelligence relevant to HMG's [Her Majesty's Government] 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," it said.
Then, a week after the summit concluded, the agency gave itself a good pat on the back. "The call records activity pilot was very successful and was well received as a current indicator of delegate activity ... It proved useful to note which nation delegation was active during the moments before, during, and after the summit. All in all, a very successful weekend with the delegation telephony plot," it said.
This embarrassing revelation won't do much for cooperation in this week's G8 summit in Northern Ireland. In particular, it will exacerbate tensions between Vladimir Putin's Russia and the West. The summit had already been heralded as a clash of horns between Putin and the other 7 members, led by U.S. President Barack Obama, over the crisis in Syria. Putin stands in strong opposition of Obama and European leaders as they gear up to support rebels against the Syrian regime.
The revelation that Britain's spy agencies have been listening in to their conversations will likely add fuel to the fire. In fact, Putin has already publicly come out against the NSA's controversial program of data collection, indicating that Snowden might be able to take refuge in Russia.
Currently, Snowden's whereabouts are unknown, although he is presumed to be in Hong Kong on the run from U.S. government entities.