- U.S. law firm advising Indonesia’s government on trade issues was spied on by a foreign government
- Spying was done by Australia which then passed the info onto the NSA
- Law firm involved not identified in the latest documents
- The NSA is not allowed to target American citizens or businesses for surveillance without a warrant
- The organization is allowed to intercept communications between Americans and foreign intelligence targets
UPDATED: 17:18 EST, 15 February 2014
A U.S. law firm that was advising Indonesia’s government on trade issues was spied on by Australia, according to another top secret document released by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.
Australia essentially did the United States’ dirty work on behalf of the NSA which was then given the information.
The document which was obtained by The New York Times does not go into details as to whether the information was then given to U.S. trade officials to provide some kind of leverage, but it does highlight the reach and influence the NSA had over other countries intelligence services.
Listening in: An unnamed US law firm was caught up in surveillance involving the National Security Agency and its Australian counterpart
Watching and listening: The agency’s ability to crack encryption used by the majority of cellphones in the world offers it wide-ranging powers to listen in on private conversations.
They’re listening: U.S. law prohibits the NSA from collecting the content of conversations between Americans without a court order. If the NSA has the capacity to easily decode encrypted cellphone conversations, then other nations likely can do the same
The document outlines how the National Security Agency’s counterpart in Australia notified the the NSA that it was eavesdropping on conversations between Indonesian officials and an American law firm.
The Australian agency offered to share the details with the NSA, including ‘information covered by attorney-client privilege.’
The NSA is not allowed to target American citizens or businesses for surveillance without a warrant, however, it is allowed to intercept communications between Americans and foreign intelligence targets.
The document from the Canberra office speaks of how the Australian feds were able to ‘monitor to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers.’
The U.S. law firm was not identified, but the New York Times also noted that the Chicago-based firm Mayer Brown was advising Indonesia on trade issues at the time.
It is also not clear which trade issues were being monitored.
A lawyer from the firm who was involved in the talks told the Times: ‘I always wonder if someone is listening, because you would have to be an idiot not to wonder in this day and age. But I’ve never really thought I was being spied on.’
The lawyer added: ‘None of this stuff is very sexy. It’s just run of the mill.’
Last year, Snowden leaked thousands of documents to media outlets including the Guardian and the Washington Post.
One of the journalists to whom he leaked the documents, Laura Poitras, was bylined on the Times piece.
Information disclosed by Snowden has included the NSA’s collection of the telephone records of millions of Americans.
The agency has also come under fire for eavesdropping on heads of state, including the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and for working in industrial espionage.
Indonesia in recent years has been in a series of confrontations with the U.S. over cigarettes, shrimp and other issues.
Attorney-client privileges protected by U.S. law do not extend to the NSA’s snooping.
The document, a monthly bulletin from the NSA’s liaison office in Canberra, was dated February 2013, hints that the Australian Secret Service were essentially operating as the Asian wing of the NSA, based on the other side of the world.
Australian and U.S. intelligence agencies would routinely share facilities and sensitive details – especially when looking into Asian issues, particularly China and Indonesia.