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UN Preparing Investigation Of Spying During Climate Talks After Snowden Disclosure

GCHQ building

The British equivalent of the NSA, the GCHQ, was reportedly deployed by the British government to at least two climate talks to spy on other countries according to documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Now UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has said there will be an investigation into the spying and the use of talks about climate change as an opportunity to commit espionage.

The documents released by Snowden show that a GCHQ agent was embedded with the British delegation for climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark and Cancun, Mexico. The agent was tasked with electronically eavesdropping on other delegations and reporting the information obtained to a variety of government agencies including the Prime Minister’s office.

Rather than national security, the spying was done to understand other delegation’s negotiating positions and perspectives.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, says he will launch an investigation into reports that Britain spied on other governments at two successive global climate summits, snooping on other delegations’ kit, passes and membership lists. A government document released by Edward Snowden showed that an officer from GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping agency, had been embedded in the official British delegation to the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 and at Cancun in Mexico…

The role of the officer, according to one slide, was to discover countries’ negotiating positions, report on how far they were prepared to negotiate, find out whether foreign negotiators were receiving instructions from their own governments and to report these back to UK officials to give Britain an upper hand. But Britain could have been breaking international law in sending a spy because the venue of all UN climate summits is declared to be UN territory for the duration of the negotiations.

Is this why these talks have been such spectacular failures – the rich developed countries spy on the other countries to outmaneuver them to escape making carbon cuts? And could not much of this information have been gleaned from basic diplomatic work? In the slides released by Snowden the GCHQ appears to believe they had great success which is interesting given the failure of the talks to achieve any real progress on climate change.

What sanctions, if any, the UN will impose should it find Britain guilty of breaking international law is unknown. But the evidence is pretty clear that British intelligence did break the rules of the UN and spy on their fellow delegates. The developed countries clearly have an edge on espionage using methods not available to their poorer counterparts at the conferences – but what are they using that edge for?

Photo by UK Ministry of Defense under open government license.

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.