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NSA's Italy op exposed: ‘Millions’ of private communications intercepted with govt awareness

Published time: October 23, 2013 01:46
Edited time: October 23, 2013 17:46
AFP Photo / Andreas Solaro

AFP Photo / Andreas Solaro

Everyday communications of Italians are also on the watch list of the US National Security Agency, a new report has revealed. While an Italian parliamentary committee seeks clarification of NSA activities, local security sources defend the snooping.

Italy’s spy watchdog COPASIR has recently learned details of large-scale monitoring of Italians by the US intelligence agency NSA, according to a report published by Corriere della Sera.

COPASIR stands for Parliamentary Committee for the Intelligence and Security Services and for State Secret Control, and is tasked with overseeing the activities of Italy’s own spy agencies. The body has free access to intelligence agencies' offices and documents and has the authority to overcome judicial and banking secrecy.


In order to confirm the snooping on Italians, the committee members had to go to the United States and meet with US intelligence agency directors, as well as with congressional committee chairs.

A delegation of parliamentarians from the COPASIR confirmed their concerns regarding the extent of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program during an official visit to the US three weeks ago, the media said. As part of the program, phone calls and computer communications of “millions of Italians” are reportedly being gathered.

Moreover, Corriere della Sera added that the implications extended to “a monitoring network that started years ago and is still active,” of which the Italian government and spy agencies might have been well aware of.

Such discoveries have prompted uneasy questions to officials, with leading members of COPASIR now seeking clarification from the government, and reportedly awaiting the junior minister for the intelligence services, Marco Minniti, to visit the committee’s offices on Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Italian intelligence sources quoted in the report rushed to justify the surveillance activities of their partners.

The acquisition of the sensitive private information “has as its sole aim the fight against terrorism,” one source was quoted as saying, while another denied that the NSA’s spying ever breached Italy’s sovereignty.

“We have never had any evidence that this kind of monitoring might have involved political spying on Italian public figures. All our investigations into any such eventuality have proved negative,”
the source maintained.

Reuters / Stefano Rellandini

However, such explanations did not satisfy COPASIR, nor did the NSA deputy director’s promise of “a complete overview of communications to and from the United States.”

According to the Italian media, the committee member Claudio Fava from Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party, was “openly perplexed” as he commented on such statements.

“It’s a data trawling system based on various sensors. US intelligence experts explained that their main concern was to comply with American data protection laws and intervene to safeguard national security. Whether this conflicts with other countries’ laws is of no concern to them but it should be to us,” Fava was quoted as saying.

Another COPASIR member, Felice Casson of the Democratic Party (PD), said that the replies the committee received from top Italian intelligence officials were “far from reassuring.”

“It is clear that the United States has acquired information on individuals and institutions across Europe. What concrete elements exist to rule out that this has happened to politicians and institutions in Italy?”
Casson questioned.

Leading Democratic Party (PD) politician Ettore Rosato also demanded an explanation from the government, saying that “a few months ago, when the first [NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s] revelations emerged, both the prime minister, Enrico Letta, and the foreign minister, Emma Bonino, professed astonishment at what came out.”

So far, the documents obtained by various world media from the former NSA contractor Snowden have revealed that the Italian embassy in Washington was subject to spying along with the diplomatic missions of other countries. Italian intelligence sources have been careful to deny the claims only “off the record,” Corriere della Sera says.

Right before the NSA scandal emerged, the collaboration between Italian and American intelligence services was “at its peak,” and, according to the media, included sharing of communications through the SIGINT interception system. However, such cooperation appeared to have been justified by the ongoing allied wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the search for western hostages there, the media adds.

But in the wake of recent revelations on the US spying activities in France, which triggered a media frenzy and public outrage, the media speculates Italy may find it difficult to maintain the same “stance” towards the NSA programs.

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