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US spied on Russian President Medvedev at 2009 G20 summit – NSA leaks

Published time: June 16, 2013 20:30
Edited time: June 25, 2013 12:19

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev holds a press briefing in London on April 2, 2009 after a day of talks at the G-20 summit (AFP Photo / RIA Novosti / Kremlin Pool / Vladimir Rodionov)

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As Britain readies to host the G8 summit, the documents uncovered by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have revealed that back in 2009 US spies intercepted top-secret communications of then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, during his visit to London.

The Guardian, which has seen the documents, also revealed that UK intelligence agency GCHQ monitored foreign politicians and intercepted their emails during the 2009 G20 summit held in the British capital, which was attended by Medvedev. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by UK intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

This comes as the 39th G8 summit is scheduled to start on Monday in the small Northern Irish resort town of Lough Erne with all the nations who were present at the 2009 London meeting attending.

According to the leaked documents viewed by the British paper, the details of the intercept of Medvedev’s communications were set out in a briefing prepared by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and shared with high-ranking officials from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The document entitled "Russian Leadership Communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London – Intercept at Menwith Hill station" was drafted in August 2009, four months after the Russian president attended the London G20 summit. 

The NSA paper says: "This is an analysis of signal activity in support of President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to London. The report details a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted. The signal activity was found to be emanating from the Russian embassy in London and the communications are believed to be in support of the Russian president."

G20 leaders pose for a family photo during the G20 summit at the ExCel centre, in east London, on April 2, 2009 (AFP Photo / Eric Feferberg)

The interception of Medvedev’s communications by the US intelligence service came hours after his first meeting with the US President Barack Obama where they struck a warm tone and promised a “fresh start” in US-Russia relations.

The latest revelations will be a major embarrassment for Washington, as Obama is set to meet with the incumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 summit in Northern Ireland and discuss such tough issues as the Syrian conflict.

In the wake of the scandalous leak of NSA documents, US officials have been defending massive surveillance tactics stressing that they were crucial in the fight against terrorism. However, the recent revelations about the actions of the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) suggests this was simply a case of espionage. 

The information obtained by the GCHQ analysts was being rapidly passed on to the British representatives in the G20 meetings, giving them a negotiating advantage. "In a live situation such as this, intelligence received may be used to influence events on the ground taking place just minutes or hours later. This means that it is not sufficient to mine call records afterwards – real-time tip-off is essential," read one of the leaked documents.

During the London summit, GCHQ used what one document described as "ground-breaking intelligence capabilities" to intercept the communications of the foreign delegations. The spy agency set up internet cafes where they used an email interception program and key-logging software to monitor delegates' use of computers. The security of delegates’ BlackBerrys had been penetrated to enable GCHQ see their messages and phone calls.

According to the report the surveillance operation was ordered at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and appears to have run for at least six months before and after the world leaders gathered in London on April 2.

One document reveals that when G20 finance ministers met in London in September 2009, British intelligence again spied on the delegates, including Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek and possibly 15 other members of his team. 

Referring to the NSA spying on the Russian president at that summit, RT contributor Afshin Rattansi says Britain has served as a surveillance platform for the US for decades. “For many years the British people realized that the National Security Agency was basically using the United Kingdom. And the largest spying outfit of the United States is here in Britain,” he said.

Perhaps the British people will realize that they are living in a state where their media and all institutions surrounding them, all industrial aspects of the civic society are under a kind of surveillance state that is not being covered in the news.”

The 2009 summit came at a critical moment when the crisis in Western capitalism hit its peak, Rattansi notes. “These kind of revelations show that when governments such as Britain and the United States come close to worrying, they will use this to try and persuade different officials at different governments to sway them.”

The timing of the surveillance revelations will have global leaders on the defensive at the current G8 conference, said Glyn Ford, a political analyst and former member of the European Parliament who previously warned of a massive US spy apparatus. Ford told RT international contingencies will be wearing their best faces, but each will quietly realize the information arms race has begun.  

I think everyone will be extremely polite so they get invited back next time around, but I think they’ll be very careful with their use of phone calls and email,” Ford said. “Of course, it gives a green light to the rest of the world to do the same thing. Why should China or anybody else be concerned next time the Americans say maybe someone has been hacking American information? The Americans have been doing this on a positively industrial level, where compared to the Chinese they’re amateurs.”