Continuing its string of highly damaging revelations about British and American surveillance operations, the Guardian has released leaked documents showing that the British government spied on finance ministers and diplomats at the G20 talks in 2009. The new evidence was leaked by Edward Snowden, the Booz Allen whistleblower currently in hiding in Hong Kong.

Further questions have arisen about the conduct of the British government's surveillance station GCHQ (Government Communication Head Quarters) after revelations that real-time intelligence gathering on foreign diplomats took place in 2009's G20 summit. This latest leak, particularly damaging since it immediately precedes a G8 summit in London about free trade, demonstrates with growing clarity the extent to which the NSA and its affiliates gain access to intelligence gathered in British surveillance operations.

Amidst minor diplomatic tensions between Bill Clinton and the British Conservative Party in the early nineties, the annoyed British ambassador banned the words 'special relationship' from the embassy in Washington DC, calling it a “hackneyed phrase”. After the Guardian published more of Edward Snowden's leaked NSA documents revealing continuing collusion between GCHQ and the NSA as the biggest financial bailout in history was organized by world leaders, however, the relationship between the UK and USA could not look more special. The very inception of the special relationship in the 1940s was based on the strong collaboration between security agencies from the two countries, making this spying operation only the latest in a long history of surveillance.

The $1 trillion international bailout in 2009, designed to stabilize global financial markets riddled with toxic debt, was organized by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had been in charge of Britain's finances as Chancellor of the Exchequer for the entirety of Tony Blair's tenure. Blair and Brown are both remembered in the UK for transforming the British Labour Party into a neoliberal servant of the banking industry, with Brown's socializing of the losses of capitalist excess widely praised by the global financial elite. Meanwhile Blair recently accepted a 'consulting' job worth $4m annually from JP Morgan as a reward for deregulating finance.

The GCHQ surveillance of foreign diplomats included the Turkish and Russian finance ministers and their entourages, and potentially that of other countries. Snowden's leaked documents in the Guardian, which contain at points the NSA logo, implicate not only Brown but also his foreign secretary David Miliband, who was referred to in the document as having a meeting on January 22nd that year to discuss the operation with officers. The latest leaked information discloses that the operation's "intent [was] to ensure that intelligence relevant to Her Majesty's Government's desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20 reaches customers at the right time and in a form which allows them to make full use of it", which demonstrates the explicitly economic intentions of the top secret activity.

The Blair and Brown governments had a poor record on civil liberties and secretive surveillance, presiding over the installation of between two to four million CCTV cameras (20% of all the CCTV cameras in the world) and attempting to legislation for a 42 day period in which the state could hold individuals arrested without charge, with habeas corpus suspended. However, these leaks present a different level of privacy invasion, not merely spying on British citizens for the NSA but also on official guests. The current coalition government has already turned its back on its 2010 campaign pledge to “reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion”, and now faces further pressure to answer whether it intends to distance itself from the activity of Gordon Brown's government; an act which seems unlikely, given Foreign Secretary William Hague's reluctance two weeks ago to condemn the collaboration between GCHQ and the NSA.

The fallout of these latest leaks has on the first day been limited to accusations of foul play by the Turkish, South African and Russian administrations. However, its implications appear to already be stretching further as the embattled Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used the story in a speech to bolster his widely ridiculed claims that his administration's present difficulty with internal anti-inequality protests is the result of a global conspiracy.

Meanwhile the leaks could very well cause trouble for Britain's broader political establishment, which has already lost credibility recently due to scandals about parliamentary expenses and lobbying in the House of Lords, as well as a wide suspicion amongst the British public that each of the three main parties is to further the interests of financiers in the City of London. Since the nature of the latest leaks is specifically economic, they could lead to speculation in Britain and the United States about just who exactly Gordon Brown was spying for, and how that might have impacted the decision to bail out Wall Street without any meaningful resultant regulation.


The Free Press welcomes London-based Lawrence Richards as our new foreign correspondent. Lawrence is a student at Goldsmith's College, University of London and the proud human companion of a pit-bull named Ginger.