UK planned to spy on 2009 Commonwealth heads of state meeting

Delegates at the 2009 CHOGMBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
British intelligence agencies had plans to spy on a British Commonwealth meeting, which was attended by Queen Elizabeth and the President of France, among other heads of state. The plans to spy on the meeting, which was held in 2009, are revealed in a document disclosed to The Guardian newspaper by American whistleblower Edward Snowden. Earlier this month, Snowden, a former technical assistant for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The Guardian said on Sunday that it had in its possession a page from an internal classified document given to NSA by Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is tasked with collecting signals intelligence. The document apparently outlines plans to spy on international delegates in order to “give UK ministers an advantage in talks with their Commonwealth counterparts”. Some “key intelligence [collection] requirements” at the summit, which took place in 2009 in Trinidad, included “intelligence on South Africa’s views on Zimbabwe”, as well as “climate change reporting”. The document, says The Guardian, also sets out a schedule for various British intelligence agencies to arrive and begin operations in the South American island-nation. GCHQ is instructed to initiate its surveillance activities following the arrival of the international delegates. On the other hand, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6), which is Britain’s primary external intelligence agency, is expected to set up operations in Port of Spain several days prior to the event. The document states that “SIS have no past history of targeting this meeting”. This can be safely interpreted to mean that 2009 was the first time in MI6’s history that the organization was asked to target a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. These gatherings have been taking place on an annual basis since 1971. The British delegation at the 2009 meeting in Trinidad included Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, as well as Prime Minster Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband. There is no indication in the document accessed by The Guardian that the British delegation to the gathering was aware of the joint MI6/GCHQ intelligence operation that was taking place in the background.

7 Responses to UK planned to spy on 2009 Commonwealth heads of state meeting

  1. Pete says:

    Thanks Joseph.

    For a well written and timely post. The British Commonwealth is a very diverse international organisation of 54 members. Some (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) run sigint bodies that are the UKUSA allies of the NSA – making it unlikely that they, or India, would be shocked about Edward Snowden’s revelations today.

    The real worry is potential resentment from the relatively small, developing country majority of Commonwealth countries – with these countries drawn from Africa, the Caribbean and small island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They may see Britain’s actions as typical of neo-colonialism and bad mannered spying on guests.

    The next British Commonwealth meeting, to be held in Sri Lanka in November this year, is likely to be a little frosty, with Britain having some explaining to do.


  2. Pete says:

    Oh, on second thought’s Britain Would be shocked and embarrassed.

    Edward via the UK Guardian, keeps on shocking.

  3. The prof says:

    I am amazed people are surprised about these operations. It is well-known that MI6 monitor the UN as do Russian Intelligence. The Russians “bugged” the Royal Family-Princess Margaret and
    electronic surveillance is routine at international conferences. The intelligence services would be stupid not to use the opportunity to gather intelligence. The Turks and South Africans are going to be hopping mad! T

  4. Pete says:


    Yes the situations Edward Snowden is daily creating is causing amazement. I don’t know if you can see the point of view of dirt-poor countries in the British Commonwealth who participate in British Commonwealth meetings on trust. We’re not talking about Turkey in the G-20. Princess Margaret apropo of?

    Re: “The intelligence services would be stupid not to use the opportunity to gather intelligence.” maybe true, but when Russia and China spy on the US in the US, even sophisticated US agencies and leaders are up in arms. Isn’t that right?


  5. Pete says:

    Due in part to the Snowden-Guardian British Commonwealth meeting revelations – in the last few hours the UK Government has sent a “D-notice” to UK media editors recommending they don’t print more Top Secret revelations that may endanger/embarrass the UK’s defense and security position. See

    The US’s lax security in allowing Snowden to download the GCHQ docs has caused major embarrassment to the US’s major ally (the UK).

    Signs the UK D-notice is working come from:

    – the 50%+ redacting of the GCHQ slides

    – the D-notice text being taken off the Guidio Fawkes website cited here
    I can’t find the D-notice anywhere else. Can anyone help? and

    – the …censor-surveillance-security article itself doesn’t even repeat the GCHQ bugging the British Commonwealth meeting story.

    I’ve got the feeling that Snowden/Guardian, leaving no country unblackened (except China), will now aim mud at the US’s other UKUSA allies (Canada, NZ, Oz) next.


  6. TFH says:

    What secrets have we really learned thanks to Snowden? Even if there are some details that have not previously been acknowledged by government basically all he is saying is that spy’s spy on people without asking permission.
    Those details we have been reading in the media might be something NSA/CIA/ohter abbreviation expects to be leaked by Wikileaks or other in future. In other words, there is at least the possibility that Snowden is some kind of an operation by some Intel agency.

  7. TFH says:

    Sorry, it should spell “spies spy on people without asking permission.”
    Thank you all for bearing with me on this issue.

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