Edward Snowden: Gained access to high-classified documents using a web crawler. Photo: Getty Images
Malaysia’s political leadership is a priority intelligence target for the United States and Australia, according to top secret documents published by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.
Former Malaysian Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, who served as Malaysian prime minister from October 2003 to April 2009, is listed in an extract from the US National Security Agency’s "Target Knowledge Base", a database designed to build up “complete profiles” of high priority intelligence targets.
Abdullah Badawi’s name appears in a list of eleven heads of government, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, and former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. The top secret briefing, created in 2009, indicates that the full list of targeted heads of foreign governments contained 122 names. The final name on the list is Yulia Tymoshenko, who was Ukrainian prime minister at the time.
According to Der Spiegel a National Security Agency search program codenamed "Nymrod" enables intelligence analysis to search the database to "find information relating to targets that would otherwise be tough to track down". Nymrod sifts through signals intelligence reports based on intercepted communications as well as transcripts of faxes, phone calls, and data collected from computer networks. Each of the names in the database is considered a "SIGINT target" with automated data processing making it possible to manage more than 3 million entries.
Part of the trove of highly classified documents leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the secret briefing published by Der Spiegel also shows that intelligence on foreign leaders is shared between all "5-eyes" intelligence partners – the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Former members of the Australian Parliament's joint intelligence committee have confirmed to Fairfax Media that the Malaysian government, political leadership and defence force have been long been targeted by Australia's electronic spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, and by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.
Australia bugged Malaysia Cabinet ministers
Fairfax Media has been told that in the early 1990s Australian intelligence successfully eavesdropped on Malaysian Cabinet talks, recording highly uncomplimentary remarks by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed about Indonesian President Suharto. A decade later parliamentary joint intelligence committee members were briefed on the Australian Signals Directorate’s access to Malaysian defence force communications, including interception of video conference channels used by Malaysia's defence chiefs.
Confirmation that Abdullah Badawi was targeted for intelligence collection is the latest in a series of unprecedented disclosures of US and Australian intelligence operations against South East Asian countries.
In August last year Fairfax Media revealed that the Australian Signals Directorate is in a partnership with British, American and Singaporean intelligence agencies to tap undersea fibre optic telecommunications cables through South East Asia. Fairfax Media also reported on the use of US and Australian embassies in East and South East Asia, including those in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, as secret bases for signals intelligence collection program codenamed "Stateroom".
In November the Guardian and the ABC reported that the Australian Signals Directorate had intercepted the mobile phone of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and many of his closest political associates.
In response, Indonesia broke off formal military cooperation with Australia and demanded a new "code of conduct" be reached with Australia before cooperation resumes.
Other revelations have included cooperation between the US National Security Agency and its Australian counterpart in targeting a 2007 United Nations climate change conference in Bali.
According to other National Security Agency documents published by the New York Times, the Australian Signals Directorate has accessed bulk call data from Indosat, Indonesia’s domestic satellite telecommunications provider, and obtained nearly 1.8 million encrypted master keys, which are used to protect private communications, from Indonesia’s Telkomsel mobile telephone network in Indonesia, and developed a way to decrypt almost all of them.
Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the new code of conduct being negotiated between Australia and Indonesia will include a clause dealing with intelligence activities.
"I made it quite clear that Australia would not use its resources - our intelligence resources - to the detriment of our friends and neighbours and that includes Indonesia," she told the ABC Lateline program.
Ms Bishop said Australia has submitted a draft of the code of conduct, which she described as a "joint understanding", however she expected progress to be slow in the lead-up to Indonesia’s legislative elections next week and presidential elections in July.