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​NSA spies on OSCE HQ in Vienna – report

Published time: May 22, 2014 09:42
AFP Photo / Dieter Nagl

AFP Photo / Dieter Nagl

Among the many targets for the UN National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance is the Vienna-based headquarters of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Austrian media reported.

The OSCE is mentioned among the targets for NSA in the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), a confidential document outlining intelligence gathering priorities, reported on Wednesday Austrian newspaper Die Presse. It cites German journalist Holger Stark with Der Spiegel magazine, who has access to NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The NIPF update from April 9, 2013, lists OSCE’s foreign policy as a Level 4 point of interest for the US and its involvement in arms trade control as a Level 3 point of interest, Stark told the newspaper. Level 3 information is considered important enough by the US intelligence community to make its way to the US secretaries of defense and state, he added.

The NSA apparently used its hacking unit, the Tailored Access Operations (TAO), to gather information on OSCE HQ in Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Stark said. Der Spiegel earlier covered TAO’s activities and how it used a cyber-warfare suite called QUANTUM to gain access to electronic communications of various organizations. Those include the New York headquarters of the United Nations as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), both which is headquartered in Vienna.

The German journalists also suggested that the NSA has gained access to fiber optic lines comprising Vienna’s internet hub and snoops directly on traffic passing through it. The Austrian capital, where some 17,000 diplomats are stationed and many important international organizations are present, is an attractive target for American cyber operations he said.

“Apparently, the Russian, Iranian and North Korean embassies are among the main objectives in addition to the international organizations," Stark said.

Stark added that the Austrian government is considered an ally by the US, so the NSA shares some of the intelligence it gathers with Austrian intelligence community. It’s not clear from the report whether Austria is aware of the spying being conducted in its capital on international organizations.

The OSCE is the world’s largest intergovernmental security organization, bringing together 57 member states from Europe, North America and Asia. It was created in 1975 at the height of the Cold War as an instrument of conflict mediation and crisis prevention in Europe.

The organization’s role after the collapse of the Eastern Block was somewhat diminished, but it has risen to prominence lately amid the Ukrainian political crisis, which heightened tensions between Russia and the West.