PETALING JAYA - Australia's missions across Asia, including its High Commission in Malaysia, are being used as part of a United States-led global spying network, according to whistleblower Edward Snowden and a former Australian intelligence officer.
Australian media reported Thursday that the country's Defence Signals Directorate was conducting such clandestine surveillance operations without the knowledge of most Australian diplomats.
Recent revelations have emerged of the US eavesdropping on foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, highly embarrassing President Barack Obama's administration.
Various Australia dailies reported that intelligence collection took place from embassies in Bangkok, Jakarta, Beijing, Hanoi and Dili, and High Commissions in Kuala Lumpur and Port Moresby, apart from diplomatic offices.
A secret US National Security Agency document leaked by Snowden and published by Germany's Der Speigel revealed the existence of a highly sensitive signals intelligence collection operation conducted from sites at US embassies and consulates, and from the diplomatic missions of other "Five eyes" intelligence partners including Australia, Britain and Canada.
The operation involves the interception of radio, telecommunications and internet traffic. The document explicitly states that the Australian Defence Signals Directorate operates such facilities "at Australian diplomatic facilities".
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has declined to comment on the diplomatic implications of the disclosure. A spokesperson said it was the practice of the Australian government not to comment on intelligence matters.
A former Australian Defence Intelligence officer was also reported claiming that the directorate conducted surveillance operations from Australian embassies across Asia and the Pacific.
He said the interception facility at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta played an important role in collecting intelligence on terrorist threats and people-smuggling, "but the main focus is political, diplomatic and economic intelligence".
An Australian intelligence expert was quoted saying that the Defence Signals Directorate had long co-operated with the US in monitoring the Asia-Pacific region, including using listening posts in embassies and consulates.
"Knowing what our neighbours are really thinking is important for all sorts of diplomatic and trade negotiations," he told Fairfax Media.