Portrait of the NSA: no detail too small in quest for total surveillance
The NSA gathers intelligence to keep America safe. But leaked documents reveal the NSA’s dark side – and show an agency intent on exploiting the digital revolution to the full
Ewen MacAskill and James Ball
Saturday 2 November 2013
Barack Obama hailed United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon as a “good friend” after the two had sat down in the White House in April to discuss the issues of the day: Syria and alleged chemical weapons attacks, North Korea, Israel-Palestine, and climate change.
But long before Ban’s limousine had even passed through the White House gates for the meeting, the US government knew what the secretary general was going to talk about, courtesy of the world’s biggest eavesdropping organisation, the National Security Agency.
One NSA document – leaked to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden just a month after the meeting and reported in partnership with the New York Times – boasts how the spy agency had gained “access to UN secretary general talking points prior to meeting with Potus” (president of the United States). The White House declined to comment on whether Obama had read the talking points in advance of the meeting.
Spying on Ban and others at the UN is in contravention of international law, and the US, forced on the defensive this week over the Snowden leaks about worldwide snooping, ordered an end to surveillance of the organization, according to Reuters.
That the US spied on Ban is no great surprise. What is a revealing is that the disclosure is listed in the NSA’s ‘top-secret’ weekly report from around the world as an “operational highlight”.