New leak shows US, UK spying on heads of state, international orgs

Reports document intelligence monitoring of an Israeli PM, a top EU official and organizations like UNICEF

The newest revelations based on leaks from Edward Snowden were reported by The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel.
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Newspaper reports say the latest documents leaked by National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned whistle-blower Edward Snowden show that British and American intelligence agencies monitored the communications of an Israeli prime minister and European officials, among hundreds of other targets in some 60 countries.

Reports from The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel broke the new revelations Friday, documenting the surveillance of more than 1,000 targets from 2008 to 2011.

Speaking at a press conference Friday, President Barack Obama answered questions about the NSA leaks and spying program, and implicitly addressed the newest revelations without going into specifics or suggesting if changes might be down the line.

"We've had less legal constraint in terms of what we're doing internationally (than domestically)," Obama said. "Just because we can do something doesn't mean we necessarily should."

The newest leaks show how the NSA and Britain's General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) spied on the communications of foreign leaders, including targeting an email address belonging to Israel's then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The vice president of the European Commission, Joaquin Almunia of Spain, who has authority over antitrust issues, also appears on a list of surveillance targets, according to the reports.

Almunia has clashed with the U.S. tech giant Google over how it operates its search engine, and when contacted by The New York Times, he said he was "strongly upset" by the revelations of eavesdropping.

The NSA did not confirm or deny the reports but insisted it does not spy to assist American corporations.

"As we have previously said, we do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line," NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said.

But she said intelligence agencies seek "to understand economic systems and policies, and monitor anomalous economic activities" that are "critical to providing policymakers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security."

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GCHQ said it was aware of the reports, but it did not comment on intelligence matters. A spokesman said, "Our work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate."

Germany has been especially angered after it was reported that the NSA had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone.

The Guardian said the disclosure that GCHQ had targeted German government buildings in Berlin was embarrassing for British Prime Minister David Cameron, since he had signed an EU statement condemning the NSA's spying on Merkel.

U.S. and British eavesdroppers also spied on several U.N. missions in Geneva, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research and a medical relief agency, Medecins du Monde, according to the reports.

Snowden has set off a firestorm over the past six months with bombshell leaks revealing the vast scale of NSA electronic spying.

He faces espionage charges in the U.S. and has been granted asylum in Russia, where he has defended his disclosures as an attempt to spark debate about U.S. government surveillance.

Few U.S. citizens appear to be mentioned in the documents, but the intercepted communications either started or ended in the U.S., the reports said.

Some of the surveillance appears to have been carried out from Sugar Grove, Va., a listening post run by the NSA under the code name Timberline.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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