US intelligence agencies are using Australian embassies throughout Asia to intercept data and gather information across the continent, according to the latest report based on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Data collection facilities operate out of the embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Bejing, and Dili, according to Fairfax media. There are also units in the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, the most populated city in Malaysia, and Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.
More intelligence collection occurs at US embassies and
consulates, as well as at the diplomatic outposts of other ‘Five
Eye’ nations, particularly Britain and Canada. The Defence
Signals Directorate, which falls under the Australian Defence
Agency, conducts the surveillance missions, and most Australian
diplomatic officers are completely unaware of such activity,
according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The ‘Five Eyes’ is an alliance for intelligence cooperation that
includes the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New
The document released by Der Spiegel, codenamed ‘STATEROOM,’ indicates the outfits “are small in size and in number of personnel staffing them...They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned.”
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs refused comment on the story, saying it is against government policy to speak on intelligence activity.
The NSA document viewed by Der Spiegel also proves that the intelligence missions are hidden: “For example antennas are sometimes hidden in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds.”
The Jakarta unit, in particular, is a hotbed of information. “The huge growth of mobile phone networks has been a great boon and Jakarta’s political elite are a loquacious bunch; even when they think their own intelligence services are listening they just keep talking,” a source said.
The disclosure comes as US President Barack Obama is reportedly considering suspending all surveillance efforts against American allies. He is facing growing pressure from the international community after reports questioned whether the NSA monitored the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Another leak this week revealed that the US swept up more than 60 million phone calls from Spain in one month alone.
European leaders, once reluctant to demonize the surveillance, now openly wonder if the surveillance was ever employed to stop terrorism, as US leaders have maintained all along. German leaders have suggested renegotiating a deal known as the SWIFT pact, which allows the US to track the flow of what it suspects are terrorist finances.
“It really isn’t enough to be outraged," German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schanarrenberger told rbb-Inforadio this week. “This would be a signal that something can happen and make clear to the Americans that the [EU’s] policy is changing.”
Yet intelligence officers speaking to Fairfax Media now say that it is good to stop terrorism and international crime, “but the main focus is political, diplomatic and economic intelligence.”