London: The US National Security Agency may have accessed computers within the Indian embassy in Washington and mission at the United Nations in New York as part of a huge clandestine effort to mine electronic data held by its south Asian ally.
Documents released by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden also reveal the extent and aggressive nature of other NSA datamining exercises targeting India as recently as March of this year. The latest revelations — published in the Hindu newspaper — came as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, flew to Europe on his way to the US, where he will meet US President Barack Obama. The NSA operation targeting India used two datamining tools, Boundless Informant and Prism, a system allowing the agency easy access to the personal information of non-US nationals from the databases of some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
In June, the Guardian acquired and published top-secret documents about Boundless Informant describing how in March 2013 the NSA, alongside its effort to capture data within the US, also collected 97bn pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.
The largest amount of intelligence was gathered from Iran, with more than 14bn reports in that period, followed by 13.5bn from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America’s closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7bn, Egypt fourth with 7.6bn and India fifth with 6.3bn.
Though relations between India and the US were strained for many decades, they have improved considerably in recent years. President George Bush saw India as a potential counterweight to China and backed a controversial civil nuclear agreement with Delhi. Obama received a rapturous welcome when he visited in 2010.
According to one document obtained by the Hindu, the US agency used the Prism programme to gather information on India’s domestic politics and the country’s strategic and commercial interests, specifically categories designated as nuclear, space and politics.