China and Southeast Asian nations demanded an explanation from the United States and its allies following media reports that U.S. and Australian embassies in Asia were being used as hubs in a vast American surveillance operation.
The reports come on the heels of an international outcry over allegations the U.S. has spied on the telephone communications of some 35 foreign leaders and millions of people in Europe.
The revelations come via Edward Snowden, who leaked information on a program called “Stateroom”, where U.S., British, Australian and Canadian embassies secretly collect electronic communications. Those nations, plus New Zealand, have an intelligence-sharing agreement called “Five Eyes,” according to reports.
“China is severely concerned about the reports, and demands a clarification and explanation,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Thursday.
Fairfax media reported Thursday that the Australian embassies involved are in Bangkok, Beijing, Jakarta, Hanoi and Dili. The report said those embassies are being used to intercept phone calls and internet data across Asia.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said his government “cannot accept and strongly protests the news of the existence of wiretapping facilities at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.”
“It should be emphasized that if confirmed, such action is not only a breach of security, but also a serious breach of diplomatic norms and ethics, and certainly not in tune with the spirit of friendly relations between nations,” he said.
Indonesia summoned the Australian ambassador in Jakarta Friday over a “totally unacceptable” report that his embassy was being used in a vast U.S. spying operation.
The Snowden leak said the surveillance equipment is concealed, including antennas that are “sometimes hidden in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds.”
Top Australian intelligence expert Des Ball told The Associated Press he had personally seen covert antennas in five of the embassies named in the Fairfax report.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s only comment was that the government had not broken any laws.
“Every Australian governmental agency, every Australian official, at home and abroad, operates in accordance with the law,” Abbott told reporters. “And that’s the assurance that I can give people.”
But there was outrage in the countries named in the document.
A Malaysian official said his government viewed the allegations as a serious matter and would investigate whether the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was being used for spying.
The Thai government reportedly told the U.S. that spying was a crime under Thai laws, and that Thailand would not cooperate if asked to help eavesdrop.
Myanmar said it had no “firm evidence” of U.S. spying, but a presidential spokesman added that the U.S. “should not violate people’s rights and interfere in another country’s affairs if their national security is not threatened”.