Fury over US spying spreads to Asia

Allegations have surfaced that the US used allies' embassies in Asia to spy on other countries, prompting fresh fury from leaders and apologetic words from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters
US Secretary of State John Kerry reacts at the Center for American Progress 10th Anniversary policy forum in Washington, October 24, 2013. Fury spreads across Asia after a fresh round of allegations that the US and its allies use embassies to spy on other countries, Kerry conceded today that the US had overstepped boundaries.

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Anger flared across Asia after a fresh round of allegations that the US and its allies use embassies across the region to collect electronic data, reports The Washington Post

China’s government said it is "severely concerned about the reports and demands a clarification and explanation," according to foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

That sentiment, which resonated across Europe last week as claims of widespread surveillance in France, Germany, and Spain were leaked, is now echoing across Asia, with leaders in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand making similar remarks.

The US has been under continual fire as allegations surface. US Secretary of State John Kerry conceded today that the US had overstepped boundaries, the Guardian reports. "In some cases, some of these actions have reached too far and we are going to try to make sure it doesn't happen in the future," he said. 

Indonesia summoned Australia's ambassador Friday after reports included allegations that Australia used its embassies there to facilitate a US spying network, according to the BBC.

In a statement, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said: "[The government] cannot accept and strongly protests the news of the existence of wiretapping facilities at the US embassy in Jakarta."

"If confirmed, such action is not only a breach of security, but also a serious breach of diplomatic norms and ethics," Mr. Natalegawa said.

"The reported activities absolutely do not reflect the spirit of a close and friendly relationship between the two neighbors and are considered unacceptable by the government of Indonesia," Natalegawa said.

He added on Friday to reporters in Australia, where he is at a conference: “Countries may have capacities, technical capacities, to intercept and to carry out the activity that’s been reported, and information may have been gathered,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “But the cost — in terms of trust, in terms of the damage — that may be resulting, is something that we must all reflect on.”

Fresh anger was unleashed after two new reports, first in the German magazine Der Spiegel, and then in the Sydney Morning Herald, named cities in Asia in which the “Five Eyes” group – the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand – have allegedly worked together to gather intelligence. The cities include Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing, and Kuala Lumpur.

 As the Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Australian embassies are being secretly used to intercept phone calls and data across Asia as part of a US-led global spying network, according to whistleblower Edward Snowden and a former Australian intelligence officer.

The top secret Defense Signals Directorate operates the clandestine surveillance facilities at embassies without the knowledge of most Australian diplomats.

The signals program at issue is called Stateroom, and involves radio, telecommunications, and Internet traffic inception, in US, British, Australian, and Canadian diplomatic missions. In all, surveillance equipment was allegedly installed in about 80 embassies and consulates around the world, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The document on which the paper bases its report notes that the surveillance facilities "are small in size and in number of personnel staffing them."

"They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned," the document says. "For example antennas are sometimes hidden in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds."

A former intelligence officer from Australia told the Herald

The Australian Embassy in Jakarta played an important role in collecting intelligence on terrorist threats and people-smuggling, "but the main focus is political, diplomatic and economic intelligence,” he said. "The huge growth of mobile phone networks has been a great boon and Jakarta's political elite are a loquacious bunch; even when they think their own intelligence services are listening they just keep talking," the source said. He said the Australian Consulate in Denpasar, Bali, has also been used for signals intelligence collection.

Australia defended itself after the report was published in the country's daily. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: "Every Australian governmental agency, every Australian official... operates in accordance with the law."

The Washington Post notes that the Asian countries notably missing on the list are Japan and South Korea. 

This week, Japanese media reported that the NSA had asked the Japanese government in 2011 for permission to tap fiber-optic cables in Japan, which carries much traffic throughout East Asia, as a way to collect surveillance on China. But the Japanese government refused, citing legal hurdles and lack of manpower.

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