MobiTel Named in Leaked Australian Phone Tap Document

When one of Australia’s top intelligence agencies in 2009 presented staff with a slideshow detailing their attempts to intercept mobile telephone calls by Indonesia’s president, first lady and top officials, it also revealed other possible spying targets—including one of Cambodia’s largest mobile operators, MobiTel, according to a document leaked by U.S. National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Listed as top secret by the Aus­tralian Defense Signals Directorate (DSD), now known as the Australian Signals Directorate, the document, a slideshow dated November 2009 and first obtained by The Guardian earlier this week, loosely details the interception of mobile phone calls of Indonesia’s leaders as 3G technology was introduced in Southeast Asia.

The Australian spy agency’s slides list several countries in the region where similar phone interception could be attempted among the 16 phone networks where 3G technology was or would soon be made available.

One of the target networks for Australia was Cambodia’s locally-owned MobiTel as well as the now-defunct operator Shinawatra, later known as Mfone, according to the slides.

MobiTel is Cambodia’s largest operator in terms of revenue and is owned by Royal Group, whose chairman and CEO is Kith Meng. Mfone was owned by Thaicom, whose holding company, Shin Corporation, was founded by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The other 14 networks listed by the spy agency are in Indo­nesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

The document, however, does not reveal whether the Australian government took any further action to tap phones on MobiTel’s or Shinawatra’s networks, only listing the companies’ names and the dates of their 3G implementation.

The main focus of the Australian Signals Directorate document, titled 3G: Impact and Update, is the targeting of the mobile telephones of Indonesia’s president, first lady and eight other Indonesian officials, including the vice president, spokesmen and state secretary

But the last slide in the spy agency’s presentation, entitled DSD Way Forward, appears to encourage staff to replicate the operation conducted on Indonesia’s leaders in other regional countries with 3G technologies.

“Choose an option and apply it to a target (like Indonesian Leadership),” it states.

An email seeking comment and a phone call to the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh and the Australian Department of Defense in Canberra went unanswered Thursday.

MobiTel CEO Ian Watson said that he was unaware of his company’s inclusion on the leaked Australian government document and declined comment.

Khay Khun Heng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, declined to comment, adding: “I believe that no officials can answer about this case immediately.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that while the government was aware of such spying allegations, they did not damage Cambodia’s relations with other countries.

“We heard that something was going on, but we don’t have any solid proof on the effect it has had on national security. We do monitor and investigate concerns about national security. But our position, normally, is that we keep a good relation with governments,” he said.

So far, the fallout from the spying scandal has only stressed already-strained ties between Indonesia and Australia. Indonesia has recalled its ambassador from Canberra and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has taken to Twitter to vent his anger over the phone-tapping, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s lack of remorse in the matter.

The revelations come about three weeks after a separate leaked document revealed the U.S. spied on countries in the region from its own embassies as well as its allies’ foreign diplomatic posts. In one case, the U.S. used Australia’s Embassy in Indonesia to monitor radio, television and Internet communications. The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh was also implicated in the spying network.

(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)

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