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13th Apr 2024

UK set up fake Internet cafes to spy on G20 officials

  • Foreign delegates at the G20 summit in 2009 had their emails hacked (Photo: Downing Street)

A G8 summit kicks off Monday (17 June) in Northern Ireland amid embarrassing revelations that Britain's intelligence services set up fake Internet cafes to spy on its allies at international summits in London in 2009.

The UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) used "ground-breaking intelligence capabilities" to intercept the emails of foreign ministers and telephone calls at two G20 summits four years ago, the Guardian newspaper reported Sunday.

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Many of the same delegates attending the G8 event - due to discuss the war in Syria and tax evasion - were targets of the GCHQ at the summits in April and September 2009.

The latest series of leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who recently revealed the largescale US operation to surveil foreign citizens, is likely to cause additional tension at the event and leave UK Prime Minister David Cameron with some explaining to do.

The GCHQ in 2009 tricked some of the foreign summit officials into using the fake Internet cafes, broke into and monitored telephone and email traffic on their BlackBerry mobile handsets, and had 45 people ‘round the clock’ on the ground to spy on them.

One document revealed by Snowden states that “diplomatic targets from all nations have an MO of using smartphones. Exploited this use at the G20 meetings last year.”

A live feed of the telephone activity was then displayed on a 15-sq-metre video wall of GCHQ's operations centre. The 45 spies could also monitor the activity via their own screens.

"For the first time, analysts had a live picture of who was talking to who that updated constantly and automatically," states the leaked document.

Targets included allies Turkey and South Africa.

Turkish finance minister Mehmet Simsek and some 15 of his delegates were snooped on at a G20 meeting of finance ministers in September 2009 “to establish Turkey's position on agreements from the April London summit.”

Snowden’s documents also reveal the US intelligence agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), attempted to listen in on the phone calls by Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev.

The gathered intelligence was handed over to UK ministers in a bid to gain strategic advantages over their counterparts at the summits.

The GCHQ technique used to extract the emails is unique.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the GCHQ was able to read the emails of delegates before they did or at the same time, without removing the mails from the server.

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