Australia’s defence intelligence agency has conducted secretive programs to help the US National Security Agency hack and exploit computer networks, according to documents published by the Intercept.
The documents, which were leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveal new details about some of the NSA’s most closely guarded secrets. The documents describe a class of “exceptionally compartmentalised information” (ECI) that strictly classifies information about select NSA programs.
The information is so secret that some parts of these operations are only released on the approval of the NSA director. The US’s “five-eyes” partner countries, which include Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand, have access to some of this information although release is handled “on a case-by-case basis”.
One of these secret ECIs, code-named PAWLEYS, contains details of the NSA’s clandestine human intelligence capabilities (Humint), as well as information about “computer network access intended to obtain cryptographic information and materials”.
According to a 2006 document that outlines what information can be released about the program and to which agencies, Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate – now the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) – operated some of these programs in collaboration with the NSA.
“CSE, DSD, GCHQ and GCSB all operate PAWLEYS programs and NSA collaborates with each on targets of mutual interest,” the document says.
The new disclosures about Australia’s role in highly clandestine operations also follows new laws passing in Australia that criminalise reporting of types of “special intelligence operations” by Australian intelligence agencies.
The exact nature of the programs that ASD were involved in are unknown, and it is unclear whether these programs are continuing.
But in separate documents published by the Intercept the “computer network exploitation” activities of the NSA have included the fact that the NSA worked with both US and foreign companies to undermine encryption systems and conduct both remote subversion and physical subversion of computer systems.
The disclosures by Snowden have revealed increasingly more about the role of Australia’s intelligence agencies in the NSA’s global surveillance network and their sharing of intelligence. Guardian Australia previously reported that the ASD offered to share bulk unminimised data about ordinary Australians in 2008.
Other documents published in August 2014 by the Intercept show that the DSD may have fed information into the NSA’s vast ICREACH search engine designed to share billions of call, email, location and chat records.
In September, Snowden described being able to access another NSA system called XKEYSCORE, which by default allowed NSA access to the data of Australians and other five-eyes partners.
By Paul Farrell, The Guardian