17 Jun 2013

Ed Snowden to G8: turn on the taps when talking

Ed Snowden’s computers have delivered another extraordinary story to the Guardian – but one that you can safely predict kills Mr Snowden’s hopes of asylum.   He reveals that GCHQ boasted of tapping into Blackberries, emails and phone traffic of delegates and officials when the UK hosted the G20 summit in London’s docklands in 2009.

The revelation of emails boasting of “real-time” intelligence being passed on to Gordon Brown’s team as the talks were happening, is timed to create maximum embarrassment to the UK government as it hosts the G8 in Northern Ireland this week.

Quite what intelligence was gained from listening in on Turkey’s finance minister and the South African delegation as China, the Saudis and the US tried to agree how to give the world’s markets confidence, isn’t clear. You get the feeling that intelligence services were talking up their own work (maybe, in part, to boast to US partners as well as UK paymasters?).

World gatherings have long been known to be festivals of spying. Margaret Macmillan’s “The Peacemakers” on the Versailles talks has wonderful colour on this.  The UN General Assembly each year is known as a mass gathering of agents looking to turn officials in other delegations.  Clare Short went some way to blowing the gaffe on that in 2004.  Now there is a new chapter to our understanding of eavesdropping at international summits.  You can decide for yourself whether it looks like a hugely helpful contribution.

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