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The NSA and Britain’s GCHQ collected more than metadata from these targets

International political allies, charitable organizations and educational institutions are just some of the NSA's targets.


Sarah Weber


Posted on Dec 20, 2013   Updated on May 31, 2021, 11:17 pm CDT

International political allies, charitable organizations, educational institutions—there seems to be no limit to the people and groups targeted for U.S. and British spying. 

Technical bulletins from the Britain’s General Communications Headquarters released to the New York Times by ex-National Security Administration contractor and self-exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden show startlingly broad diversity in what the intelligence agencies considered fair game for eavesdropping. 

While the names of some international leaders targeted for spying have already been revealed, most notoriously German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, a story published Friday by the New York Times lists even more, and hints that the GCHQ, working closely with the NSA, did more than just keep tabs on the times and dates of messages. 

One bulletin lists the full content of texts sent by Mohamed Ibn Chambas, an official of the Economic Community of West African States, which promotes economic and industrial activities for 15 countries. Chambas’ communications, intercepted in August 2009, chronicle little more than mundane travel plans. 

While it’s not clear if the content of the texts were placed in the report by accident, their existence seems to indicate that in at least some instances the spy agencies collected full transcripts of communications. 

The bulletins frequently did not indicate which agency—the NSA or the GCHQ—requested the surveillance, according to the New York Times

Other targets listed by the newspaper include: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the Institute of Physics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, French oil and gas company Total and French electronics, logistics and transportation company Thales, a French ambassador, the German Embassy in Rwanda, and an “Estonian Skype security team.”

Charitable organizations including the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and Médecins du Monde, a medical relief organization that serves warzones were also targeted for spying. 

Notably, Vice President of the European Commission Joaquin Almunia was additionally on the list. Almunia has been a prominent figure in European antitrust regulation, which has fined several prominent American companies including Intel and Microsoft.

An NSA spokeswoman told the New York Times the agency has never used intelligence gathering to benefit American business, but some economic spying is needed for national security. 

H/T New York Times | Photo by Dominik Syka/Flickr

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*First Published: Dec 20, 2013, 6:57 pm CST