LONDON – A list of around 1,000 targets, including a European Union commissioner, humanitarian organisations and an Israeli prime minister, are among those spied on by UK and US surveillance agencies, according to the latest leaked documents from Edward Snowden published on Friday.
Other targets from 2008 to 2011 included foreign energy companies and aid organizations, said the Guardian and the New York Times, citing secret documents from the former National Security Agency (NSA) employee.
Snowden has shone a light on widespread surveillance by the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ, the alleged extent of which has upset many U.S. allies and fueled a heated debate about the balance between privacy and security. He is living in Russia under temporary asylum.
The papers suggest over 60 countries were targets of the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ.
The reports are likely to spark more international concern about the surveillance operations carried out by the US and the UK.
News that the NSA had monitored the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel triggered a diplomatic row between Berlin and Washington in October.
The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with
NSA was targeting organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef and Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones.
The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) also appears in the documents, along with text messages he sent to colleagues, according to Guardian.
The latest disclosures will add to Washington’s embarrassment following the heavy criticism of the NSA when it emerged that it had been tapping the mobile telephone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
One GCHQ document, drafted in January 2009, makes clear the agencies were targeting an email address listed as belonging to another key American ally the “Israeli prime minister”. Ehud Olmert was in office at the time.
Three other Israeli targets appeared on GCHQ documents, including another email address understood to have been used to send messages between the then Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, and his chief of staff, Yoni Korenm, reports the Guardian.
The disclosures reflect the breadth of targets sought by the agencies, which goes far beyond the desire to intercept the communications of potential terrorists and criminals, or diplomats and officials from hostile countries.
Asked about this activity, a spokesman for GCHQ said it was “longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters”, but the official insisted the agency “takes its obligations under the law very seriously”, the Guardian said.
Britain’s targeting of Germany may also prove awkward for the prime minister, David Cameron; in October, he endorsed an EU statement condemning NSA spying on world leaders, including Merkel.
The New York Times reports that GCHQ monitored the communications of foreign leaders – including African heads of state and sometimes their family members – and directors of United Nations and other relief programmes.
The European Commission said in a statement that the claims, if true, “deserve our strongest condemnation”.
“This is not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states.”
On Thursday a White House panel recommended significant curbs on the NSA’s sweeping electronic surveillance programmes.
Snowden left the US in late May, taking a large cache of top secret documents with him. He faces espionage charges in US over his actions.