The US is secretly using Australian embassies throughout Asia to intercept phone calls and collect data across the continent.
Documents leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have blown the lid on a signals intelligence collection program, codenamed STATEROOM, conducted from sites at US embassies and consulates and from diplomatic outposts of other ‘Five Eye’ nations.
The ‘Five Eyes’ club is an intelligence sharing alliance including the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
According to the leaked document, which was published by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, the Australian Defense Signals Directorate operates the clandestine STATEROOM facilities at embassies without the knowledge of most Australian diplomats.
“They are covert, and their true mission is not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff at the facility where they are assigned,” says the document.
The secret spying program involves the interception of radio, telecommunications, and Internet traffic.
A former Australian intelligence officer has also told Fairfax Media that the Australian Defense Signals Directorate conducts the spying operations from Australian embassies across Asia and the Pacific.
According to Fairfax Media, the spying operations take place at embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing, and Dili, and High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby as well as other diplomatic outposts.
China has asked the US for “a clarification and explanation” about the new revelation.
“China is extremely concerned about this report and demands that the United States offers a clarification and explanation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
The revelation comes as Washington has been embarrassed by disclosures that it monitored phone calls of at least 35 world leaders including that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of Europe’s most influential leaders.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Tuesday that learning foreign leaders’ intentions is a “top tenet” of Washington’s overseas spying operations.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also said on Monday that President Barack Obama “feels strongly about making sure that we are not just collecting information because we can, but because we should.”