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Spying claims: Countries demand explanation from UK

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GCHQ - The UK's spy centre

A diplomatic row has broken out over claims that Britain spied on foreign governments attending G20 meetings in London in 2009.

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Turkey's foreign ministry demanded answers over reports its delegates had computers monitored and phones tracked.

South Africa condemned the alleged "abuse of privacy" and a senior Russian politician said it was a "scandal".

PM David Cameron would not comment on the claims, said to be based on leaks by a former IT contractor.

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It comes as the G8 summit of eight of the world's leaders gets under way in Northern Ireland.

All of the nations attending the G8 summit also attended the 2009 meetings which were said to have been the target of UK intelligence agencies.

The claims, reported by the Guardian newspaper, are that GCHQ - Britain's electronic eavesdropping agency - spied on foreign politicians and officials attending two G20 summit meetings in April and September 2009.

UK intelligence agencies set up internet cafes specifically to enable them to read the emails of those taking part in the summit, the paper quoted the leaked documents supplied by Edward Snowden - a former contractor to the US National Security Agency.

It alleged that the operation was sanctioned at a senior level in the government of then prime minister Gordon Brown and the intelligence obtained was passed to ministers.

The Turkish, South African and Russian delegates are said to have been among those targeted.

In a statement, Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "The claims published in today's edition of the Guardian that phone conversations of our Minister of Finance Mehmet Simsek and his delegation were tapped during their visit to the United Kingdom in 2009, on the occasion of the G20 meeting, are alarming.

"If there is even the slightest truth to any of these claims contained in this news report, this will evidently constitute a scandal, primarily for the country concerned.

"In an environment where mutual trust, respect and transparency should be essential for international co-operation, such act by an allied country would clearly be deemed unacceptable, should the news report turn out to be true.

"The British authorities are expected to present an official and satisfactory explanation on this issue. As a matter of fact, necessary diplomatic initiatives have been taken in this regard."

The South African government said it had noted reports of alleged attempts campaign to access its computers "with concern".

"We do not yet have the full benefit of details reported on but in principle we would condemn the abuse of privacy and basic human rights particularly if it emanates from those who claim to be democrats," it said.

"We have solid, strong and cordial relations with the United Kingdom and would call on their government to investigate this matter fully."

The Guardian also claimed that GCHQ received reports from a US attempt to listen in to a call being made via satellite to Moscow by the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.

The allegation prompted Alexei Pushkov, the chief of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, to write on Twitter: "It's a scandal... The US denies it, but we can't trust them"

The UK Foreign Office (FCO) confirmed Turkey had raised the claims with Britain's ambassador to the country, Sir David Reddaway.

A spokeswoman said: "In line with longstanding practice we do not comment on intelligence matters.

"We can confirm that the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has raised this issue with the ambassador."

Asked whether he could guarantee that no similar operation was taking place at the G8 summit, Mr Cameron said he never commented on security and intelligence issues.

 

Anna van Densky

Defence

‘Europe can – and clearly should – be able and willing to do more on its own’ von der Leyen

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reflected on the precipitous end to the NATO mission in Afghanistan in her ‘State of the EU’ (SOTEU) address. The summer's events have given new impetus to the European Defence Union. 

Von der Leyen described the situation as raising “deeply troubling questions” for the NATO allies, with its consequences for Afghanis, service men and women, as well as for diplomatic and aid workers. Von der Leyen announced that she anticipated a joint EU-NATO statement to be presented before the end of the year, saying that “we” are currently working on this with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

European Defence Union

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Many have been critical of the EU’s failure to use its battlegroups. Von der Leyen attacked the issue head on: “You can have the most advanced forces in the world – but if you are never prepared to use them - of what use are they?” She said the problem wasn’t a lack of capacity, but a lack of political will. 

Von der Leyen said the upcoming Strategic Compass document, to be finalized in November, is key to this discussion: “We need to decide how we can use all of the possibilities that are already in the Treaty. This is why, under the French Presidency, President Macron and I will convene a Summit on European defence. It is time for Europe to step up to the next level.”

Von der Leyen called for greater information-sharing for better situational awareness, sharing of intelligence and information, as well as drawing together all services from aid providers to those who could lead on police training. Secondly, she called for improved interoperability through common European platforms, on everything from fighter jets to drones. She threw out the idea of waiving VAT when buying defence equipment developed and produced in the EU, arguing that this would help interoperability and decrease dependency. Finally, on cyber she said that the EU needed a European Cyber Defence Policy, including legislation on common standards under a new European Cyber Resilience Act.

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What are we waiting for?

Speaking after von der Leyen’s speech, chairman of the European Peoples’ Party Manfred Weber MEP said: “I fully welcome the initiatives from the defence council in Ljubjana. But what are we waiting for? The Lisbon Treaty gives us all options, so let's do it and let's do it now.” He said that President Biden had already made it clear that the US no longer wanted to be the world's policeman and added that both China and Russia were waiting to fill the vacuum: “We would wake up in a world in which our children will not want to live.”

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9/11

20 years since 9/11: Statement by the High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell

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On 11 September 2001, the deadliest attack in US history killed nearly 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 when hijacked passenger flights crashed into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

We honour the memory of those who lost their lives on this day, 20 years ago. The victims of terrorism are not forgotten. I express my heartfelt sympathy to the American people, especially those who lost their loved ones in the attacks. Terror attacks are attacks against us all.

9/11 marked a turn in history. It fundamentally changed the global political agenda – for the first time ever, NATO invoked Article 5, allowing its members to respond together in self-defense, and it launched the war against Afghanistan.

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20 years on, terrorist groups such as Al Qaida and Da’esh remain active and virulent in many parts of the world, for example in the Sahel, Middle East and Afghanistan. Their attacks have caused thousands of victims around the world, enormous pain and suffering. They attempt to destroy lives, damage communities and change our way of life. Seeking to destabilise countries as a whole, they prey in particular on fragile societies, but also our Western democracies and the values we stand for. They remind us that terrorism is a threat we live with every day.

Now, as then, we stand determined to fight terrorism in all its forms, anywhere. We stand in admiration, humility and gratitude to those who risk their lives to protect us from this threat and to those who respond in the aftermath of attacks.

Our counter-terrorism experience has taught us that there are no easy answers, or quick fixes. Responding to terrorism and violent extremism by force and military might alone will not help to win hearts and minds. The EU has therefore taken an integrated approach, addressing the root causes of violent extremism, cutting off terrorists’ financing sources and curbing terrorist content online. Five EU security and defence missions around the world are mandated to contribute to the fight against terrorism. In all our efforts, we commit to protect innocent lives, our citizens and our values, as well as uphold human rights and international law.

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The recent events in Afghanistan oblige us to rethink our approach, working with our strategic partners, such as the United States and through multilateral efforts, including with the United Nations, the Global Coalition to Defeat Da’esh and the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF).

On this day, we should not forget that the only way forward is to stand united and firm against all who seek to damage and divide our societies. The EU will continue to work together with the United States and all its partners to make this world a safer place.

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Education

Statement by Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič on the International Day to Protect Education from Attack

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On the occasion of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack (9 September), the EU reaffirms its commitment to promote and protect the right of every child to grow in a safe environment, have access to quality education, and build a better and more peaceful future, says Janez Lenarčič (pictured).

Attacks on schools, students and teachers have a devastating impact on access to education, education systems and on societal development. Sadly, their incidence is increasing at an alarming rate. This is all too clear from the recent developments in Afghanistan, and the crises in Ethiopia, Chad, Africa's Sahel region, in Syria, Yemen or Myanmar, amongst many others. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack has identified more than 2,400 attacks on education facilities, students, and educators in 2020, a 33 percent increase since 2019.

Attacks on education constitute also violations of International Humanitarian Law, the set of rules seeking to limit the effects of armed conflict. Such violations are multiplying, while their perpetrators are seldom called to account. In this view, we are putting compliance with International Humanitarian Law consistently at the heart of the EU's external action. As one of the largest humanitarian donors, the EU will hence continue to promote and advocate for global respect for International Humanitarian Law, both by states and non-state armed groups during an armed conflict.

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Beyond destruction of facilities, attacks on education result in long-term suspension of learning and teaching, increase the risk of school dropouts, lead to forced labour and recruitment by armed groups and forces. School closures reinforce exposure to all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence or early and forced marriage, levels of which have increased drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated the vulnerability of education worldwide. Now, more than ever, we need to minimise disruption to education disruption, and ensure that children can learn in safety and protection.

Safety of education, including further engagement on the Safe Schools Declaration, is an integral part of our efforts to protect and promote the right to education for every girl and boy.

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Responding to and preventing attacks on schools, supporting protective aspects of education and protecting students and teachers requires a coordinated and inter-sectoral approach.

Through EU-funded projects in Education in Emergencies, we help reduce and mitigate the risks posed by armed conflict.

The EU remains at the forefront of supporting education in emergencies, dedicating 10% of its humanitarian aid budget to support access, quality and protection of education.

More information

Factsheet - Education in Emergencies

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