The National Security Agency (NSA) and its British equivalent, the GCHQ, spied on everyone from the heads of international aid organizations to European Union officials involved in antitrust disputes, suggest new documents from government whistleblower Edward Snowden.
According to The New York Times, which shared the documents alongside The Guardian and Der Spiegel, the spy agencies monitored communications of prominent individuals in a variety of public positions and private industries. “It is unclear what the eavesdroppers gleaned,” the Times noted. “The documents include a few fragmentary transcripts of conversations and messages, but otherwise contain only hints that further information was available elsewhere, possibly in a larger database.”
Ehud Olmert, who was prime minister of Israel when the alleged spying took place, told the newspaper that the office email cited in the documents was used for general office correspondence. “This was an unimpressive target,” he added.
For the technology world, perhaps the most interesting person under alleged surveillance was Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the European Commission, the EU’s antitrust body. Over the past several years, the European Commission has tangled with American tech companies (including Microsoft and Google) over issues such as antitrust. But the NSA denied to the Times that it has ever spied for the benefit of American companies.
Snowden currently resides in Russia, which granted him a one-year asylum. In June, he began feeding those NSA documents (downloaded while he served as a system administrator at an agency outpost in Hawaii) to The Guardian and other newspapers. Many of those documents suggested that the NSA, tasked with intercepting communications from terrorists and foreign governments, collects massive amounts of information on ordinary Americans.
Those revelations ignited a firestorm of controversy. In response, President Barack Obama announced earlier this month that he plans on reining in the NSA’s surveillance programs, but won’t reveal exact steps until 2014. “I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA. And… to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence, ” he told television reporter Chris Matthews during a taped interview for MSNBC, according to Politico. At the same time, however, he acknowledged that the NSA isn’t constrained by laws when it comes to operating outside the United States.