Report: UK spies hacked foreign diplomats

LONDON — The Guardian newspaper says the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ repeatedly hacked into foreign diplomats’ phones and emails when the U.K. hosted international conferences, even going so far as to set up a bugged Internet café in an effort to get an edge in high-stakes negotiations.

The report — the latest in a series of revelations which have ignited a worldwide debate over the scope of Western intelligence gathering — came just hours before Britain was due to open the G-8 summit Monday, a meeting of the seven biggest economies plus Russia, in Northern Ireland. The allegation that the United Kingdom has previously used its position as host to spy on its allies and other attendees could make for awkward conversation as the delegates arrive for talks.

“The diplomatic fallout from this could be considerable,” said British academic Richard J. Aldrich, whose book “GCHQ” charts the agency’s history.

GCHQ declined to comment on the report.

The Guardian cites more than half a dozen internal government documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as the basis for its reporting on GCHQ’s intelligence operations, which it says involved, among other things, hacking into the South African foreign ministry’s computer network and targeting the Turkish delegation at the 2009 G-20 summit in London.

The source material — whose authenticity could not immediately be determined — appears to be a mixed bag. The Guardian describes one as “a PowerPoint slide,” another as “a briefing paper” and others simply as “documents.”

Some of the leaked material was posted to the Guardian’s website with heavy redactions. A spokesman for the newspaper said that the redactions were made at the newspaper’s initiative, but declined to elaborate.

It wasn’t completely clear how Snowden would have had access to the British intelligence documents, although in one article the Guardian mentions that source material was drawn from a top-secret internal network shared by GCHQ and the NSA. Aldrich said he wouldn’t be surprised if the GCHQ material came from a shared network accessed by Snowden, explaining that the NSA and GCHQ collaborated so closely that in some areas the two agencies effectively operated as one.

One document cited by the Guardian — but not posted to its website — appeared to boast of GCHQ’s tapping into smartphones. The Guardian quoted the document as saying that “capabilities against BlackBerry provided advance copies of G20 briefings to ministers.” It went on to say that “Diplomatic targets from all nations have an MO (a habit) of using smartphones,” adding that spies “exploited this use at the G-20 meetings last year.”

Another document cited — but also not posted — concerned GCHQ’s use of a customized Internet cafe which was “able to extract key logging info, providing creds for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished.” No further details were given, but the reference to key logging suggested that computers at the café would have been pre-installed with malicious software designed to spy on key strokes, steal passwords, and eavesdrop on emails.

Aldrich said that revelation stuck out as particularly ingenious.

“It’s a bit `Mission Impossible,”’ he said.

More in Local News

Families begin relocating from public housing complex

Baker Heights is in need of repairs deemed to costly to make, and will be demolished and replaced.

Trail work by juvenile offenders builds resumes, confidence

Kayak Point trails were built out this year by groups from Denney Juvenile Justice Center.

Small fire breaks out at haunted house in Everett

Plastic that was supposed to be noncombustable was sitting next to a hot lightbulb.

Rules of the road for ‘extra-fast pedestrians’ — skateboarders

State traffic law defines them as pedestrians, and yet they are often in the middle of the street.

Distress beacon leads rescuers to Pacific Crest Trail hikers

Two men in their 20s had encountered snow and waited two nights for a helicopter rescue.

Volunteers clean up homeless camp infested with garbage

The organization’s founder used to live and do drugs in the same woods.

Everett mayoral campaign is one of the priciest ever

Many campaign donors are giving to both Cassie Franklin and Judy Tuohy.

City of Everett to give $400K to a nonprofit housing project

The city expects to enter a contract with HopeWorks, an affiliate of Housing Hope.

The way he walked led to police to Everett murder suspect

Then, witnesses said they had heard the man and an alleged accomplice talking about a robbery.

Most Read