The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

NSA ‘authorised’ to spy on Maltese government since 2010

Malta Independent Sunday, 13 July 2014, 10:30 Last update: about 6 years ago

For the first time since US National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden last year revealed the extent of the US government’s espionage on foreign governments, it has been shown that the NSA has been ‘authorised’ since at least 2010 to spy on the Maltese government and components.

The revelation, which will most likely be news to the Maltese government, came in the form of a top secret document of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that ‘authorised’ the NSA to spy on “foreign governments or any components thereof” – a list in which the Maltese government features along with most other countries.

The Washington Post last week published a document classified as “Top Secret” by the US Attorney General, 21 years before the document’s designated declassification date of 15 July 2035.

The document lists a total of 193 foreign governments as well as foreign factions, political organisations and other entities that were part of a 2010 certification approved by the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, also called the FISA Court.

The list comprises entities on which the NSA may conduct surveillance for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence and intercepting information concerning the entities on the list.

According to The Washington Post, the NSA can “intercept through US companies not just the communications of its overseas targets but any communications about its targets as well”.

While the document shows that the NSA was authorised by the FISA Court to spy on the Maltese government and its individual components, there is no smoking gun showing that it actually did. The wide intelligence net that the NSA cast across Europe and virtually the rest of the globe suggests otherwise.

And while Malta would not exactly be considered an intelligence target of the likes of Germany or France, both of which have raised strong objections to NSA eavesdropping in their countries – in the former case the NSA is accused of intercepting the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel herself – Malta’s status as an EU member and its pivotal role in the recent Libyan uprising could very well have made it a target for the NSA.

In fact, The Washington Post article states the NSA is not “necessarily” collecting intelligence on all of the countries identified in the documents, but it has the blanket authority to do so.

After the release of the document, former US government officials defended the inclusion of so many countries on the ‘authorised’ list, saying it could be necessary in the event of an unexpected humanitarian crisis where the military needed to evacuate Americans – which is exactly what happened with respect to Malta during the Libya crisis.

Last October, Foreign Minister George Vella was quoted by The Times of Malta in reply to questions on the NSA’s possible monitoring of Maltese government communications as saying: “We do not have any inkling whatsoever that this sort of thing is going on. If it is happening, we do not know about it”.

Dr Vella said the possibility that the US could also be targeting Maltese citizens “did not cross our minds before we read about it happening in other countries. We simply don’t know about it”.

He also told the paper: “It would be preposterous to go to the US and say ‘it is being alleged you are doing these things in other countries, are you doing it to us as well?’ Who is the fool that is going to tell you ‘yes’?”

He also said he was “concerned in the sense that if anybody is doing something behind your back – whoever it is – it is not nice. Among countries that are supposed to be on friendly terms, this should not happen.”

The 2010 top secret certification was part of a treasure trove of documents that Snowden leaked to reporters at The Washington Post and The Guardian last year. In addition to permitting the NSA to collect information about most countries, it also authorises the NSA to target institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The documents reveal that the NSA had even more free rein when it came to the surveillance of foreign individuals than was previously known, raising major concerns about the privacy implications this programme could have, even for Americans domestically.

US President Barack Obama said the US should no longer spy on foreign heads of state and said programmes “shall be as tailored as feasible” when he proposed  reforms to the NSA programmes in January. Legislation that would limit the scope of the NSA’s programmes has passed through the House of Representatives but still needs to make it through the Senate.

The documents published also revealed new information about one of the most controversial NSA practices – collecting the emails and phone calls of foreign individuals and institutions under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act. An affidavit supporting the secret certification published on the same day stipulates that foreign individuals can be targeted if the NSA believes they “possess, are expected to receive and/or are likely to communicate foreign intelligence information concerning these foreign powers”.

That means academics or journalists who regularly correspond with foreign governments could easily be targeted if the NSA determined they possess information that could be used for foreign intelligence.

 

Read the full report by The Washington Post at www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/court-gave-nsa-broad-leeway-in-surveillance-documents-show/2014/06/30/32b872ec-fae4-11e3-8176-f2c941cf35f1_story.html

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