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Beyond Criminals & Terrorists: NSA/GCHQ Targeted Humanitarian Groups

GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief

by James Ball and Nick Hopkins

British and American intelligence agencies had a comprehensive list of surveillance targets that included the EU's competition commissioner, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, and the heads of institutions that provide humanitarian and financial help to Africa, top-secret documents reveal.

The details of GCHQ and NSA targets are the latest revelations from documents leaked by Edward Snowden. (Photograph: Guardian) The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America's National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN's children's charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, 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.

The latest disclosures will add to Washington's embarrassment after the heavy criticism of the NSA when it emerged that it had been tapping the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

One GCHQ document, drafted in January 2009, makes clear that the agencies were targeting an email address listed as belonging to another important American ally – the "Israeli prime minister". Ehud Olmert was in office at the time.

Three further 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 Koren.

Prominent names that appear in the GCHQ documents include Joaquín Almunia, a Spaniard who is vice-president of the European commission with responsibility for competition policy.

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.

They have both been in Brussels, attending an EU summit that concludes on Friday.

The names and details are the latest revelations to come from documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. They provoked a furious reaction from the European commission, Almunia and others on the target lists.

• The commission said the disclosures "are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation. This is not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states." Almunia said he was "very upset" to discover his name was on GCHQ documents.

• Leigh Daynes, UK executive director of Médecins du Monde, said he was "bewildered by these extraordinary allegations of secret surveillance. Our doctors, nurses and midwives are not a threat to national security. There is absolutely no reason for our operations to be secretly monitored."

• Another target, Nicolas Imboden, the head of an NGO that provides help to African countries, said the spying on him was "clearly economic espionage and politically motivated".

• Human Rights Watch, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch condemned the targeting.

• Labour said the committee that oversees GCHQ should be given extra powers.

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 maintained the agency "takes its obligations under the law very seriously".

The new information is published after a joint investigation by the Guardian, the German news magazine Der Spiegel and the New York Times. According to documents, the targeting efforts involved programmes run from GCHQ's listening post near the small Cornish seaside resort of Bude. This is a key listening facility that receives substantial funding from the NSA to undertake shared transatlantic surveillance operations.

[...]

Read the rest of the Guardian story here.
Read the New York Times reporting here.
Read Der Spiegel's coverage here.

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