Australia spied on US law firm representing Indonesia in trade talks

Australian Signals DirectorateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Australian intelligence spied on an American law firm representing the government of Indonesia in a trade dispute with the United States, according to leaked documents. The documents, from February 2003, show that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) specifically targeted the law firm because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state. The ASD is Australia’s intelligence organization responsible for signals intelligence and information security. The leaked documents also show that that the Australian spy agency offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency (NSA). The New York Times, which published the leaked information, said the operation appeared to have been aimed strictly at subverting the Indonesian government’s international commercial interests and had nothing to do with national security. The paper said it acquired the documents from Edward Snowden, an American intelligence defector currently living in Russia, who used to work for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency. The leaked papers do not specify the precise trade negotiations between Washington and Jakarta, which appear to have been targeted by the ASD. Nor do they identify the American law firm spied on by the Australians. But the paper suggested that Mayer Brown, one of the world’s largest law firms, with offices in over 22 cities around the globe, was acting as the Indonesian government’s legal consultant at the time the leaked documents were drafted. A memorandum included in the leaked documents notes that the ASD had “been able to continue to cover the [trade] talks [between the US and Indonesia], providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers”. Regular intelNews readers will recall that, in the summer of 2013, Snowed revealed that the Indonesian President and senior cabinet officials had been spied on while attending the 2009 G20 conference in London, United Kingdom. The revelations, which appeared in the Australian media at the time, caused Jakarta to react with strong words, prompting a mini-diplomatic crisis with Whitehall. The Times spoke to Mayer Brown and the NSA, but both organizations refused comment on this later revelation. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the paper that he had no intention on commenting on Snowden’s revelation. But he added that ASD’s intelligence collection is aimed strictly at “protect[ing] our citizens and the citizens of other countries”, and noted that the government of Australia does not use collected intelligence “for commercial purposes”.

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