Berlin: Britain`s GCHQ intelligence agency has systematically spied on foreign diplomats and politicians by monitoring their hotel bookings around the world, a German media report said.
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which worked closely with the US National Security Agency (NSA), infiltrated the reservation systems of around 350 luxury hotels popular among diplomats and government officials with the help of a sophisticated programme code-named "Royal Concierge", weekly news magazine Der Spiegel reported.
The top secret programme automatically checked whether the e-mail address of a visitor on the hotel booking system matched with the address of his government and with this information the GCHQ could take the necessary steps to bug the concerned hotel room, to tap its telephones or to eavesdrop into the electronic data transfer, the news weekly said.
Reports on GCHQ`s snooping into the travel plans of diplomats and politicians are the latest revelations from a trove of documents on the extensive surveillance operations of American and British intelligence agencies that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden took with him when he fled the US at the end of May.
Der Spiegel said GCHQ has been using the search and analyse programme for more than three years to track diplomats and government officials among hotel guests.
This gave the agency ability to spy on the activities of diplomats and government delegations visiting various cities around the world to attend conferences, negotiations or other events.
The report said, documents leaked by Snowden revealed that whenever a reservation confirmation is sent from one of the hotels under observation to a government or a diplomatic email address, "Royal Concierge" sends an alert to the concerned GCHQ analysts.
This advance information of a hotel guest presented the snooping agency a wide range of intelligence gathering capabilities, which could go beyond the realm of modern spying, the report said.
For guests of "high interest", the agency deploys some elite units which possess a range of "specialist technologies" which are capable of gathering intelligence information in areas where conventional methods have no access, according to the documents.
In the case of "governmental hard targets", intelligence gathering may also involve "Humint" (human intelligence) operations or deployment of human spies to listen in to conversations outside the hotel room, the documents said.
Der Spiegel said the latest revelations cast doubts on claims by the heads of Britain`s three intelligence agencies at a parliamentary committee meeting last week that their surveillance operations are aimed at combating terrorism.
The documents showed a prototype of "Royal Concierge" was first tested in 2010 and it apparently was so successful that further development continued, the news weekly said.