Turkey, South Africa and Russia on Monday demanded an explanation from the British government for the revelations that their politicians and senior officials were spied on and bugged by Britain during the G20 summit in London in 2009.
The foreign ministry in Ankara said it was unacceptable that the British government had intercepted phone calls and monitored the computers of Turkey’s finance minister as well as up to 15 others from his visiting delegation. If confirmed, the eavesdropping operation on a NATO ally was “scandalous,” it said.
The ministry summoned the UK’s ambassador to Ankara to hear Turkey’s furious reaction in person. A spokesman at the foreign ministry read out an official statement saying: “The allegations in the Guardian [newspaper] are very worrying ... If these allegations are true, this is going to be scandalous for the UK. At a time when international co-operation depends on mutual trust, respect and transparency, such behavior by an allied country is unacceptable.”
The Guardian revealed that the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) targeted Mehmet Simsek, the Turkish finance minister during a G20 economics meeting hosted in London in September 2009. It also considered monitoring the communications of 15 named members of his staff and of Turkey’s central bank. It is not clear which if any of the staff members was ultimately placed under surveillance.
The goal was to collect information about the Turkish position on the reform of the global financial infrastructure after the world banking crisis.
The revelations come at a fraught time for Turkish-British relations. Embattled Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has blamed the international media, and in particular the BBC, for fomenting violent unrest and protests against his rule. Erdogan has spoken repeatedly of an international conspiracy. News that his finance minister really was the victim of a British surveillance operation will strengthen his view.
The South African foreign ministry, which was a target of a GCHQ hacking operation launched in 2005, also voiced its concern. A ministry statement said: “We do not yet have the full benefit of details reported on but in principle we would condemn the abuse of privacy and basic human rights particularly if it emanates from those who claim to be democrats.”
“We have solid, strong and cordial relations with the United Kingdom and would call on their government to investigate this matter fully with a view to take strong and visible action against any perpetrators,” the statement said.
GCHQ documents seen by the Guardian showed the British hacking operation was designed to get information from foreign ministry computer networks on briefings given to ministers for G20 meetings and also G8 summits attended by South Africa as an observer. Russian officials said the Guardian revelation that US spies had intercepted top-secret communications of then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev at a G20 summit in London in April 2009 would harm the US-Russia relationship and cast a shadow over the G8 summit in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.
Details of the spying, set out in a briefing prepared by the National Security Agency, were leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden and revealed by the Guardian on Sunday. Documents show that US spies based in Britain spied on Medvedev, now Russia’s prime minister.