Singapore, Malaysia in spy dust-up

Kuala Lumpur summons envoy over reports of NSA snooping

AFP-JIJI, Bloomberg

Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassador from neighboring Singapore on Tuesday over a media report that the city-state helped with U.S.-Australian surveillance in the region.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had already summoned the heads of the U.S. and Australian missions earlier in November in protest at reports that a vast U.S.-led surveillance network included a listening post in America’s Malaysian embassy.

Malaysia is “extremely concerned” about the report on Singapore, Anifah said Tuesday.

“If those allegations are eventually proven, it is certainly a serious matter that the government of Malaysia strongly rejects and abhors,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry said Singapore’s high commissioner (ambassador), Ong Keng Yong, met Othman Hashim, the ministry’s secretary-general.

The spying allegation has generated anger among Malaysians as Singapore is a close trading partner and fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi appeared to try to cool the row by saying that Kuala Lumpur is prepared to share intelligence with Singapore.

“In principle, no other country should be trying to obtain the secrets of another nation,” he was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper.

“But we are ready to share the information if the intelligence concerns these countries, so they should respect us as a neighboring country,” he added.

Monday’s report in the Sydney Morning Herald said Singapore and South Korea played key roles in a “Five Eyes” intelligence network grouping the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

It quoted a top-secret U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) map that it said was published by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

As a major hub for regional telecommunications traffic, high-tech Singapore was an important link in the surveillance network, it said.

The United States is struggling to dampen a global controversy over its eavesdropping activities.

Based on leaks by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the revelations have included reports that the spy agency monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone and sparked a trans-Atlantic rift.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported earlier this month that a map leaked by Snowden showed 90 U.S. surveillance facilities at diplomatic missions worldwide, including in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, sparking anger in some of those countries.

Malaysia said in a statement last month it had sought clarification from U.S. Ambassador Joseph Yun following the report of the 90 surveillance sites. Yun said he’d received instructions to review the scope of surveillance, it said, without giving details.

“I don’t think we should be surprised that these sorts of diplomatic statecraft are being practiced, even by the closest of neighbors,” said Eugene Tan, an associate law professor at Singapore Management University. “The question now is whether some of the intelligence gathering may have crossed accepted norms.”

The reports could also spur friction between Singapore and Indonesia, Tan said. “The Indonesians would probably be concerned whether the information is also being shared with Singapore intelligence, besides the Australians.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has written to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as he seeks to repair relations after claims the phones of Indonesia’s leaders were tapped.