Tuesday, June 25, 2013

 

Australian spy bosses fret over possible Snowden fallout

Australian intelligence officials are concerned that NSA leaker Edward Snowden may release information about Australia that inflames its Asian neighbors.


 Australia worries about NSA leaker Snowden: A bus passes by a poster of NSA leaker Edward Snowden in Hong Kong.
Reuters Photo: Bobby Yip. A bus passes by a poster
of Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the NSA, displayed by his supporters at Hong Kong's financial district. 
SYDNEY — Australia's main intelligence and spying agencies have briefed the government on the PRISM internet surveillance program amid fears former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden may release information damaging to Australia's relations with Asian neighbors, local media reported Wednesday.

Canberra, a close U.S. ally, shares intelligence with Washington and is a member of the 'Five Eyes" global security and surveillance network, along with New Zealand, Britain and Canada.

The heads of domestic spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and the military's main electronic eavesdropping operation — the Defense Signals Directorate, Canberra's NSA equivalent — had spoken to parliament's powerful intelligence committee about the security breach and its potential to embarrass Australia's relations with neighboring Asian countries, Fairfax media reported.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus confirmed an interagency taskforce was monitoring events and coordinating the government's response.

"Agencies have been meeting formally on this important issue and have been coordinated in their consideration of the matter and their briefing of ministers," a spokeswoman for Dreyfus told Fairfax.

Snowden, who worked as a U.S. NSA contractor, has been charged with disclosing secret U.S. surveillance programs to media. He left Hong Kong for Moscow on Sunday and the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group said he was headed for Ecuador.
Australian defense intelligence officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said there was little doubt Snowden had "very wide access, including access to much detail of communications intelligence cooperation between the US and Australia."

"Disclosure of highly sensitive collection operations and methodology will damage Australia's intelligence capabilities. It already has done so. But there's also risk of serious complications in our relations with our neighbors," one official told Fairfax.

"The U.S. may be able to brush aside some of the diplomatic fallout from the Snowden leak, but that may not be the case for Australia. China, Malaysia, other countries may respond to us in ways that they would not to Washington."

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