Spying spotlight now on Singapore

Spying spotlight now on Singapore

Singpore is under the spotlight following the latest revelations that it is a key "third party" in providing intelligence on Malaysia to the "Five-Eyes" intelligence grouping.

According to top secret documents leaked by former United States intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the city state, along with South Korea, were playing key roles in helping the US and Australia tap telecommunications links across Asia on the Internet backbone -- undersea fibre optic cables that shuttle online communications between countries.

The Australian Fairfax Media, in a report, said a top secret US National Security Agency (NSA) map showed that the US and its partners -- the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand -- had tapped high-speed fibre optic cables at 20 locations worldwide.

The interception operation, it added, involved cooperation with local governments and telecommunications companies, or through "covert, clandestine" operations.

"The undersea cable interception operations are part of a global web that, in the words of another leaked NSA document, enable the 'Five-Eyes' to trace 'anyone, anywhere, anytime' in what is described as 'the golden age' of signals intelligence.

"The NSA map, published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, shows that the US maintains a stranglehold on Trans Pacific communications channels with interception facilities on the west coast of the US and in Hawaii and Guam, tapping all cable traffic across the Pacific Ocean, as well as links between Australia and Japan," it said.

The report added that the map confirmed that Singapore, one of the world's most significant telecommunications hubs, was a key "third party" working with the "Five-Eyes" intelligence partners.

In August, Fairfax reported that Australia's electronic espionage agency, the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), was in a partnership with Singapore intelligence to tap the SEA-ME-WE-3 (Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 3) cable that ran from Japan, via Singapore, Djibouti, the Suez Canal in Egypt and the Straits of Gibraltar, to northern Germany.

The SEA-ME-WE-3 also runs through Malaysia, where it has a cable landing point in Mersing, Johor. Australia is connected to this line by a link from Tuas, located in the western side of Singapore, to Perth.

Fairfax quoted Australian intelligence sources, who said the highly secretive Security and Intelligence Division of Singapore's Defence Ministry, cooperated with DSD in accessing and sharing communications carried by the more than 39,000km-long SEA-ME-WE-3 cable, as well as the SEA-ME-WE-4 cable that ran from Singapore to the south of France.

"Access to this major international telecommunications channel, facilitated by Singapore's government-owned operator SingTel, has been a key element in an expansion of Australian-Singaporean intelligence and defence ties over the past 15 years," it said.

A background reference in the report said SingTel, which was majority-owned by Temasek Holdings, the investment arm of the Singapore government, had close relations with its intelligence agencies.

The Singapore government, it added, was represented on the company's board by the head of Singapore's civil service, Peter Ong, who was previously responsible for national security and intelligence coordination in the Singapore Prime Minister's office.

It quoted an Australian intelligence expert, Australian National University Professor Des Ball, who said Singapore's signal intelligence capability was "probably the most advanced" in Southeast Asia, having first been developed in cooperation with Australia in the mid-1970s and subsequently leveraging Singapore's position as a regional telecommunications hub.

According to Fairfax, Indonesia and Malaysia had been key targets of Australian and Singaporean intelligence collaborations since the 1970s, and much of Indonesia's telecommunications and Internet traffic was routed through Singapore.

A map published by German magazine Der Spiegel and cited by Fairfax showed 90 electronic surveillance facilities worldwide, including at US embassies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Yangon.

Dated Aug 31, 2010, the map, however, did not show any such facilities in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Japan, which were the US' closest allies.

Singapore, at press time, remained silent as news of its "third party" involvement in the "Five-Eyes" spy scandal made headlines.

In August, Australian intelligence sources confirmed that a top-secret intelligence tool -- XKeyscore -- which was revealed by Snowden, had been used to spy in Malaysia and other Asia-Pacific countries.

Snowden revealed that the US ran a monitoring station at its embassy here to tap telephones and monitor communications networks.

Following the revelation, Kuala Lumpur summoned the US ambassador and Australian High Commissioner to formally file a protest.

While Indonesia did the same following leaks that Australia had been spying on it out of its embassy in Jakarta, and that the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife were targeted by the DSD, it also recalled its ambassador to Australia and suspended cooperation in people-smuggling and military operations.

According to media sources, Singapore's High Commissioner Ong Keng Yong has been called in on Tuesday to clarify reports that allege Singapore is involved in spying activities against Malaysia.

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