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US embassy: No comment on NSA spying in Brunei

US embassy: No comment on NSA spying in Brunei

The Brunei Times - December 2nd 2013

By Quratul-Ain Bandial

THE US embassy in Brunei said it would “not comment publicly” on any alleged intelligence activity within the Sultanate following revelations of US surveillance carried out at several missions in Southeast Asia.

Documents leaked by intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden last month detailed the extensive network of 90 US surveillance facilities worldwide, including communications intelligence facilities at embassies in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Yangon.

The spying row intensified after Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, leaked information that the United States used its allies in the region - namely Australia, Singapore and South Korea - to spy and intercept the communications of top Southeast Asian officials.

In a statement issued to The Brunei Times, the US embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan said: “We know these matters have created significant challenges in our relationships with some of our closest foreign partners.”

“As the President [Obama] has said, the United States is reviewing the way we gather intelligence to ensure that we are properly balancing the security concerns of our citizens and international partners with the privacy concerns that all people share.”

“We want to ensure we are collecting information because we need it and not just because we can. We are going to continue to address these issues with our partners in diplomatic channels.”

Citing documents leaked by the fugitive Snowden, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Singapore and South Korea are playing key roles helping the United States and Australia tap undersea telecommunications links across Asia.

Indonesia and Malaysia have been key targets for Australian and US intelligence cooperation since the 1970s, facilitated in part by Singapore, the Herald said in a report published last week.

The phone-tapping of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by Australian intelligence caused a major diplomatic incident between Jakarta and Canberra, with Indonesia recalling its ambassador to Australia.

“It’s fair game - if they start discussing sensitive issues on unsecure means, then that’s their problem,” said intelligence analyst Alex Bomberg, group CEO of UK firm, International Intelligence Limited.

The former military officer, whose company has provided security and intelligence services for the US State Department, United Nations and British royal family, said the revelations about the vast US-led spying network should not come as a surprise.

“Of course that’s what embassies are for... If they were just here to give visas, they would just have a consulate.”

“Everyone does it. Everyone knows about the NSA doing it. When it comes to national security - the American government will do whatever it takes, and so should any other government.”

Malaysia has also summoned the US, Singapore and Australian heads of mission to answer to the spying allegations.

The US embassy added that its electronic surveillance had adapted to a post 9/11 security environment.

“With new and rapidly changing capabilities, we recognise that there is an ongoing need to consider whether we should have additional policy constraints on how we gather and use intelligence.”