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GCHQ and NSA Spying on Pakistan?

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By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security 

Last week, Edward Snowden made several statements about the NSA, as he usually does, and the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ claiming that these agencies wish to control the phones of the public. Lost in much of the typical nonsense one expects to hear from Mr. Snowden, there was the claim that these two signals intelligence agencies were actively engaged in spying on Pakistan. More specifically, Snowden claimed that the eavesdropping was conducted through an exploit in the Cisco routers employed by the Pakistanis.

As one would expect this statement was quickly picked up by the Pakistani press though the newspapers that covered the story didn’t offer any analysis or speculation almost as if the mere existence of the revelation was sensational enough. Perhaps the knowledge of such activities are simply expected even if they cannot always be prevented by the targeted state. Unlike the revelations of NSA activities in the west, Pakistan didn’t summon the U.S. or U.K. ambassadors over the incident. The Pakistani governments response couldn’t so much be described as muted, rather it was simply nonexistent.

Granted, the government in Islamabad has many pressing matters to deal with and such a revelation may not rise to the point that the Prime Minister would address it. The financial assistance that comes from the U.S. and the U.K may play a role as well, but Pakistan is a nation-state and espionage is to be expected. Especially since both the accused nations have troops engaged in Afghanistan. This isn’t to suggest that the Pakistanis don’t care, rather the situation is simply part of the larger, complicated relationship between all the players.

For their part the U.S. and U.K. have a vested interest in inside knowledge of The Pakistani government. Islamabad has long been known to have extensive ties with militant groups in the region including Taliban elements and Kashmiri groups. Additionally, Pakistan has been accused of orchestrating terrorist attacks such as the Mumbai attack in 2008. Signals intercepts of the terrorists cell phone communications were particularly damning. Continuing to monitor such communications is vital to the U.S. and U.K.

There is also the question of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and government stability. It’s certainly not in the interest of the region or the world for that matter for the government to lose control over any aspect of its nuclear weapons. Pakistan itself is so concerned over the myriad of problems that it keeps much of its strategic weapons disassembled.

All told, there are many reasons why Pakistan is monitored and those same reasons can serve to explain Islamabad’s silence. This is simply not going to change in the short term.

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