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UK 'tapped phones and emails' of other countries at G20 summits

The Guardian says diplomats at a finance ministers’ summit in 2009 were tapped – on the day that a British-hosted G8 begins.

Britain's Chancellor Alastair Darling (centre) is flanked by US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (left) and French finance minister Christine Lagarde at the 2009 G20. It is reported that the British government attempted covert surveillance of visiting delegations, including tapping phone calls and emails.
Britain's Chancellor Alastair Darling (centre) is flanked by US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (left) and French finance minister Christine Lagarde at the 2009 G20. It is reported that the British government attempted covert surveillance of visiting delegations, including tapping phone calls and emails.
Image: Simon Dawson/PA Archive

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT tapped the phone calls and intercepted the emails of foreign diplomats visiting London in 2009 for two major summits on fixing the crashing global economy, it has been claimed.

Surveillance documents seen by the Guardian, based on leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, claim that the UK’s electronic surveillance agency GCHQ set up fake ‘internet cafés’ at the G20 meetings in 2009.

Those cafés were populated by computers which had keylogging software installed on them, so that the British authorities could monitor communications to and from visiting foreign delegations.

The Guardian’s report also claims that security on the BlackBerry phones of visitors was penetrated so that email and voice communications could be intercepted, while a team of 45 analysts were deployed around-the-clock to build a live picture of the communications.

A separate report adds that GCHQ was included in updates from its American sister organisation, the National Security Agency, as it tried to intercept the communications of then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

The documents suggest that the prime minister of the day, Gordon Brown, had direct knowledge of the surveillance programme, and that the intelligence gathered through the surveillance scheme was passed on to British ministers.

While many countries may have suspected that their leaders’ activities were subject to spying and surveillance while they attended summits on foreign soil, the timing of the disclosure will prompt some discomfort for David Cameron’s administration – coming on the day that his government hosts a G8 summit in Fermanagh.

The 2009 G20 summits in London were the second pair to be held, with one summit involving the heads of government from 20 major global powers, and a second involving their finance ministers and central bank governors.

The first such summit, convened by the United States in November 2008, was a direct response to the global financial crisis.

Read: The Guardian’s report on the GCHQ activity >

In full: More coverage of the ‘PRISM’ surveillance scandal

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