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GCHQ tracks diplomats' hotel bookings to plant bugs, say leaked docs

And Australia spied on Indonesian prez, in more spies-do-spying guff outrages

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The latest Snowden leaks have revealed that Australia spies on the heads of state of its neighbours while the UK monitors luxury hotel bookings made by foreign diplomats, among other unsurprising revelations.

Australian intelligence attempted to spy on phone calls made by the President of Indonesia, his wife and entourage while Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his ministers were targeted by the Australian Defence Signals Directorate, according to leaked NSA slides dated August 2009.

One slide, entitled "IA Leadership Targets + Handsets", listing the president and the first lady as having Nokia E90-1s, with the vice-president Boediono favouring a BlackBerry Bold 9000, The Guardian reports.

The slides suggest that call data records for the regional leader were harvested but that Australian spies (at least at that time) had failed in their intent of capturing the content of calls. The leaked slides are available via Cryptome.org here (PDF).

Separate Snowden leaks reveal that GCHQ monitors luxury hotel bookings made by foreign diplomats. GCHQ's “Royal Concierge” program tracked bookings at 350 upmarket hotels across the world. After the hotel and suite a potential target was staying at was identified the job of planting bugs on the phone in a suite was turned over to field operatives.

Reservation confirmations sent to .gov.xx email addresses are of particular interest, and are fed to analysts by an automated system before particular spying tasks are prioritised. The program was initially tested in 2010 and proved so successful that further development was requested, Der Speigel reports. It remains unclear how frequently the program was used or what intelligence it yielded.

The leak shows that GCHQ's role is far from restricted to counter-terrorism, fighting against state-backed hackers stealing blueprints from UK firms or assisting in the investigation of child abuse, the only three functions discussed by the spy agency's boss, Sir Iain Lobban, during a recent public hearing of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee.

Finally it also emerged late last week that a CIA program secretly collected records of international money transfers going into and out from the US. Bulk transfers through Western Union and the like are targeted by the scheme, the New York Times reports.

The financial records program is authorised under the Patriot Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, anonymous agency officials told the paper. The program, which was not leaked by Snowden, provides evidence that the NSA is not the only US government agency that makes use of bulk data collection programs and that telephone record call data isn't the only thing being hoovered up. ®

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