President Barack Obama made headlines when he jetsetted out to Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 to lead the world into a binding agreement on how to tackle global warming. While Obama’s plea for a climate agreement fell on deaf ears, documents reveal that the U.S. government took the opportunity to spy on United Nations diplomats.
Documents released by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the Obama administration was monitoring the communications of other countries ahead of the UN climate talks and intended to continue to monitor them throughout the conference.
The Huffington Post and the Danish newspaper Information released a document posted on an internal NSA website on December 7, 2009, the first day of the climate summit. The document says that “analysts here at NSA, as well as our Second Party partners, will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries’ preparations and goals for the conference, as well as the deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiation strategies.”
“While the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference remains uncertain, signals intelligence will undoubtedly play a significant role in keeping our negotiators as well informed as possible throughout the 2-week event,” the document continues.
“Second Party partners” refers to intelligence agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Copenhagen was the first major climate summit of Obama’s presidency and the 15th UN climate conference, bringing together 195 countries to hammer out the details of the next global agreement on how to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.
The conference was expected to be a big breakthrough for climate negotiations, but yielded very little of significance. Countries were split on key issues such as how much each nation would have to cut emissions by and how much rich countries would have to give to poor countries in payment for the damages already caused by global warming.
“[L]eaders and negotiating teams from around the world will undoubtedly be engaging in intense last-minute policy formulating; at the same time, they will be holding sidebar discussions with their counterparts — details of which are of great interest to our policymakers,” the document says. Such information would have likely been used to brief then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama.
Although the document does not say how the information would be gathered, the Huffington Post notes that previous NSA documents have listed tactics such as tapping mobile phones of heads of state (just ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel). UK intelligence documents show that they tapped into delegates’ email accounts at the 2009 G-20 meeting in London.
The NSA declined to comment on the Snowden documents, but a spokeswoman told the Huffington Post that “the U.S. Government has made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
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