The documents do not specify whether the journalists would be aware or unaware that they were being used to funnel information.
Eric King, a lawyer who teaches IT law at the London School of Economics and is head of research at Privacy International, a British civil liberties advocacy group, said it was “remarkable” that the British government thought it had the right to hack computers, since none of the U.
K.’s intelligence agencies has a “clear lawful authority” to launch their own attacks.
In a set of operations that intelligence sources say were designed to stop weapons transactions and nuclear proliferation, JTRIG used negative information to attack private companies, sour business relationships and ruin deals.
The British cyber spies also used blog posts and information spread via blogs in an operation against Iran.
The existence of the Royal Concierge program was first reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel in 2013, which said that Snowden documents showed that British spies had monitored bookings of at least 350 upscale hotels around the world for more than three years “to target, search and analyze reservations to detect diplomats and government officials.” According to the documents obtained by NBC News, the intelligence agency uses the information to spy on human targets through “close access technical operations,” which can include listening in on telephone calls and tapping hotel computers as well as sending intelligence officers to observe the targets in person at the hotels. According to intelligence sources, spies considered using electronic snooping to identify non-British journalists who would then be manipulated to feed information to the target of a covert campaign.
Apparently, the journalist’s job would provide access to the targeted individual, perhaps for an interview.
The spy unit’s cyber attack methods include the same “denial of service” or DDOS tactic used by computer hackers to shut down government and corporate websites.
Other documents taken from the NSA by Snowden and previously published by NBC News show that JTRIG, which is part of the NSA’s British counterpart, the cyber spy agency known as GCHQ, used a DDOS attack to shut down Internet chat rooms used by members of the hacktivist group known as Anonymous.
“GCHQ has no clear authority to send a virus or conduct cyber attacks,” said King.