London • The Guardian newspaper says the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ repeatedly hacked into foreign diplomats' phones and emails when the U.K. hosted international conferences, even going so far as to set up a bugged Internet cafÃ© in an effort to get an edge in high-stakes negotiations.
The report the latest in a series of revelations which have ignited a worldwide debate over the scope of Western intelligence gathering came just hours before Britain was due to open the G-8 summit Monday, a meeting of the seven biggest economies plus Russia, in Northern Ireland. The allegation that the United Kingdom has previously used its position as host to spy on its allies and other attendees could make for awkward conversation as the delegates arrive for talks.
"The diplomatic fallout from this could be considerable," said British academic Richard J. Aldrich, whose book GCHQ charts the agency's history. GCHQ declined to comment on the report.
The Guardian cites more than half a dozen internal government documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as the basis for its reporting on GCHQ's intelligence operations, which it says involved, among other things, hacking into the South African foreign ministry's computer network and targeting the Turkish delegation at the 2009 G-20 summit in London.
The source material whose authenticity could not immediately be determined appears to be a mixed bag. The Guardian describes one as "a PowerPoint slide," another as "a briefing paper" and others simply as "documents."
It wasn't completely clear how Snowden would have had access to the British intelligence documents, although in one article The Guardian mentions that source material was drawn from a top-secret internal network shared by GCHQ and the NSA.