Putrajaya to ‘study’ US spy claims first before taking action, says home minister

Demonstrators hold signs supporting fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as they gather for the ‘Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance’ near the US Capitol in Washington, October 26, 2013. — Reuters pic
Demonstrators hold signs supporting fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as they gather for the ‘Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance’ near the US Capitol in Washington, October 26, 2013. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — Putrajaya will investigate claims that the United States is using its embassy here as a monitoring station to tap telephones and monitor communications networks on allied nations, Home Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said today.

The Bagan Datoh MP also he viewed the matter seriously following news reports that the spying activities involved several countries but refused comment on calls for Putrajaya to censure Washington.

“We will study the report, if there was any intelligence gathering activities here as we understand that it is a sensitive issue since it involves several countries.

“We will work with Wisma Putra to see if there was any spying conducted here... if there was, we leave it to Wisma Putra for action,” he told reporters in Parliament, referring to Malaysia’s Foreign Minister by its headquarters.

In the latest report on top-secret documents leaked by intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, it was revealed that there are 90 electronic surveillance facilities worldwide, including in US embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Yangon.

A map originally published by Germany magazine Der Spiegel yesterday, and sighted by Australian dailies Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and its Fairfax Media sister publication The Age, dated August 13, 2010, did not show any such facilities in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and Japan, which are the US’ closest allies.

In August, Australian intelligence sources had confirmed that top-secret intelligence tool XKeyscore — which was revealed by on-the-run Snowden — has been used to spy on Malaysia among other Asia-Pacific countries.

Zahid’s Cabinet colleague Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yacob had criticised Washington and described US spying on the five countries as “immoral” and called on the government to lodge a protest to Washington.

His opposition counterpart Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim echoed the view, saying Putrajaya must censure the US if the claims were true.

The US embassy refused to confirm or deny the allegation when contacted by The Malay Mail Online.

Snowden’s admission followed a leaked slideshow published by the UK’s daily The Guardian revealing in detail the US National Security Agency (NSA) programme, which the newspaper claimed collects “nearly everything a user does on the Internet”.

The top-secret slideshow compiled in 2008 revealed that the XKeyscore programme allows analysts to search through an extensive database of emails, search queries, social media, online chats, and browsing histories of millions of people with no need for prior authorisation.

According to SMH, the map revealed yesterday showed a joint group between Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency called “Special Collection Service” conducting sweeping surveillance operation and clandestine operations against specific intelligence targets.

The map was also published in full originally in Der Spiegel’s website, but was later replaced with a censored version, which listed 90 Special Collection Service facilities, including 74 manned facilities, 14 remotely operated facilities and two technical support centres.

It was released to the “FVEY” group, which included the US’ “5-eyes” intelligence partners — the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand — said SMH.

SMH had previously named Australian signals intelligence facilities at Geraldton in Western Australia, Shoal Bay near Darwin, HMAS Harman near Canberra and the US-Australian Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs as contributors to the XKeyscore database.

According to Fairfax Media, Australian intelligence sources recently confirmed that Australia’s electronic espionage agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, is a “full partner” in the XKeyscore programme.

Fairfax Media had in August revealed that Singaporean intelligence is partnering Defence Signals Directorate in operations to tap undersea fibre optic telecommunication cables linking Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The XKeyscore programme boasted that by 2008, over 300 terrorists had been captured from intelligence gathered by the tool.