Bishop latest hacking casualty in global game of phones

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is the latest in a string of high profile politicians to be targeted by suspected state-sponsored phone hackers, having her smartphone seized by local intelligence officials after a two-week international sojourn.
Written by AAP , Contributor and  Leon Spencer, Contributor

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has joined the likes of former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a political game of phones, after her smartphone was compromised while on a two-week overseas trip.

Australian intelligence authorities seized and replaced Bishop's phone on her return from a two-week trip to Ukraine, the US, and Holland, in which she worked to broker a deal to get Australian police into the Ukrainian crash site of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 — shot down by a surface-to-air missile on July 17 by Russian-backed rebels.

Australian intelligence agencies are thought to know the country in which those responsible for compromising Bishop's smartphone were, according to a report by the Herald Sun over the weekend.

Sources indicate that intelligence officers replaced Bishop's phone after becoming aware of a problem with it, the report said.

It is understood that Bishop's phone was compromised while she was overseas, and that the phone was not used to discuss politically-sensitive communications.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said over the weekend that although he had not spoken directly to Bishop over the incident, significant discussions between the two had been carried out over secure lines.

"It's well known that some countries do seek to, I suppose, target the phones of significant members of the Australian government. It's the sort of thing that does happen from time to time," Abbott told reporters in Lithgow, NSW, over the weekend.

"But I can assure the Australian people that the very significant discussions that Julie Bishop was part of with me and with other members of the National Security Committee in recent times were all done over secure lines," he said.

The incident comes as German media reports that the German foreign intelligence agency, Bundesnachrichtendienst, hacked into at least one call during Hillary Clinton's tenure of US Security of State, according to The Hacker News.

Although the time and location of Clinton's call "interruption" have not been disclosed, a joint investigation by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and German regional public broadcasters NDR and WDR found that the then Secretary of State's phone calls had been interrupted during calls.

While sources in the German government deny the accusation, saying Clinton's call was picked up accidentally, at least one source said that the call recording had not been immediately destroyed — suggesting it was done deliberately, according to the German media outlets.

In October last year, investigations prompted by the mass leaking of classified files by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden led to the disclosure that the personal mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkelwas allegedly being monitored by the US.

On October 23, German news weekly Der Spiegel said that Merkel called US President Barack Obama after indications emerged that US intelligence agencies had declared the Chancellor's private mobile phone to be a target in their operations.

At the time, US representatives denied the accusation, with a spokeswoman for the US National Security Council telling Der Spiegel that, "the president assured the chancellor that the United Stated is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of chancellor Merkel".

While the US has come under international fire after the breadth of its intelligence organisations' surveillance operations became known following Snowden's release of the classified NSA documents last year, the Australian government has also come under fire for allegedly attempting to listen in to the mobile phone of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In November last year, documents leaked by Snowden showed that Australian intelligence attempted to listen in on Yudhoyono's mobile phone conversations on at least one occasion and tracked activity on his phone for about two weeks in August 2009.

The documents, obtained by the ABC and Guardian Australia, also list the mobile phone details of a number of the Indonesian government's high profile personnel, including the president's wife, First Lady Kristiani Herawati, Vice President Boediono, and State Secretary Hatta Rajasa.

Editorial standards