Documents leaked by former Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden reveal that the British and American governments spied on delegates to the 2009 G20 summit in London, the Guardian reported Sunday, on the eve of the 2013 G8 meeting in Northern Ireland.
The revelations are undoubtedly a major embarrassment for the British hosts of this week's summit.
The documents reportedly say that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) set up Internet cafes ahead of the April 2009 event to monitor delegates' Internet activity, analyzed the phone activity of delegates, and broke into BlackBerry smartphone devices.
By using fake Internet cafes, intelligence agents "were able to extract key logging info, providing creds for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished," according to one document, allowing agents to read "people's email before/as they do."
Agents "retrieved documents including briefings for South African delegates to G20 and G8 meetings," according to the documents.
"New converged events capabilities against BlackBerry provided advance copies of G20 briefings to ministers," says one document. "Diplomatic targets from all nations have an MO of using smartphones. Exploited this use at the G20 meetings last year."
During the conference the National Security Agency reportedly intercepted signals sent by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's delegation. Referencing another document, a leaked NSA communication says: "The report details a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted. The signal activity was found to be emanating from the Russian embassy in London and the communications are believed to be in support of the Russian president."
Similar tactics were used by GCHQ during a September 2009 meeting of G-20 finance ministers in London, the Guardian reports. At that meeting, a team of 45 analysts poured over intelligence on delegates, with operations including a 15-square-meter wall that updated with real-time phone call information.
Delegates from Turkey, one of the U.K.'s and U.S.'s NATO allies, were targeted at the meeting, the documents quoted by the Guardian say.
Turkish finance minister Mehmet Simsek was specifically spied on, the documents say, "to establish Turkey's position on agreements from the April London summit" and the country's "willingness (or not) to co-operate with the rest of the G20 nations."
A memo sent by NSA agents to GCHQ after that September meeting reportedly said: "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."
According to the Guardian the documents were leaked by Snowden, a contractor assigned to the NSA, who took the top-secret material from the American agency. In addition to the U.S., at least some of the documents were shared with the governments of Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong before releasing top-secret documents taken from the NSA. He intends to avoid prosecution in the U.S., but it's not immediately clear where he might be offered asylum. Earlier this month, he revealed in documents provided to the Guardian that the U.S. government has been using secret court orders to gather the phone records of millions of Americans, and that major Internet companies cooperate with the NSA to hand over user information. Snowden will be doing a live-streamed interview with the Guardian on Monday.
In addition to exposing domestic surveillance, documents provided by Snowden covered plans for offensive cyberattacks. In the Guardian's June 7 report on U.S. cyber policy, coinciding with a meeting between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, an unnamed source – who may have been Snowden – told the paper that the American government is hypocritical in criticizing China for offensive Internet attacks.