AIT silent on surveillance

Staff writer, with CNA

Sat, Nov 02, 2013 - Page 3

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said it would not comment on any reports or speculation about US surveillance and intelligence operations.

AIT spokesman Mark Zimmer’s remarks came after a Wednesday report from Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) that said the US has maintained a surveillance facility in its representative office in Taipei.

A classified map released by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the US had set up surveillance facilities in its embassies and consulates in a number of Asia-Pacific cities, the ABC report said.

The cities identified were Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Yangon, Manila, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai and Beijing.

Zimmer on Thursday told reporters that the AIT would not respond to such reports or speculation.

Nevertheless, he cited US President Barack Obama as saying that the US government will seriously re-evaluate its intelligence operations. Earlier this week, the German news weekly Der Spiegel also reported that the US NSA and the CIA have jointly set up a group known as the Special Collection Service (SCS) to conduct sweeping surveillance operations.

Der Spiegel’s Web site lists SCS facilities at 90 destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Among them, 74 are manned facilities, including one in Taipei. There are also 14 remotely operated facilities and two technical support centers, according to the map.

The government has declined to comment on whether it has knowledge of US intelligence or surveillance operations in Taipei, or whether Taiwan has voluntarily provided intelligence to the US.

National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General Lu Hsiao-jung (陸小榮) who is responsible for anti-wiretapping operations, said during a Legislative Yuan committee hearing on Thursday that verification is needed before the veracity of the foreign media reports based on Snowden’s map can be determined.

He told lawmakers on the legislature’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee that he is personally opposed to the establishment of any surveillance facility in Taiwan.

Fielding questions at the same event, Presidential Office Secretary-General Timothy Yang (楊進添) said he could not respond to inquiries about whether any of Taiwan’s senior officials had fallen victim to US wiretapping.

He said the National Security Bureau (NSB) is still trying to verify the media reports.

Yang said that Taiwan-US relations have remained friendly, and bilateral engagement has been cordial, despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

Neither Yang nor Lu has publicly denied that the US has a surveillance facility in its representative office in Taipei.

During the committee hearing, Yang said the Presidential Office has scrapped the use of 3G modems produced by China’s Huawei Technologies Co to ensure information security.

The use of Huawei’s telecom devices by government agencies has sparked concern from lawmakers across the political spectrum.