Australia spied on Indonesia and US lawyers for NSA

The latest revelations from the Edward Snowden documents is that the Australian government spied on members of an unnamed US law firm that was representing the Indonesian government in a trade dispute with the US, violating attorney-client privilege in the process. The conversations were picked up by the Australian Signals Directorate, their equivalent of the NSA, who then offered to share their information with the NSA, because what are friends for if they don’t help each other in taking advantage of others?

The Melbourne newspaper The Age reports:

Newly disclosed documents from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have revealed that Australian intelligence efforts against Indonesia do not just target suspected terrorists or key political figures but involve massive penetration of Indonesia’s phone networks and data collection on a huge scale.

Top secret documents reported by The New York Times have disclosed new details of cooperation between the US National Security Agency and the Australian Signals Directorate, and for the first time reveal the Australian electronic espionage agency’s comprehensive access to Indonesian’s national communications systems.

According to a 2012 National Security Agency document, the Australian Signals Directorate has accessed bulk call data from Indosat, Indonesia’s domestic satellite telecommunications provider including data on Indonesian officials in various government ministries.

Another 2013 document states that the Australian Signals Directorate obtained nearly 1.8 million encrypted master keys, which are used to protect private communications, from the Telkomsel mobile telephone network in Indonesia, and developed a way to decrypt almost all of them.

The New York Times further reports that the Australia Signals Directorate specifically monitored communications between the Indonesian Government and a US law firm that was representing Jakarta in trade disputes with the United States.

According to a monthly bulletin from the National Security Agency’s liaison office in Canberra, dated February 2013, Australia offered to share the intercepted communications that included “information covered by attorney-client privilege”.

According to a report in the Guardian

The newspaper also quoted from the document that the Australian agency was “able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers”.

The NSA is not allowed to target American citizens or businesses for surveillance without a warrant, although it is allowed to intercept communications between Americans and foreign intelligence targets.

Australia is one of the so-called “Five Eyes” group of English-speaking nations formed after World War II to share intelligence, the others being the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand. In an post last week, I said that while Australia and New Zealand had not been implicated in these spying activities up to that point, it was only a matter of time before they were. Now that the Australian ASD has joined the list, New Zealand is the last domino to fall.

Edward Snowden in his interview with the German TV network ARD also hinted that the spying was not limited to just the heads of state like Angela Merkel and now we see confirmation of that since the ASD was spying on all manner of Indonesian government officials at the ministerial level.

Anyone who still clings to the belief that this spying is all or even mostly about fighting terrorism is deluding themselves. Economic and political espionage seems to be the driver, at least in the international arena.


  1. says

    I don’t think it’s “Economic and political espionage seems to be the driver” – I think it’s just power and control. That’s what fuels authoritarians – love of being able to exert control over others, and spying on them is a form of control to them. I just think the spy-masters and their consumers are twisted losers.

  2. doublereed says

    Anyone who still clings to the belief that this spying is all or even mostly about fighting terrorism is deluding themselves. Economic and political espionage seems to be the driver, at least in the international arena.

    That seems like a redundant statement. Spying is espionage. Of course espionage is the goal of espionage. Espionage is not the problem, though. It’s not like we shouldn’t do any espionage whatsoever. Secrecy, violations of the public trust, hypocrisy, etc. are the problem.


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