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NSA bugged UN headquarters - report

Published time: August 25, 2013 12:32
Edited time: August 26, 2013 01:44

United Nations building.(AFP Photo /Monika Graff)

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The US National Security Agency (NSA) successfully cracked the encryption code protecting the United Nations’ internal videoconferencing system, according to documents seen by Germany’s Der Spiegel.

The United States was not just busy spying on the European Union, the report revealed, but had its surveillance apparatus trained on the international body as well.

The publication reported on Sunday that the electronic breaching of the UN, which is headquartered in New York, occurred in the summer of 2012. Within three weeks of initially gaining access to the UN system, the NSA had increased the number of such decrypted communications from 12 to 458.

On one occasion, according to the report, while the Americans were attempting to break into UN communications, they discovered the Chinese were attempting to crack the encryption code as well.

In February, a US cyber security company said it had traced “hundreds of data breaches since 2004” to a Chinese military unit in Shanghai.

Chinese authorities rejected the claims.

UN is aware of the reports the NSA had spied on the organization, a spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Martin Nesirky told RIA Novosti. “We saw the reports and at this point we do not have any comment”, Nesirky said.

Der Spiegel‘s report continued from earlier revelations about the NSA spying on EU institutions, explaining that the US agency gained access to the virtual private network (VPN) used by the EU’s embassies in the United States.

It also said that the US spy agency oversees a monitoring program called the “Special Collection Service,” which is jointly staffed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NSA. The system reportedly exists in over 80 embassies and consulates around the world, often without the knowledge of the host country.

The existence of the system was revealed in July 2013 by Edward Snowden, an American citizen and former NSA contractor.

AFP Photo / Timothy Clary

In June, Der Spiegel revealed that the US intelligence service monitors around half a billion telephone calls, emails and text messages from Germany every month, setting off a firestorm of protest among German citizens.

On August 15, Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economics and Technology, Philipp Rösler, said Germany will take definite action to limit the NSA’s ability to spy on European Union communications. 

The first step will be to build “a strong European information technology industry that can offer alternatives” to US-owned firms that collaborate with the NSA, said Rösler.

Mutual accusations will follow the leaks that the NSA spied on the United Nation, Paolo Raffone, consultant and founder of the CIPI Foundation, told RT, adding that the current scandal “will most probably be used as a bargaining issue between the major powers involved.”

Spying on the UN doesn’t contradict the US statements that the US cyber-surveillance is only aimed at tackling terrorism, he stressed.

“When you have a broad spectrum of analysis of information, especially, monitoring via cyber systems, you catch up with all that’s possible that has a reference with your target. Even the UN is involved in this. And, like the UN, any other kind of communication is taken into account,” Raffone explained.

The consultant believes the US isn’t the only nation to be blamed as “all major powers dispose of large systems of cyber-spying and they use it against each other.”

“What is more worrisome is the use of these kinds of techniques and technologies by smaller groups, especially, non-state groups. That may generate glitches that may ignite a cyber-war in full spectrum,” Raffone said.