A new set of classified documents disclosed Sunday suggested that Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who has provided a trove of documents to The Guardian newspaper, had obtained a wider range of materials about government surveillance than had been known, including one document detailing how U.S. and British intelligence agencies had eavesdropped on world leaders at a conference in London in 2009.
The latest disclosures, appearing again in The Guardian, came the night before a meeting of leaders of some of the world’s richest nations was to open in Northern Ireland, where some of the leaders who were intelligence targets four years ago will be in attendance.
The newspaper reported Sunday night that Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, the British eavesdropping agency that works closely with the NSA, monitored the email and phones of other countries’ representatives at two meetings at the London conference, in part by setting up a monitored Internet cafe for the participants. In addition, it said, the United States intercepted the communications of Dmitry Medvedev, then the Russian president and now the prime minister, the newspaper said.
The Guardian posted some GCHQ documents on its website with part of the contents blacked out. A spokesman for The Guardian said Sunday that the paper decided on its own to redact the documents, and that enough was published “to show the authenticity of the report.”
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The documents indicated that email interception and key-logging software was installed on the computers in the ersatz Internet cafe, that foreign diplomats’ BlackBerry messages and calls were intercepted, and that 45 analysts tracked who was phoning whom at the summit.
Richard Aldrich, professor of international security at the University of Warwick and the author of a history of GCHQ, said the logos of the NSA and Canadian intelligence on one of the British documents suggested that they were accessible to Snowden “under the auspices of a joint program.”
He said Snowden’s leak shows that British and U.S. diplomats and politicians get a real-time feed of intelligence on their counterparts at major summits. “Now this is integrated into summit diplomacy, almost like a newsreader getting a feed in their ear,” he said.
U.S. intelligence officials have expressed alarm at the variety of highly classified material Snowden obtained, suggesting that his actions reveal a shocking breach in the fundamental principle that intelligence officers should have access only to the material they need to do their jobs. On Sunday, a spokesman for the British foreign service said he would not comment on intelligence matters.
Snowden, 29, who left the NSA station in Hawaii this spring after only a few months of work for the contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and is now thought to be hiding in Hong Kong, delivered hundreds of NSA documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Their initial reports covered the routine collection of data on all phone calls handled by the major U.S. telephone companies and an NSA program called Prism that collects the emails and other Web activity of foreigners using major Internet services such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook.
The Guardian’s latest reports offered a rare window on the everyday electronic spying that the agency does in close cooperation with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence historian in Washington, said the reports have “confirmed longstanding suspicions that NSA’s surveillance in this country is far more intrusive than we knew.” He added: “We desperately need to have a public discussion about the proper limits on NSA.”
But he said the reports of spying on world leaders, while distressing to the eavesdroppers because it will make their targets more wary, contain no surprises. “This is just what intelligence agencies do — spy on friends and enemies alike,” he said. “Only because the shroud of secrecy that covers all of NSA operations is so thick does a glimpse like this come as a shock.”