SYDNEY (TIP): China and Southeast Asian governments demanded an explanation from the US and its allies on October 31 following media reports that American and Australian embassies in the region were being used as hubs for Washington’s secret electronic data collection programme.
The reports come amid an international outcry over allegations that the US has spied on the telephone communications of as many as 35 foreign leaders. A document from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, published this week by German magazine Der Spiegel, describes a signals intelligence programme called “Stateroom” in which US , British, Australian and Canadian embassies secretly house surveillance equipment to collect communications.
Those countries, along with New Zealand, have an intelligence-sharing agreement known as “Five Eyes.” “China is severely concerned about the reports, and demands a clarification and explanation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. Australia’s Fairfax media reported on Thursday that the Australian embassies involved are in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili in East Timor; and High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
The Fairfax report, based on the Der Spiegel document and an interview with an anonymous former intelligence officer, said those embassies are being used to intercept phone calls and internet data across Asia. Indonesia’s foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said his government “cannot accept and strongly protests the news of the existence of wiretapping facilities at the US embassy in Jakarta.
It should be emphasized that if this is confirmed, such action is not only a breach of security, but also a serious breach of diplomatic norms and ethics, and certainly not in tune with the spirit of friendly relations between nations,” he said. The Snowden document said the surveillance equipment is concealed, including antennas that are “sometimes hidden in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds.
Des Ball, a top Australian intelligence expert, said he had personally seen covert antennas in five of the embassies named in the Fairfax report. He declined to go into further detail or specify which embassies those were. But Ball said what Der Spiegel has revealed is hardly surprising or uncommon.