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  1. #1
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    Australia spied on Indonesia trade talks

    Australia spied on Indonesia trade talks: report
    February 16, 2014

    AN Australian spy agency offered to share with its US counterpart information from surveillance of an American law firm representing Indonesia in trade disputes with the US, the New York Times reports.

    The report threatens to revive tensions with Jakarta sparked by revelations late last year that Australian spies attempted to tap the phone of Indonesia’s president and his wife.

    While not commenting on “operational intelligence matters”, Tony Abbott said today Australia did not use intelligence “to the detriment of other countries” or for “commercial purposes”.

    The Times story is based on a top-secret document obtained by former US National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden and provided by an NSA liaison office in Canberra in a monthly bulletin.

    NSA’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, provides foreign signals intelligence to the Australian Defence Force and Australian government to support military and strategic decision-making.

    ASD notified the NSA that it was conducting surveillance of trade talks, including communications between Indonesian officials and the American law firm, and offered to share the information, the Times reported.

    Liaison officials asked the NSA general counsel’s office, on behalf of the Australians, for guidance about the spying.

    The bulletin notes only that the counsel’s office “provided clear guidance’’ and that the Australian eavesdropping agency “has been able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers’’, according to the Times story.

    The February 2013 document shows that the Indonesian government had retained the law firm for help in trade talks, the Times reported.

    The law firm was not identified in the document, but the Chicago-based firm Mayer Brown was advising the Indonesian government on trade issues at the time.

    The new leak follows earlier Snowden revelations that Australian spies tried to listen to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s mobile phone, as well as that of the president’s wife and other senior figures. The story caused a rift with Jakarta which labelled it an “unfriendly act”.

    Asked today about the latest report, the Prime Minister said: “We never comment on operational intelligence matters’’.

    Australia did not use any intelligence it gathers “to the detriment of other countries’’, Mr Abbott told reporters in Bourke in western NSW.

    “We use it for the benefit of our friends. We use it to uphold our values. We use it to protect our citizens and the citizens of other countries.

    “We certainly don’t use it for commercial purposes.’’

    Opposition leader Bill Shorten maintained Labor’s bipartisan position of not commenting on security matters, but did criticise the government for Australia’s deteriorating relationship with Indonesia.

    “I am concerned that in the course of five-and-a-half months Tony Abbott’s taken our relationship with Indonesia from hero to zero,’’ he told reporters in Adelaide.

    The NSA declined to answer questions about the surveillance, the Times reported.

    In statements to the newspaper and The Associated Press, the NSA said it “does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself’’.

    Officials have said Snowden took 1.7 million documents with him when he fled the US last year and has shared some of them with journalists. He has been granted temporary asylum in Russia and has been charged with theft and espionage in the US.

    Duane Layton, a Mayer Brown lawyer involved in the trade talks, told the Times that he did not have any evidence that he or his firm had been under scrutiny by Australian or US intelligence agencies.

    “I always wonder if someone is listening, because you would have to be an idiot not to wonder in this day and age,’’ he said in an interview with the newspaper. “But I’ve never really thought I was being spied on.’’

    The NSA is prohibited from targeting Americans, including businesses, law firms and other organisations based in the United States, for surveillance without warrants, the Times reported. Intelligence officials have repeatedly said the NSA does not use the spy services of its partners in an alliance of intelligence operations — Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand — to skirt the law.

    The Times reported that the NSA can intercept the communications of Americans if they are in contact with a foreign intelligence target abroad, such as Indonesian officials. The US agency is then required to follow so-called minimisation rules to protect their privacy, such as deleting the identity of Americans or information that is not deemed necessary to understand or assess the foreign intelligence, before sharing it with other agencies, the paper reported.

  2. #2
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    Indonesia slams reported Australian spying as 'mind-boggling'
    17 Feb 2014

    Indonesia Monday described as "mind-boggling" a report that Australian spies targeted Jakarta during a trade dispute with Washington, as a new espionage row erupted during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks during a news conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa at the Pancasila in Jakarta on February 17, 2014

    Ties between Canberra and Jakarta have sunk to their lowest point for years in recent months over previous allegations that Australian spies tried to tap the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle.

    Jakarta recalled its ambassador from Canberra and suspended cooperation in several areas, including on the sensitive area of people-smuggling, following the allegations.

    As Kerry visited Jakarta on Monday as part of an Asian tour, tensions flared over new espionage allegations in a weekend New York Times report, which said Australian spies targeted Indonesian officials during a trade dispute with the United States.

    The report, based on a document from US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, said that the spies listened in on conversations about trade between the Indonesians and their US lawyers and offered information they gleaned to the US National Security Agency.

    "I find that a bit mind-boggling and a bit difficult how I can connect or reconcile discussion about shrimps and how it impacts on Australia's security," Indonesian Foreign Minister Natalegawa told reporters at a press conference alongside Kerry.

    Indonesia has been embroiled in trade disputes with the US over its exports of shrimp and clove cigarettes in recent years.

    Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to confirm the report, but defended the country's intelligence-gathering Monday as "to save Australian lives, to save the lives of other people".

    However Natalegawa said that it was "a little bit too much and begs some kind of serious question about what this is all about".

    "I think there is a very important and fine distinction between to listen to one another and to listen in," he added.

    Responding to a question about the report, Kerry said: "I completely understand, as we do in the United States, how there are concerns… regarding this issue, which is challenging for all of us."

    "I’d just make it clear to everybody.. the United States does not collect intelligence to afford a competitive advantage to US companies or US commercial sectors," he added.

    Leaders from US allies have been angered by allegations that the NSA monitored their telephone calls, while outrage in the United States has centred on the news that the NSA swept up "metadata" from private calls by ordinary Americans.

    Kerry said planned reforms to the way the NSA operated "should give greater confidence to people everywhere about privacy and civil liberties and that they are being protected".

    "We believe we have a transparency and accountability that should address everybody’s concerns," he said, adding privacy had to be balanced with the protection of citizens against security threats.

    As well as the row over spying, Canberra and Jakarta have been at loggerheads over Australia's military-led operation aimed at stemming the flow of asylum-seekers, most of whom make the journey from Indonesia in rickety wooden boats.

    Natalegawa reportedly lashed out at Canberra in recent days for a policy he described as "against the values of humanity".

    Abbott said a code of conduct between the neighbours, which Jakarta has demanded following the first spying row, was "progressing slowly".

    "I’d like it to progress much faster. Australia has a strong relationship with Indonesia. It’s a very, very important relationship," he said.

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