NSA spies on its own 'Five-Eyes' spy partners

NSA spies on its own 'Five-Eyes' spy partners

Summary: Keep your enemies close and your friends closer: The NSA has been telling its partners it won't spy on them, but then does it anyway.


While the US National Security Agency (NSA) has partnered with the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia under a "Five-Eyes" alliance to share spy information and not spy on each other, new documents show that it secretly planned to do the latter anyway.

A memo, leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden and sighted by The Guardian and Channel 4 shows that although the partnership "has evolved to include a common understanding that both governments will not target each other's citizens/persons", sometimes rules need to be broken.

"Under certain circumstances, it may be advisable and allowable to target second party persons and second party communications systems unilaterally, when it is in the best interests of the US and necessary for US national security."

"Second party" refers to countries other than the US in the Five-Eyes alliance.

When such action is deemed necessary, the NSA is required to justify its proposal to spy on its neighbours to the signals intelligence director. If this approval is granted, the "collection, processing and dissemination of the second party information" must remain hidden from the nation being spied on.

Although the memo provides no indication of how often, if at all, this practice is followed, separate leaked documents show that the US has spied on the UK previously.

According to The Guardian, British citizens, even when not under an active investigation, had their mobile phone and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses, had been analysed and retained by the NSA, although these had been "minimised" to remove certain information.

Further documents obtained show that the NSA had procedures in place for how to spy on UK citizens and stated that due to a policy change, it was able to capture and retain unminimised intercepts.

Australia would be one country that the US could have spied on. Its government is currently embroiled in the fallout of revelations that it had tapped the mobile phone calls of the Indonesian president.

Prime minister Tony Abbott has refused to address the claims and said he didn't believe Australia should be expected to apologise. While in Parliament yesterday he acknowledged the embarrassment that the president and Indonesia were experiencing, but blamed the cause of it on media reporting.

The Australian government has not yet addressed the claims that the US, in turn, may have been spying on Australia.

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has previously indicated, however, that if her phone had been tapped by the US while she were serving as the country's leader, she would not have been worried.

Topics: Security, Government, Government AU, Government US, Privacy

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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  • they cant help themselves and its revealed in the mantra - Trust but verify

    Trust but verify. These three simple words sets the mindset and governs everything. Really there is no trust because you must verify everything and the process of "verifying discretely" giving the illusion of trust, mandates spying or hidden data gathering.

    It may seem shocking but there is no other way you can proceed and everybody does it; everybody. Lose the illusions and go back to your other memes.
  • Reverse the admonition

    The usual phrasing is "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer".
    John L. Ries
    • "Friends"

      I chose to intentionally reverse it to highlight the issue of the NSA spying on its supposed friends.
      Michael Lee (Mukimu)
      • Friends?

        In terms of spying what does the work friend mean? Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy tells a story of trust. Who prey tell is the enemy? Tell us all about it John le Carré.
  • Might be more to this than anyone thinks or have speculated upon openly.

    What is most interesting is they way this is presented by the press sensationalizing the common sense matters in a political way when this is a apolitical process. I think this is being used in a ambitions way. Now that is interesting. Much more so than Snowden's so called revelations after all no one took a minute to think what is the NSA? So to me the revelations sound like good management after all NSA is not enforcement how many understand that? Are we in fact in a race to a major war? This is the precursor kind of thing you can see as an attack on public perception. A directed attack on security of not just America but the world? This raises serious issues of global security. Global Security. Putin did the right thing. I would want to know more too. Much More. No its not enforcement its much much more important. No Joke. Its a long shot. Five eyes alliance eh? Many many more than 5 eyes and ears the truth is there is a global common interest even if there is not a global trust. Trust is a poison thing. A weapon turned in the hand. Trust is a curse when in the mouth that is the way of it.
  • Well...

    ... it doesn't really matter down here in Australia, the craven subservience of our federal governments of both persuasions will formalise our incorporation into the US corporate state through the TPP, ensuring NSA fluffy kittens and DoJ rainbows for all!