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US spy agency bagged court approval to spy on BJP

The National Security Agency received official permission in 2010 to covertly spy upon the BJP, according to the latest document released by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

india Updated: Jul 02, 2014 08:51 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
National Security Agency,NSA,NSA-contractor

The Bharatiya Janata Party was one of the six non-US political parties across the globe that the National Security Agency received official permission in 2010 to covertly spy upon, according to the latest document released by former NSA contractor-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to The Washington Post, the other five political parties that the NSA had authority to spy upon were Lebanon's Amal which has links to Hezbollah, the Bolivarian Continental Coordinator of Venezuela with links to FARC, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and National Salvation Front as well as the Pakistan People's Party.

The report comes as preparations are underway for a summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama in Washington in September-end this year after nearly a decade America denied Modi a visa and blacklisted him.

The US denied Modi a visa in 2005 over the Gujarat riots, in which over a 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

Modi was the Gujarat chief minister when the riots occurred and the US state department invoked a little-known law passed in 1998 that makes foreign officials responsible for "severe violations of religious freedom" ineligible for visas.

Read: Waiting for Greenwald - why India can't stay mute on NSA spying

After the swearing-in of Modi, who led the BJP to a spectacular victory in the general election, Obama in a message vowed to work closely together with the Indian PM "for years to come".

Obama was quick to acknowledge Modi's "resounding" victory in the general elections and extended an invitation to him to visit Washington.

According to top-secret documents Snowden published through the Post on Monday, the US' Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) court gave the NSA “broad leeway” in conducting surveillance upon not only these six political parties but also a list of 193 foreign governments – including India – and only four countries were off-limits under this programme.

"The United States has long had broad no-spying arrangements with those four countries - Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand," the Post reported on Monday.

Yet "a classified 2010 legal certification and other documents indicate the NSA has been given a far more elastic authority than previously known, one that allows it to intercept through US companies not just the communications of its overseas targets but any communications about its targets as well."

The certification - approved by the Fisa court and included among a set of documents leaked by Snowden - says 193 countries are "of valid interest for US intelligence."

The certification also let the agency gather intelligence about entities such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the report said.

"These documents show both the potential scope of the government's surveillance activities and the exceedingly modest role the court plays in overseeing them," Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union who had the documents described to him, told the Post.

The report stresses the NSA did not necessarily target nearly all countries but had authorisation to do so.

Read: Reports on US spying of party 'serious', says BJP

Without specifically responding to questions related to surveillance on India and the BJP in particular, NSA spokesperson Vanee' Vines told PTI that the agency collects foreign intelligence based on specific intelligence requirements set by the US president, the director of National Intelligence, and departments and agencies through the National Intelligence Priorities Framework.

It should come as cold comfort to Germany which was outraged by revelations last year that the NSA eavesdropped on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, as well as about wider US surveillance programmes of Internet and phone communications.

Germany's parliament is investigating the extent of spying by the US National Security Agency and its partners on German citizens and politicians, and whether German intelligence aided its activities.

The privacy issue is a particularly sensitive one in formerly divided Germany.

Ties between Washington and Europe more broadly, as well as other nations such as Brazil, have been strained since the revelations, despite assurances from US President Barack Obama that he is ending spy taps on friendly world leaders.

The Obama administration has insisted the NSA needs tools to be able to thwart terror attacks not just against the United States, but also its allies.

Snowden, a 30-year-old former NSA contractor was granted temporary asylum by Russia last August after shaking the American intelligence establishment to its core with a series of devastating leaks on mass surveillance in the US and around the world.?

(With PTI, IANS and AFP inputs)

First Published: Jul 01, 2014 14:04 IST