NSA spied against UN climate negotiations

The NSA gathered intelligence on key countries' preparations ahead of the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen, and planned to continue spying during the summit, according to a leaked NSA document. The Danish chair was one of the targets
The NSA gathered intelligence on key countries' preparations ahead of the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen, and planned to continue spying during the summit, according to a leaked NSA document. The Danish chair was one of the targets
Attila Kisbenedek
30. januar 2014

The US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on other countries’ preparations for the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, according to an NSA document obtained by the Danish daily Information via whistleblower Edward Snowden. The document shows that the NSA planned to continue its espionage during the negotiations in Copenhagen’s Bella Center. One of the NSA's targets was the host country, Denmark.

The document was posted on an internal NSA website on December 7 2009, the opening day of the climate summit in Copenhagen. Key paragraphs of the document are classified as Top Secret, the highest level of classification in the United States.

According to the leaked document, the NSA, along with its close partners from intelligence agencies in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, »will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries' preparations and goals for the conference, as well as the deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiation strategies.« 

The NSA provides signals intelligence, and the document makes specific reference to a report containing "advance details of the Danish proposal and their efforts to launch a 'rescue plan' to save COP-15" as an example of intelligence already collected ahead of the Copenhagen summit. 

The document also states that »Signals intelligence (intelligence-gathering by interception of electronic communication, red.) will undoubtedly play a significant role in keeping our negotiators as well informed as possible throughout the 2-week event.«

Danish confidence

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit, the world’s nations were supposed to reach an agreement on carbon emissions reduction that would protect future generations from climate change. The summit has been called the most important of its kind since the end of World War II.

Sources from the Danish COP15 delegation tell Information that during the negotiations, the Americans were often surprisingly well informed about confidential discussions. »I was often completely taken aback by what they knew,« says an official from the Danish COP15 office. Legal experts emphasize that espionage against Denmark and the UN is illegal.

»Basically, breaking into other people's computers or networks is of course a criminal offense in Denmark. This applies to casual hackers as well as to a foreign intelligence service such as the NSA,« says Jørn Vestergaard, professor of Criminal Law at the University of Copenhagen. 

Since the beginning of the NSA scandal, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has maintained that the United States is a close ally and that she »has no reason to believe that illegal intelligence activity has targeted Denmark or Danish interests.« 

But the government will have to revise that interpretation, says head of the Forum for Surveillance Studies at Aarhus University Peter Lauritsen. 

»The Danish government has tried to play down concerns about the NSA by saying that there is nothing wrong and that it has no suspicion of anything at all. This new information undermines that line,« says Peter Lauritsen.

The Danish draft

Officials from the Danish COP15 office believe that the Danish »rescue plan« which the NSA intercepted according to the document is a draft agreement written by the Danish chair ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Summit. The draft was handed over to the US by the Danish Prime Minister’s Office in the last weeks before the summit.

As detailed in today’s paper, the document was supposed to be kept strictly confidential until then, and was not to be given to the American negotiators. But the leaked document suggests that the NSA, too, obtained »advance details« about the draft.

Today, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Minister of Justice Karen Hækkerup, and Minister of Defense Nicolai Wammen have been summoned by the Danish Parliament to answer questions about »whether the U.S. intelligence agency NSA or other U.S. intelligence agencies are engaged in surveillance of Danish citizens, companies and politicians, the legal status of such activities according to Danish law, and whether the government plans to take steps to further investigate these questions.«

In a written response to questions from Information, NSA spokesperson Vanee' Vines states: »While we are not going to comment publicly on every specific, alleged intelligence activity, the U.S. Government has made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. And as the administration announced several months ago, the U.S. Government is reviewing how we coordinate with our closest allies and partners.«

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt did not want to comment. She referred Information to Defense Minister Nicolai Wammen, who wrote in an e-mail: »I have not seen the document in question. But as has been said before, our intelligence services have no reason to assume that the NSA - or for that matter any other American intelligence service - targets Denmark with illegal intelligence activities.«

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