Singapore and South Korea are playing key roles helping the United States and Australia tap undersea telecommunications links across Asia, according to top secret documents leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. New details have also been revealed about the involvement of Australia and New Zealand in the interception of global satellite communications.
A top secret United States National Security Agency map shows that the US and its “Five Eyes” intelligence partners tap high speed fibre optic cables at 20 locations worldwide. The interception operation involves cooperation with local governments and telecommunications companies or else through “covert, clandestine” operations.
The undersea cable interception operations are part of a global web that in the words of another leaked NSA planning document enables the “Five Eyes” partners – the US, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – to trace “anyone, anywhere, anytime” in what is described as “the golden age” signals intelligence.
The NSA map, published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad overnight, shows that the United States maintains a stranglehold on trans-Pacific communications channels with interception facilities on the West coast of the United States and at Hawaii and Guam, tapping all cable traffic across the Pacific Ocean as well as links between Australia and Japan.
The map confirms that Singapore, one of the world's most significant telecommunications hubs, is a key “third party” working with the “Five Eyes” intelligence partners.
In August Fairfax Media reported that Australia's electronic espionage agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, is in a partnership with Singaporean intelligence to tap the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable that runs from Japan, via Singapore, Djibouti, Suez and the Straits of Gibraltar to Northern Germany.
Australian intelligence sources told Fairfax that the highly secretive Security and Intelligence Division of Singapore's Ministry of Defence co-operates with DSD in accessing and sharing communications carried by the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable as well as the SEA-ME-WE-4 cable that runs from Singapore to the south of France.
Access to this major international telecommunications channel, facilitated by Singapore's government-owned operator SingTel, has been a key element in an expansion of Australian-Singaporean intelligence and defence ties over the past 15 years.
Majority owned by Temask Holdings, the investment arm of the Singapore Government, SingTel has close relations with Singapore's intelligence agencies. The Singapore Government is represented on the company's board by the head of Singapore's civil service, Peter Ong, who was previously responsible for national security and intelligence co-ordination in the Singapore Prime Minister's office.
Australian intelligence expert, Australian National University Professor Des Ball has described Singapore's signal's intelligence capability as “probably the most advanced” in South East Asia, having first been developed in cooperation with Australia in the mid-1970s and subsequently leveraging Singapore's position as a regional telecommunications hub.
Indonesia and Malaysia have been key targets for Australian and Singaporean intelligence collaboration since the 1970s. Much of Indonesia's telecommunications and Internet traffic is routed through Singapore.
The leaked NSA map also shows South Korea is another key interception point with cable landings at Pusan providing access to the external communications of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
South Korea's National Intelligence Service has long been a close collaborator with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the NSA, as well as the Australian intelligence agencies. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation recently engaged in legal action in an unsuccessful effort to prevent publication of details of South Korean espionage in Australia. ASIO Director-General David Irvine told the Federal Court that Australian and South Korean intelligence agencies had been cooperating for “over 30 years” and that any public disclose of NIS activities would be “detrimental” to Australia's national security.
The NSA map and other documents leaked by Mr Snowden and published by the Brazilian O Globo newspaper also reveal new detail on the integration of Australian and New Zealand signals intelligence facilities in the interception of satellite communications traffic by the “Five Eyes” partners.
For the first time it is revealed that the DSD satellite interception facility at Kojarena near Geraldton in Western Australia is codenamed “STELLAR”. The New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau facility at Waihopai on New Zealand's South Island is codenamed “IRONSAND”. The codename for DSD's facility at Shoal Bay near Darwin is not identified. However all three facilities are listed by the NSA as “primary FORNSAT (foreign satellite communications) collection operations”.
Coverage of satellite communications across Asia and the Middle East is also supported by NSA facilities at the United States Air Force base at Misawa in Japan, US diplomatic premises in Thailand and India, and British Government Communications Headquarters facilities in Oman, Nairobi in Kenya and at the British military base in Cyprus.
The leaked NSA map also shows that undersea cables are accessed by the NSA and the British GCHQ through military facilities in Djibouti and Oman, thereby ensuring maximum coverage of Middle East and South Asian communications.