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Did NSA carry out surveillance on BJP in 2010?

Last updated on: July 01, 2014 19:52 IST

Did NSA carry out surveillance on BJP in 2010?

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Lalit K Jha

America's top spy agency, the National Security Agency was authorised by a United States court in 2010 to carry out surveillance on the Bharatiya Janata Party along with five other political organisations across the globe, including Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan Peoples Party, according to a classified document.

The BJP figures in the list of foreign political parties along with Lebanon's Amal, the Bolivarian Continental Coordinator of Venezuela, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian National Salvation Front and the Pakistan Peoples Party for whom the NSA had sought permission to carry out surveillance, says the document made public by The Washington Post on Monday.

The document lists the 193 foreign governments as well as foreign factions and other entities that were part of a 2010 certification approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The list includes India.

"These are the entities about which the NSA may conduct surveillance, for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence," the paper said, citing documents provided to it by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

India  termed as "extremely disconcerting" the reports that the ruling-Bharatiya Janata Party was spied upon by the NSA and said, if true, the matter will be taken up with the US as it was "totally unacceptable" that an Indian organisation or Indian individual's privacy was transgressed upon.

The spokesperson in the external affairs ministry said previously that "when information trickled down to us," the issue was raised with the US both in New Delhi and in Washington with the "concerned authorities". "We will follow the same process because it is totally unacceptable that an Indian organisation, Indian individual's privacy is transgressed upon, if that is correct," he said.

"At this stage... I have not seen these reports. But our view is pretty clear that it is extremely disconcerting that privacy laws in India are undermined whether it is individuals or organisations," he said.

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Image: A protester holds a placard showing U S President Barack Obama with the phrase "Yes we scan" during a demonstration against the National Security Agency and in support of whistleblower Edward Snowden in Frankfurt
Photographs: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

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Lalit K Jha

It said each year a new certification must be approved by the court to permit such surveillance under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. "Virtually no foreign government is off-limits for the NSA, which has been authorised to intercept information 'concerning' all but four countries, according to top-secret documents," The Post reported.

The four countries are Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The certification of surveillance also includes other international organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The NSA is not necessarily targeting all the countries or organisations identified in the certification, the affidavits and an accompanying exhibit; it has only been given authority to do so," The Post said.

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 president, the director of National Intelligence, and departments and agencies through the National Intelligence Priorities Framework.

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Image: A mobile phone simulating a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel next to a tablet computer showing the logo of the National Security Agency is seen in this multiple exposure picture illustration taken in Frankfurt
Photographs: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

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Lalit K Jha

Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents to media uncovering the existence of numerous global surveillance programmes, many of them run by the NSA, triggering an outrage worldwide. Vines said that section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act authorises targeted intelligence collection.

"Under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reviews annual topical certifications executed by the director of National Intelligence and Attorney General, and approves procedures to allow the US government to target non-US persons reasonably believed to be located outside the US if a specific intended target possesses, is expected to receive, and/or is likely to communicate foreign intelligence information concerning one of those certifications," she said.

"These FISC-approved procedures are designed to minimise the acquisition, retention, and use of US person information, and provide additional restrictions for certain Section 702 collection where there may be a greater likelihood of inadvertent or incidental collection of such information," she told PTI.

"Moreover, in January 2014, (US) President (Barack) Obama issued Presidential Policy Directive 28, which provides additional policy direction for US signals intelligence activities. Among other things, it states that US signals intelligence activities shall be as tailored as feasible and that sensitive targeting decisions shall be subject to enhanced review by senior US government officials," she said.

"The directive also instructs the intelligence community to afford non-US persons with certain privacy protections comparable to those afforded to US persons to the maximum extent feasible consistent with national security.

"In short, there must be a particular intelligence need, policy approval, and legal authorisation for US signals intelligence activities, including activities conducted pursuant to Section 702," Vines said.


Image: A detail from graffiti art is seen on a wall near the headquarters of Britain's eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, in Cheltenham, western England
Photographs: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

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