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Snowden documents reveal British climate espionage – Copenhagen climate summit targeted

The British intelligence service GCHQ has spied systematically against international climate change summits. Classified documents reveal that the intelligence service provided UK government offices including »No. 10 and Cabinet Office« with climate-related intelligence obtained by hacking as well as intercepting data from fiber optic cables. At the crucial COP15 summit in December 2009 GCHQ stepped up its efforts to supply negotiators with intelligence on other countries' positions
1. november 2014

Against the backdrop of UN delegates gathering at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting this week in Copenhagen, Dagbladet Information today documents systematic intelligence operations against international climate negotiations by the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Among others, the intelligence service targeted the most recent major UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the COP15, held in December 2009.

As reported earlier by Dagbladet Information, NSA, the US intelligence service, carried out intelligence operations against the COP15. The new documents, however, provide an insight into climate espionage of a more systematic and far-reaching nature than what is currently known about the operations of the NSA.

The climate espionage is a fresh example that modern intelligence services such as GCHQ and NSA are deployed with the purpose of securing advantages for their governments in international negotiations through the collection of intelligence on the confidential negotiation strategies of other countries. Among a number of other examples is the espionage carried out by GCHQ against participants in the economically decisive G20 summit in London in the spring of 2009, which has been uncovered by the British newspaper the Guardian.

The new information on the British climate espionage comes from a PowerPoint presentation made for internal use by GCHQ, as well as from a number of other classified GCHQ documents leaked by Edward Snowden and seen by Information.

The February 2011 PowerPoint presentation lists the annual UN COP summits from 2007 to 2010 as targets of GCHQ espionage, including Copenhagen's COP15 in December 2009, although it is not clear if the service spied on COP14 in Poland in 2008. According to the presentation, GCHQ was also deployed against the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change (MEF), a meeting for the world's top economies which took place in Paris in the spring of 2009 as a part of the preparations for the summit in Copenhagen later that year.

Success in Copenhagen

The presentation also shows that GCHQ stepped up the espionage for the decisive COP15 summit at which the countries of the world were meant to agree on a global agreement on the reduction of CO2 emissions. In a new initiative, the service sent aso-called government communications officer to Copenhagen in order to be able to distribute fresh intelligence as quickly as possible. This intelligence would presumably come from the GCHQ headquarters in the southwest of England and go to the "customers", ie. the recipients of intelligence among the British state offices. It appears that the effort paid off: Although the COP15 ended up a political fiasco, the deployment of the liaison officer in Copenhagen is named a "success" by GCHQ.

The names of the recipients of the COP15 intelligence are not revealed by the GCHQ documents seen by Dagbladet Information. The presence of the liaison officer in Copenhagen suggests, however, that they would primarily be members of the British delegation, which included then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband, as well as representatives from their offices. The office of the Prime Minister as well as The Department for Energy and Climate Change are both listed among the customers of the GCHQ in connection with the following UN Climate Summit, COP16 in Mexico, which is more thoroughly described than the COP15 in the documents seen by Dagbladet Information. According to the documents, the GCHQ was expected at the Mexican summit to collect intelligence on some of the most confidential information from the governments of other countries, namely internal agreements from the governments in question regarding how far they were willing to go during negotiations, and the topics of communication between governments and their delegations at the summit. It is likely that the tasks of GCHQ in Copenhagen went along those same lines.

From fiber cables and hacking

As described in today's paper, Dagbladet Information’s investigation of statistical reports from GCHQ shows that the service collected climate-related intelligence in the six months leading up to COP15 from fiber cables carrying global phone calls and internet traffic, among other things. It is also clear from GCHQ documents seen by Dagbladet Information that the service made use of Britain's role as a host of the G20 summit in London in April 2009 to obtain access to the mail accounts of foreign ministers and officials with the purpose of collecting intelligence on the negotiation positions of other countries ahead of the COP15 in Copenhagen later that year.

The information on the British espionage against COP15 is coherent with information from a classified NSA document formerly published by Dagbladet Information. That document was distributed on an internal NSA network on the 7th of December 2009, the first day of the COP15 in Copenhagen's Bella Center. It says that the NSA »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.« And notably, that this intelligence effort was to be carried out in collaboration with NSA's so-called second party partners in Great Britain, Canada, Australian and New Zealand.

'Deeply unfair'

John Nordbo, who is Head of WWF Denmark's Climate Department has participated in a great number of climate negotiations across the world for a number of years. He is »shocked by the extent of the surveillance.« John Nordbo, when interviewed by Dagbladet Information, stressed that for a country to know about eg. internal deals within the governments of other countries on how far they are willing to go during negotiations is of decisive significance. »That is worth gold,« says John Nordbo. He also points out that espionage can deliver a great advantage to the rich countries in comparison with the poor countries. »It is deeply unfair that they permit themselves to do it when you think of all the countries who are involved in the negotiations and deeply affected by climate change, but who do not at all have these kinds of ressoures.

Mattias Söderberg, climate advisor in DanChurchAid, points to the same problem. »The purpose of UN negotiations is for all countries to have a say. But if some countries can make use of technology and espionage to obtain advantages at the negotiations the system is undermined. The developing countries do not have the opportunities made use of by the Americans, the Brits and probably also the Chinese. That is not fair play, and that is deeply disappointing,« he says.

Translated by Lotte Folke Kaarsholm

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