The NSA’s espionage partners in Australia offered the U.S. intelligence agency surveillance information on an American law firm that was representing the Indonesian government in a trade case against the U.S., according to leaked documents from Edward Snowden’s stash.
Judging by its early-2013 timeline, the case was most likely one involving clove cigarettes or shrimp. It’s not entirely clear that the NSA took the proceeds of the Australians’ spying efforts once the offer was made, but according to Saturday’s New York Times article the Australians were “able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested U.S. customers,” after the NSA general counsel had given guidance about what should be done.
The report highlights how lawyers – who are supposed to be able to offer their clients confidentiality – are targeted by western intelligence agencies along with terrorists and heads of state. This was recently a major strand of a lawsuit against the Dutch government by lawyers, journalists and activists in the Netherlands.
It also suggests yet again that the “Five Eyes” countries’ spy agencies help each other bypass their national laws. The NSA, for example, would need a warrant to spy on a law firm based in the U.S.
The NYT report noted that the likely target of the surveillance in the Indonesian case, Chicago-based law firm Mayer Brown, was also representing Indonesia in a separate dispute with the Australian government, again about tobacco. The Australian intelligence agency is reportedly well-versed in using espionage to help its friends in trade deals and disputes.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded to the weekend’s revelation by saying Australia collects information “for the benefit of our friends.” Indonesia, which is already furious with Australia over the country’s spying on its leaders, said it could not understand how a dispute over shrimps “impacts on Australia’s security.”