Recent revelations by RT and Der Spiegel about the surveillance operations of Britain’s GCHQ add to a growing list of abuses that continue to sour relations between the UK and Europe. As RT reported yesterday, a new spying programme, codenamed ‘Royal Concierge’, has been revealed by Edward Snowden. The programme is documented to have tracked over 350 hotels around the world, notifying intelligence officials in Britain whenever foreign leaders and government employees made reservations, giving the GCHQ time to bug their rooms and monitor their activities. This breach of trust is only the latest in a recent string of British surveillance scandals, which have seriously strained relations with governments on the continent. With officials in the German government referring to UK spying operations as a “catastrophe”, straight out of “a Hollywood nightmare”, pressure is mounting against the UK government to justify its complicity with the NSA and Washington’s spying agenda
According to Der Spiegel, the GCHQ has been monitoring the international travel plans of foreign government officials, bugging their hotel rooms, and intercepting their communications in a programme codenamed ‘Royal Concierge’. Using a sophisticated automated process, the GCHQ is notified whenever a guest with an email address ending in ‘.gov’ makes a reservation at any one out of over 350 upscale hotels as far away as Switzerland and Singapore, and has been using these notifications to track the movements of allied diplomats for over three years.
“The guests, of course, have no clue about these advanced technical preparations that are made for their visits,” writes Snowden confidante Laura Poitras for Der Spiegel.
“In cases of ‘governmental hard targets,’ the information obtained through ‘Royal Concierge’ can also involve ‘Humint’ operations. The abbreviation is short for ‘human intelligence’ – in other words, the deployment of human spies who might then be listening in on a diplomat’s conversations at the hotel bar.”
This controversial focus of surveillance efforts on diplomats and allied governments stands in shocking contrast to the testimony of three leaders of Britain’s intelligence services before Parliament, which stated in no uncertain terms that all surveillance was conducted solely against Al Qaeda and other international terrorist networks.
‘Royal Concierge’ is only the most recent British intelligence scandal to come to light. Another programme, codenamed ‘MUSCULAR’, has an even larger scope, tapping into transatlantic fibre-optic cables to gather intelligence for foreign intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, that they cannot legally obtain in their own territories. It is hard to see why entities like the NSA would be particularly concerned with obeying the law, given their extensive use of secret courts and other arguably unconstitutional tools to conduct their operations. However, the GCHQ and the NSA seem to have shamelessly exploited this blatant technicality in British and American law to gather intelligence on each other’s populations, and then traded it secretly to avoid having to say they spied on their own populations. The amount of information that the UK has collected on its own, by tapping into the transatlantic cables that surface on our shores, is enormous.
“By the end of 2012 the GCHQ agency reportedly had enough computational capacity to process information from 46 fibre-optic cables at a time,” reports RT.
“[This amounts] to 600 million international phone calls and internet messages daily.”
Targeting Angela Merkel
The most scandalous revelation, of course, would have to be the fact that the GCHQ has been usig listening devices and spy agents based in its embassy in Berlin to eavesdrop on the private offices and mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The British Embassy in Berlin, which is located within a stone’s throw of the Federal Chancellery and the Bundestag. These personal spying operations, which have apparently been developed over the last three years, are nothing new for the GCHQ and NSA. Surveillance powers, typically granted to these agencies in the name of fighting terrorism, are slowly and systematically warped to justify diplomatic surveillance on allied countries and their leaders. German Foreign Minister and former leader of the Free Democrat Party Guido Westerwelle is one such leader, who has been tracked and monitored over the whole course of his rise to power, according to Wikileaks, on the suspicion that his libertarianism might hamper Berlin’s cooperation with American foreign interventionism and military strikes.
Fortunately, German officials have been quick to respond, and should serve as a model for other nations concerned with the UK’s surveillance agenda.
“At the instigation of Foreign Minister (Guido) Westerwelle, the British ambassador was asked to come for a talk at the Foreign Ministry,” reads a Ministry statement on the scandal.
“The director of the European department asked for an explanation of current reports in British media and indicated that tapping communications from a diplomatic mission would be a violation of international law.”