October 30, 2013 – 15:24
The city of Geneva has been in the spotlight this week as part of the latest National Security Agency (NSA) spying allegations. Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell tells swissinfo.ch about the possible extent of US surveillance in Switzerland.
The reporter and author has extensive experience covering state surveillance and privacy issues. He acted as a consultant for the German Der Spiegel magazine in their latest investigation into top secret NSA listening installations, protected from scrutiny by diplomatic immunity, which are used to conduct massive electronic listening, usually from the top floors of US embassies.
This week Spiegel claimed, based on a 2010 document provided by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that the US embassy in Geneva houses a powerful joint NSA-CIA electronic monitoring station.
The Geneva “Special Collection Service” (SCS) is said to be one of around 80 SCS locations, 19 of which are in Europe in cities such as Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Rome and Prague (see video). The US embassy and the Swiss Intelligence Service refused to comment on the Spiegel article (freeform).
swissinfo.ch: What is so special about the Geneva site?
Duncan Campbell: I first noticed the electronic intelligence correction on the roof of the US embassy when I came to lecture at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in 2002-2003.
The location in Geneva is pristine, in the centre of the United Nations and diplomatic district in the east of the city where any kind of electronic signal, either from the UN, international organisation, embassy, business or consultancy, if that signal leaks out they will get it.
swissinfo.ch: A recent German TV documentary on ZDF, reported in Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper, claimed that since the NSA took over a monitoring station in Bad Aibling near Munich in 2006 it now has direct access to listening stations in Denmark and Switzerland, namely at the Swiss towns of Leuk and at Heimenschwand. The documentary claims there is a secret agreement between the NSA and Denmark/Switzerland to exchange data. Is this plausible?
D.C.: Denmark definitely. For Switzerland I’m also certain there is an exchange agreement with the NSA. Indeed, there is a lot of American involvement in the Leuk station. Bad Aibling has always been an NSA base but has transitioned to being run by [Germany’s] Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) but with some American presence. So I think the story is plausible but I don’t know if it’s true.