US President Principles Could Have Avoided Spying on Foreign Leaders

Spying on the Indonesian president and his inner circle might have been prevented if the recommendations of a committee commissioned by the US president, Barack Obama, had been in force in Australia, the Greens senator Scott Ludlam says.

The report for the US president has recommended a set of principles for targeting foreign leaders, including the national security issues involved, whether there had been duplicity on the part of the leader and whether the relationship with the nation was a “co-operative” one.

Ludlam said the recommendations could have applied in an Australian context. “The way that this is phrased would potentially have prevented the debacle of spying on the Indonesian president’s wife,” he said.

“Any decision to engage in surveillance of the leaders of a foreign nation must be taken with great care. For a variety of reasons, the stakes in such decisions can be quite high,” said the report, Liberty and Security in a Changing World.

“Although general principles may not themselves resolve close and difficult cases, they can help to ensure a proper focus on the relevant considerations and a degree of consistency in our judgments,’ it says.

Ludlam said the report “vindicated” the release of the information by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and its publication. “A report like this would not exist without that whistleblower and without those who published the material. This is a serious attempt at grappling with some of these intelligence issues,” he said.

In November Guardian Australia and the ABC revealed that Australia targeted the phones of the Indonesian president, Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and other senior officials. The revelations escalated diplomatic tensions between the two nations, and led to the suspension of co-operation from Indonesian military and intelligence authorities. The documents were released by Snowden.

“If a foreign government’s likely negative reaction to a revealed collection effort would outweigh the value of the information likely to be obtained, then do not do it,” the report said.

The report was also critical of the bulk gathering of metadata, and recommended the US government examine “creating software that would allow the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies more easily to conduct targeted information acquisition rather than bulk data collection”.

Guardian Australia reported in December that Australia had offered to pass Australian citizens’ “bulk, unselected” metadata to US intelligence authorities.

“At the moment the regulatory set-up we have virtually no regulation at all around bulk metadata collection apart from what we know from annual reports,” Ludlam said.

An inquiry has been established in the Senate to investigate some aspects of Australia’s domestic intelligence gathering operations.

Following the release of the report, the attorney general, George Brandis, said: "The Australian government is committed to maintaining an appropriate balance between national security and privacy considerations. "
"We are committed to maintaining these relationships and protecting Australia’s security interests and the safety of Australians at home and abroad."

The attorney general would not comment on the specific recommendations in the report. 


Originally published byt The Guardian.

Photo by JonJon2k8.


PN Member Senator Scott Ludlam is spokesperson for Communications, Housing, Heritage, Nuclear Issues, Infrastructure and Sustainable Cities.

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