British agency spies on foreign diplomats’ hotel reservations

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Britain’s signals intelligence agency operates a system that monitors the hotel bookings of international diplomats and foreign government officials around the world, according to information published on Sunday. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said the revelation came from the personal archive of American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been offered political asylum in Russia. In an article published last weekend, the magazine said the classified program is codenamed ROYAL CONCIERGE, and it is operated by the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The classified documents allegedly show that ROYAL CONCIERGE was launched on an experimental basis in 2010; the program was apparently “so successful” that it was approved for “further development” by GCHQ’s intelligence planners. Since that time, the British signals intelligence agency has been able to compromise the booking systems of at least 350 high-end hotels around the world, which are frequented by international diplomats and foreign government officials. As soon as a room booking is confirmed by an email to an account in a governmental Internet domain, GCHQ receives an alert, allowing it to know the name and arrival details of the guest(s). This information, says Der Spiegel, enables the British “technical operations community” to target the hotel guests according to the intelligence requirements set out by the British government. In some cases, the hotel room’s telephone and fax machine are monitored, while unsuspecting hotel guests have their computers and personal cellphones targeted by GCHQ. If a hotel guest is on the list of the British intelligence agency’s high-interest targets, GCHQ deploys a “Technical Attack (TECA)”, which is typically carried out by an “Active Approach Team”. The team is dispatched to the targeted hotel and engages in direct intelligence collection, which may even include human intelligence operations. The German newsmagazine said the documents provided by Snowden do not identify the hotels targeted by GCHQ. However, they do cite several unidentified hotels in Switzerland and Singapore as typical examples. Der Spiegel said it contacted GCHQ, but the secretive agency said it would “neither confirm nor deny” the allegation.

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