New documents published by WikiLeaks on Tuesday reveal more of the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying operations on foreign leaders, including its interception of climate talks between UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The cables, some of which are marked “Top Secret” and which WikiLeaks says are the most highly classified documents ever released by a news organization, show that the NSA spied on Ban’s strategizing on climate change with Merkel ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen Conference, where an attempt to negotiate a climate accord ultimately failed.
“Today we showed that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s private meetings over how to save the planet from climate change were bugged by a country intent on protecting its largest oil companies,” said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
NSA Targets World Leaders for US Geopolitical Interests
“The U.S. government has signed agreements with the UN that it will not engage in such conduct against the UN—let alone its Secretary General,” he said. “It will be interesting to see the UN’s reaction, because if the Secretary General can be targeted without consequence then everyone from world leader to street sweeper is at risk.”
The 2008 intelligence reports show that Ban was confident the new U.S. administration under President Barack Obama would “have a very engaging and proactive attitude on the issue” of climate change and that “the time is right for the EU and the whole world to create conditions necessary for reaching a meaningful deal at the 2009 UN Climate Talks.”
That endeavor ultimately failed when world leaders were unable to strike an accord following U.S.-led negotiations.
Additional documents show the NSA also spied on a conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; a meeting between Merkel, Berlusconi, and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy; and diplomatic talks between Japanese and European Union (EU) ministers ahead of global trade negotiations.
The cables show Netanyahu asking Italy for help in repairing Israel’s fractured relationship with the U.S. in 2010.
“Netanyahu insisted that the trigger for the dispute—Israel’s decision to build 1,600 homes in contested East Jerusalem—was totally in keeping with national policy dating back to the administration of Golda Meir, and blamed this mishandling on a government official with poor political sensitivity,” the NSA cable reads. “Berlusconi promised to put Italy at Israel’s disposal in helping mend the latter’s ties with Washington.”
In 2006, the NSA spied on Japanese and EU ministers discussing U.S. and EU participation in the Japanese economy, and the EU’s commitment to avoid “under-the-table” deals with the U.S. at the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Doha, Qatar.
“There was a conviction in both Brussels and Tokyo, according to Japanese reporting, that great care must be taken to avoid falling prey to U.S. moves designed to extort concessions through exaggerated initial demands,” the cable states.
“[EU Agriculture Commissioner deputy cabinet chief Klaus-Dieter] Borchardt also tried to allay Japanese fears that the EU might try again to enter into a bilateral, under-the-table deal with the U.S. (as had happened in Cancun in 2003), saying that Brussels had learned its lesson with respect to such back-door actions,” it reads.
And in 2011, Merkel and Sarkozy held a “tense and very harsh” meeting with Berlusconi to hold the Italian prime minister accountable for his country’s debt problem, during which Sarkozy warned Berlusconi that the Italian banking system “could soon ‘pop’ like a cork in a champagne bottle.”
The report is stamped “REL TO USA, FVEY,” which indicates that the NSA could release the information to other U.S. agencies and to its “Five Eyes” intelligence allies—Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Between 2007 and 2011, the NSA targeted 13 phone numbers belonging to officials in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, and Switzerland. As the Intercept notes, all but one of those phone numbers are still in use today.