India has ratcheted up its response to mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, launching a formal diplomatic protest against what it regards as commercial and political spying.
It is learnt that around the time of a quiet three-day visit to India late last month by NSA chief Gen Keith Brian Alexander, the deputy chief of mission of the US embassy in Delhi was summoned to the ministry of external affairs over the Snowden disclosures.
While South Block is tight-lipped about the discussions, it is learnt that MEA officials clearly told the US DCM that there were all indications that NSA was not really into “meta data” collection (monitoring the volume of online traffic), as was sought to be projected, but involved in commercial and political surveillance of India. The US side is understood to have denied this and tried to take the temperature down a degree or two.
US embassy spokesman Peter Vrooman, asked about the Indian complaint, declined to comment.
This is the strongest Indian reaction yet to reports that the NSA spied on the Indian embassy in Washington, permanent mission in New York and carried out surveillance in India.
Concerns about the spying programme were first raised by national security adviser Shivshankar Menon with US ambassador Nancy Powell, followed by external affairs minister Salman Khurshid questioning the NSA’s conduct when he met visiting secretary of state John Kerry in June.
The acting Indian deputy chief of mission in Washington, Vinay Kwatra, had taken up the issue with the US state separtment when reports of spying on the Indian embassy emerged in July.
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Gen Alexander came to India with a 17-member delegation in a military plane that was given clearance by Delhi at the last moment.
He had key meetings with Menon over the security environment in the Indian neighbourhood in the context of terrorism and military infrastructure upgradation in the north.
New Delhi is now seriously looking at internet governance as it feel state security cannot be left at the mercy of mega corporations running servers based in the United States. But it plans to take a measured approach towards the NSA because the intelligence agency shared inputs relating to terror plots against India by Pakistan-based groups.
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