LEADING South-east Asian nations voiced indignation and dismay as fresh revelations about US spying suggested that several countries in the region too were targets of high-tech surveillance mounted by the National Security Agency.
On a day when senior officials in US President Barack Obama’s administration said the American leader may ban spying on leaders of allied nations, Germany’s Der Spiegel published a map on its website showing 90 surveillance facilities in US embassies worldwide.
These included stations in East, South-east and Southern Asia. Fourteen of the facilities are remotely operated, while the others are manned. Among them are embassies in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Yangon, Beijing, New Delhi and Islamabad, according to information disclosed by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
“We will register a strong protest... if we confirm such a facility exists in the US Embassy in Indonesia,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters in Jakarta. “If the facility exists, it is certainly unacceptable.”
Dr Marty’s outrage echoes sentiments expressed by other world leaders in recent days, and comes three months after a similar outburst at reports that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was spied on by the British while attending the Group of 20 meeting in London in 2009.
He also added that Indonesia has routinely upgraded the security of its communications system even before the recent wiretapping issue surfaced.Malaysia’s rural and agro- based industries minister, Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob, also called for protests, should it be proven that the United States is using its embassy in Kuala Lumpur to run a monitoring station to tap telephones and monitor communications networks.
“Spying on another country is something that is immoral,” he told The Malay Mail Online. “They have to stop using KL as a monitoring station.. If you ask me, the government has to send a protest note.”
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim also urged the government to lodge a protest against the US action, saying “people are disgusted with the way the intelligence apparatus is being used”.
Dated Aug 13, 2010, the map shows no such facilities in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Japan or Singapore.
The map was subsequently replaced on Der Spiegel’s website with a censored version.
A joint Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency group known as Special Collection Service conducts the sweeping surveillance operation, as well as clandestine operations against specific intelligence targets, the Sydney Morning Herald said yesterday.
Releasable only to the US’ “five eyes” intelligence partners, the map also revealed that the US Embassy in Bangkok includes a technical support team and remotely operates a facility at the US Consulate in Chiang Mai.
In East Asia, US intelligence collection efforts are focused on China, with facilities located in Shanghai and Chengdu. Another monitoring facility is located at an unofficial US diplomatic office in Taipei. There are eight facilities in total in South Asia, while the Middle East and North Africa are covered by no less than 24, and sub-Saharan Africa by a further nine.
Meanwhile, Mr Obama may ban spying on allied leaders as part of a review, a senior official told Reuters. The official said the US had made some changes in eavesdropping practices but, as yet, had not made sweeping policy changes. The ban will probably come after a White House review is completed by the end of the year, he suggested.