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NSA's BFFs not necessarily immune to spying eyes -- report

The UK's Guardian newspaper says the NSA drafted a directive about spying on its closest, "Five Eyes" intelligence allies, and that it swept up metadata on UK citizens.

GCHQ headquarters in England.
UK Ministry of Defence

Spying on your friends is one thing, but spying on your BFFs is quite another. Or maybe not.

The Guardian's latest Snowden-document story suggests that mutual nonspying agreements between the countries in the "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance -- the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand -- could be less binding than some thought.

The newspaper reports that the US National Security Agency prepared, in 2005, a secret draft directive saying the NSA could conduct surveillance on the citizens of its Five Eyes allies without informing those countries. It's not clear, The Guardian said, if the directive had ever been implemented (and an NSA representative declined to comment, the paper said).

The Guardian also said a separate, 2007 NSA memo provides the "first explicit confirmation that UK citizens have been caught up in US mass surveillance programs."

That memo shows that the NSA and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), secretly agreed to increase the scope of the NSA's use of UK citizens' metadata. It mentions a previously issued memo that allowed the NSA to analyze "incidentally" collected landline phone numbers belonging to Britons, and it adds to the mix cell and fax numbers, and e-mail and IP addresses. (The Guardian said that neither the GCHQ nor the UK's Cabinet Office would comment.)

The Guardian report could further fan the flames of international discontent regarding surveillance, bringing the citizens of the Five Eyes countries into the fray. "Nine Eyes" countries like France, and "Fourteen Eyes" countries like Germany, have already expressed discomfort over the NSA's activities.

The NSA draft directive regarding Five Eyes countries ("second parties") says that "under certain circumstances, it may be advisable and allowable to target second party persons and second party communications systems unilaterally, when it is in the best interests of the US and necessary for US national security," The Guardian reported.

Critics of the NSA and its partner agencies say, among other things, that the organizations' massive collection of data is indiscriminate and violates human rights by threatening to destroy privacy completely. The agencies say they're fighting terrorism and other crimes and that they have mechanisms in place to protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

The Guardian's full story is here.