Spies targeted WikiLeaks

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New documents from former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden show that the U.S. spy agency urged allies to file criminal charges against the head of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

The American agency also contemplated naming the group a “malicious foreign actor” for targeting, which would have allowed it to deploy extensive surveillance methods and include U.S. people in the search.

Additionally, the NSA’s British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), tracked visitors of the WikiLeaks website and people who used certain search terms to reach the site from Google and other search engines, according to the documents obtained by The Intercept

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In a statement on Tuesday, WikiLeaks head Julian Assange called for President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the “criminal activity” against his organization.

“The NSA and its U.K. accomplices show no respect for the rule of law. But there is a cost to conducting illicit actions against a media organization,” he said.

“No entity, including the NSA, should be permitted to act against journalists with impunity. We have instructed our General Counsel Judge Baltasar Garzón to prepare the appropriate response.”

The documents show that in August, 2010, the NSA urged at least three other countries to “consider filing criminal charges” against Assange for the “unauthorized publication” of documents about the war in Afghanistan. The request was prompted by a WikiLeaks release of tens of thousands of military and diplomatic reports about the war earlier that summer.

Additionally, top-secret documents summarizing a discussion the NSA’s threat operations center had with its general counsel and compliance offices show agents considered focusing new efforts on WikiLeaks as well as the piracy website The Pirate Bay. 

“Can we treat a foreign server who stores, or potentially disseminates leaked or stolen US data on it’s [sic] server as a ‘malicious foreign actor’ for the purpose of targeting with no defeats? Examples: WikiLeaks, thepiratebay.org, etc.,” agents at the threat operations center said.

“Let us get back to you,” responded the compliance and general counsel’s offices. There is no indication whether or not the issue was resolved.

Labeling the organizations as “malicious foreign actors” would allow the NSA to track communications of anyone communicating with the groups, including American citizens. The NSA is normally otherwise prohibited from snooping on Americans.

Foreign activists at Anonymous and similar hacker groups, however, were considered fair game for oversight, the NSA noted in the same conversation.

The threat operations center noted that “Anonymous has a ‘branch’ in Brazil, India, Germany, etc. Can we target those individuals?”

“As long as they are foreign individuals outside of the US and do not hold dual citizenship … then you are OK,” it was told.

The British spy agency took a more active approach to WikiLeaks by tracking visitors to the website. 

The GCHQ used a system codenamed ANTICRISIS GIRL for “targeted website monitoring” to track IP addresses of people who visited a WikiLeaks site, according to slides from a 2012 PowerPoint presentation.

The agency kept tabs on which countries visitors to the site came from, the search terms they used as well as the Internet browser they used, among other details.