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Top-secret documents reveal Australia targeting Indonesia, South Pacific mobile phone networks
Sydney Morning Herald - March 5, 2015
According to leaked documents published in New Zealand on Thursday, the Australia's top-secret electronic espionage agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, has been working intimately with its NZ counterpart, the Government Communications Security Bureau to obtain comprehensive access to telecommunication networks across Indonesia and the South Pacific.
The documents show that the ASD and GCSB spy intensively on small and vulnerable Pacific island countries, harvesting communications from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Tonga and French Polynesia.
The Australian and NZ spies are targeting Indonesia's largest mobile phone network as well as the telecommunications systems of Australia's small Pacific Island neighbours, according to documents obtained from the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The Australian and NZ signals intelligence agencies intercept satellite communications and under-sea telecommunications cables, and share the "full take" of telephone calls, emails, social media messages and associated metadata with each other as well as their "5-eyes" partners, the US National Security Agency and the British Government Security Communications Headquarters.
A leaked top-secret NZ report confirms the ASD's deep interest in Indonesia's largest mobile phone network, Telkomsel, which serves more than 122 million subscribers.
A NZ intelligence officer working on exchange in Canberra in 2009 was placed in ASD's "network infrastructure analysis section" where he was given "specific... tasks regarding Indonesian cellular telecommunications provider Telkomsel" including "investigating Call Data records being sent over FTP" [file transfer protocol – a standard network protocol used to transfer files from computer host to another], and researching Telkomsel's voice compression gateways used to support transmission of long-distance international and domestic telephone traffic.
Another 2012 US NSA document published last year revealed that the ASD stole nearly 1.8 million encrypted master keys, which are used to protect private communications, from the Telkomsel network, and developed a way to decrypt almost all of them. The ASD has also accessed bulk call data from Indosat, Indonesia's domestic satellite telecommunications provider, including data on Indonesian officials in various government ministries.
The top-secret NZ documents also reveals details of co-operation between Australia and NZ to access to the South Pacific mobile phone networks, including in the Solomon Islands, where the two countries intelligence agencies "worked closely... to retain situational awareness as the Solomon Telekom network has expanded and evolved".
The ASD and GCSB personnel intercepted mobile phone calls from a signals intelligence collection facility near Honiara, codenamed CAPRICA and probably located at Camp RAMSI, the headquarters of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.
With a view to expanding coverage of Solomon Telekom's network, the ASD and GSCB also conducted a radio frequency survey, codenamed PREBOIL, at the Australian Federal Police facility at the Guadalcanal Beach Resort near Henderson Airport, some 16 kilometres from Honiara.
Fiji is another Australian intelligence priority revealed in the leaked documents, with the GCSB reporting that it had assisted the ASD's military support unit to conduct a "target systems analysis" on the command, control and communications of the Fiji government, military and police.
The study highlighted the importance of mobile phone networks for intelligence collection because such networks were the Fiji military's "tactical" preference ahead of radio networks and a "poorly maintained and very limited [military] computer network."
The Australian government has repeatedly refused to comment on specific disclosures from the papers leaked by Edward Snowden. However last year Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted that Australia would not use intelligence "to the detriment of other countries".