SpyTalk

G20 Bugging Non-shocker

Lindsay Mills
Lindsay Mills
Snowden's alleged girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who posted photos like this to her public blog. Edward Joseph Snowden (born 1983) is an American technical contractor, whistleblower and former United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). | Photo: Lindsay Mills | Lindsay Mills, Edward Snowden, Cia, Press, Leak, Secret, Whistleblower,

Snowden's Latest Leak Joins Long List of Bugging Revelations

What a shocker--Edward Snowden's revelation that Britain worked hand-in-glove with the NSA to bug delegates to two G20 financial summit meetings in London in 2009.

I mean, bugs are to diplomacy as the stolen base is to baseball: Which is to say, they are not a secret. Everyone would like to do it, but not everybody can. And its a government's job to protect its secrets. Like most things in global power politics, however, the strong bug the weak.

On the other hand, strictly speaking, they are illegal. And thus come the predictable howls of high dudgeon when they are discovered.

(Insert your own Casablanca quote here.]

The list of revelations of such past breeches of diplomatic niceties is long, but certainly only a tiny fraction of past and present bugs that remain hidden.

The 2010 WikiLeaks dump of US diplomatic cable revealed that Hillary Clinton had signed off on a CIA request to have American foreign service officers help it gather information on foreign diplomats and human rights organizations, including stealing documents from their offices when the opportunity arose. The CIA's laundry list included credit card numbers, internet passwords, ID photos and items with the target's DNA or fingerprints.

That was a bit of overreach, as the leak itself suggests. So the CIA and NSA mostly have to go it alone (with the help of the world's most sophisticated and powerful bugging equipment and computers, of course).

Only a year earlier a respected Swiss newspaper revealed that "a number of listening devices, most likely of Israeli origin, were discovered in a room designated for sensitive meetings on disarmament issues at the United Nations building in Geneva."

Swiss counterintelligence drew on "technical and geopolitical criteria" to create a shortlist of the possible culprits, IntelNews reported. "Israel topped the list, which also included North Korea, Britain, China, Russia, France and the United States."

Speaking of Israeli buggers, one old yarn involves them in a bugging operation against a foreign embassy in Washington.

It goes something like this: an FBI bugging team was ready to crawl through the window of a foreign embassy to install listening devices late one night when they were startled by somebody coming out. It was an Israeli bugger.

Intelligence writer Ron Kessler retails more stories of the embassy bugging operations in The Secrets of the FBI.

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden is hardly unique.

In 2003 Katharine T. Gun revealed that Britain GCHQ, her former employer, had cooperated with the NSA "to illegally bug the United Nations offices of Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan," according to a summary by Joseph Fitsanakis at IntelNews.org. "By diabolical coincidence, the UN representations of the above six countries had failed to be won over by American and British arguments in support of the invasion of Iraq," Fitsanakis wrote.

[Tip to Ed Snowden: Hold something back. "Gun was charged under the UK Official Secrets Act, but charges were eventually dropped after she threatened to reveal even more information about the case," IntelNews said.]

Sometimes it's said that the world's best buggers are the Russians, who seem to have a thing about putting secret listening devices in officials seals. One such was discovered in the American embassy in Moscow in 1937.

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden

Edward Joseph Snowden (born 1983) is an American technical contractor, whistleblower and former United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden released classified material on top-secret NSA programs including the PRISM surveillance program to the press. | Photo: |
There's something about bugging stories that make them as amusing as they might be shocking.

Take the 1977 CBS report that "Panamanian diplomats had tried to blackmail US negotiators into making concessions on the new Panama Canal treaty by threatening to disclose an alleged US spying operation."

"US officials declined to confirm or deny reports that American intelligence agencies had used in electronic means to eavesdrop on Panama's treaty negotiators," naturally.

But CBS said the Panamanians used their discovering of the eavesdropping "to blackmail the American negotiators." Spy vs. Spy!

Of course, no list of bugging stories would be complete without an entry from The Washington Post's Bob Woodard, he of Watergate fame.

In 1976, Woodward revealed that "electronic surveillance has been used in the last four years to learn the Micronesian negotiating position in talks with United States over the future status and perhaps eventual independence of the group of 2200 strategically placed islands, which includes the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshalls," according to an Associated Press summary.

Bugging South Pacific islanders?

That's going a bit far, isn't it?

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Updated Apr 22, 2017 6:01 AM EDT | More details

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