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Explanation sought on US surveillance

June 14, 2013

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Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry.—File Photo
Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has sought explanation from the United States over reports that its citizens have been a major target of intelligence surveillance and asked the latter to respect the privacy of its citizens.

The apprehensions were conveyed to US Chargé d’Affaires Richard Hoagland by senior Foreign Office officials at a recent meeting.

“We have taken up the matter with the US to ascertain veracity of the news and obtain facts of the matter. We are awaiting their response,” Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry said at the weekly briefing on Thursday.

A Guardian report earlier this week claimed that information obtained from the US National Security Agency’s data-mapping tool ‘Boundless Informant’ had shown that Pakistan was second among the countries most subjected to US intelligence surveillance with almost 13.5 billion reports in just one month — March.

'Boundless Informant’ catalogues the volume of intelligence being collected from different countries. Most of the intelligence has been gathered from computer and telephone networks. The tool, however, did not detail what intelligence had been collected by the NSA.

The country subject to more intense watch was Iran where 14 billion reports were obtained during the same period.

A senior official told Dawn that the Foreign Office, though unsure about the authenticity of the leak, was concerned about the intelligence, if any, being used against the Pakistanis living in the US and about violation of their privacy. The official said Pakistan considered the intelligence scam to be an internal matter of the United States.

Washington is facing growing international pressure to explain the previously undisclosed surveillance programme identified in the documents leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as ‘Prism’.

The disclosure is also likely to complicate relations with the US as the new government tries to build a working relationship with Washington.

Pakistani intelligence agencies, a source said, were particularly upset over the revelation about the intensity of the surveillance.

When US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Pakistan this month, he will be confronted with tough questions over drone war and the paranoid snooping programme.

Mr Kerry is due in Islamabad either on June 25 or 26.

The new government has taken a hard line on the drone attacks which have always been resented by Pakistan.

“There is an across-the-board political consensus with regard to Pakistan’s position on the issue of drone strikes. ...this matter is receiving priority attention of the government,” the FO spokesman said.