The UK intelligence agency reportedly set up ‘ground-breaking-intelligence’ system during two G20 summits in 2009 to monitor communications of foreign representatives.
GCHQ is said to have set up Internet cafes specifically equipped to enable intercepting of emails of foreign delegations. According to the information available to The Guardian, the delegates also had their phone calls and computers monitored by the agency. The data gathered was then passed to the British government.
Guardian has obtained details about the operation from documents leaked to the newspaper by Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency whistle-blower.
The GCHQ had reportedly established a team of 45 analysts who were provided with comprehensive summaries of who was phoning whom during the summits’ proceedings. BlackBerrys of the summits’ delegates were bugged to monitor all incoming and outgoing calls, as well as sent and received email.
The Internet cafes were said to have been equipped with technology capable of extracting key logging info, in order to enable further monitoring of the delegates after the summits were over.
"The GCHQ intent is to ensure that intelligence relevant to HMG's desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20 reaches customers at the right time and in a form which allows them to make full use of it," says a leaked excerpt of a briefing paper addressed to GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban, dated 9 January, 2009. The paper is believed to have been a part of correspondence in preparation for a meeting with foreign secretary David Miliband, which was supposed to set out the government's priorities for the G20 leaders' summit in April later that year.
Another excerpt, dated a week after the September 2009 summit of G20 finance ministers, says: "The call records activity pilot was very successful and was well received as a current indicator of delegate activity... It proved useful to note which nation delegation was active during the moments before, during and after the summit. All in all, a very successful weekend with the delegation telephony plot."
Delegations of Turkey and South Africa have been said to be among the targets of GCHQ’s eavesdropping. According to The Guardian, there was a sustained campaign to penetrate the computers of South Africa’s foreign ministry computer network.
Prime Minister David Cameron refused to comment on the revelations, which may put him into a rather awkward situation at the upcoming G8 summit in Northern Ireland,
The GCHQ has previously denied any involvement in the US secret surveillance programme, known as PRISM.