31 October 2013, 10:54

Snowden leak shows US used Australia embassies to spy on Asia

Snowden leak shows US used Australia embassies to spy on Asia

Australian embassies are being secretly used to intercept phone calls and data across Asia as part of a US-led global spying network, according to whistleblower Edward Snowden and a former Australian intelligence officer.

Mr Snowden said that a top secret group called Defence Signals Directorate managed the secret surveillance facilities at different Australian embassies across Asia. The perpetrators managed to hide the spying activities from most of the Australian diplomats.

In an exclusive report from the Fairfax Media, Mr Snowden and the unnamed Australian intelligence officer said that the spying activities involved collecting signals intelligence from Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing and Dili, Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby.

This recent expose' was part of the document published by Germany's Der Speigel, leaked by Mr Snowden which exposed the "Five Eyes" intelligence partners that include Australia, Britain and Canada.

The revelations come as the US has been left red-faced by news it has been eavesdropping on foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

US President Barack Obama is said to be on the verge of ordering a halt to spying on the heads of allied governments following the international outcry. 

The document, posted on the ABC website Wednesday, revealed that the spying programme conducted through the Australian embassies was dubbed as STATEROOM. It was unequivocally written in the document that the Australian Defence Signals Directorate runs STATEROOM facilities through "Australian diplomatic facilities."

The document described the surveillance facilities: "They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned. For example antennas are sometimes hidden in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds."

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade declined to comment on the potential diplomatic implications of the disclosure. A departmental spokesperson said: "It is the long-standing practice of Australian governments not to comment on intelligence matters."

The document did not direct to a specific location as to where the Defence Signals Directorate facilitates were located across the Asian nations being spied on.

However, according to the unidentified former Australian Defence Intelligence officer, The Australian Embassy in Jakarta was the key player in collecting intelligence to track terrorist threats and people smuggling.

NSA’s 'five eyes' – Australia, UK, Canada and New Zealand – collect and share personal data with US

Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand - the so-called ''five eyes'' intelligence-sharing nations – collected personal data of their citizens and shared it with the US intelligence, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Australia's Defence Signals Directorate collected data and shared it with the NSA, that gathered more than 250 million contact lists around the world each year, the Sydney Morning Herald reports citing the Washington Post.

According to experts, the program does not target individuals but gathers contact lists in huge volumes that can then be ''data-mined'' to help identify people of interest to intelligence agencies.

The revelations sparked political outrage in Australia.

The independent senator Nick Xenophon branded the program ''an outrageous and unnecessary intrusion into the lives of Australians.”

Greens senator Scott Ludlam called it ''an extraordinary departure from traditional law enforcement … to a surveillance culture that says, 'Rather than looking for the needle, we're going to trap and store the entire haystack'.''

The documents from the NSA's Special Source Operations branch show that in a single day last year, the program collected 444,743 email address books from Yahoo!, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from other providers, the morning daily reports.

Australia's involvement is made clear by a document that refers to AUC along with US, UKC, CAC and NZC, indicating the ''five eyes'' member countries.

Voice of Russia, The Sydney Morning Herald, The China Post, International Business Time

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