The National Security Agency was spying on foreign governments' communications before and during the 2009 United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, a new document released by whistle-blower Edward Snowden reveals.
The document, with portions marked "top secret," indicates that the NSA was monitoring the communications of other countries ahead of the conference, and intended to continue doing so throughout the meeting. Posted on an internal NSA website on Dec. 7, 2009, the first day of the Copenhagen summit, it states that "analysts here at NSA, as well as our Second Party partners [the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, with which the U.S. has an intelligence-sharing relationship] will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries' preparations and goals for the conference, as well as the deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiation strategies."
"[L]eaders and negotiating teams from around the world will undoubtedly be engaging in intense last-minute policy formulating; at the same time, they will be holding sidebar discussions with their counterparts -- details of which are of great interest to our policymakers," the document reads. The NSA's plan, Information adds, was to get the scoop on those private discussions in order to brief U.S. officials and give them an advantage in negotiations of CO2 reductions, which had the potential to harm U.S. (and other nations') economic interests:
The general theme of the document is a set of risk assessments on various effects of climate change that the entire intelligence community was working on. However, the document suggests that the NSA's actual focus in relation to climate change was spying on other countries to collect intelligence that would support American interests, rather than preventing future climate catastrophes. It describes the U.S. as being under pressure because of its role as the historically largest carbon emitter. A pressure to which the NSA spies were already responding:
"SIGINT (Signals Intelligence, ed.) has already alerted policymakers to anticipate specific foreign pressure on the United States and has provided insights into planned actions on this issue by key nations and leaders."
A National Security Council spokeswoman declined to comment directly on the document, but said in an email that "the U.S. Government has made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations."
The ultimate outcome of the Copenhagen talks is mostly seen as a disappointment: an agreement to keep warming below 2 degrees C, but one that was non-binding and that allowed each nation to develop its own plans for doing so. While a number of factors undoubtedly contributed to this, these new revelations signal a bad turn for future efforts to reach an international accord on fighting climate change. As HuffPo puts it, in a bit of an understatement, "The revelation that the NSA was surveilling the communications of leaders during the Copenhagen talks is unlikely to help build the trust of negotiators from other nations in the future."