MTN's head office in Johannesburg. Picture: EPA/KIM LUDBROOK
MTN's head office in Johannesburg. Picture: EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

The veil has been lifted on British intelligence operatives spying on heads of state‚ businesspeople‚ diplomats‚ the military and mobile telecommunication companies in 20 African countries.

MTN was among the targets of a continent-wide eavesdropping operation carried out by the UK’s electronic surveillance agency‚ known as Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The revelations are contained in a series of articles published by French newspaper Le Monde in collaboration with investigative online publication The Intercept.

Based on a cache of data gathered by former National Security Agency operative Edward Snowden‚ they are reported to offer "unprecedented insight" into surveillance carried out on 20 countries between 2009 and 2010.

The cache contains the names people who were placed under surveillance. The agency intercepted communications as data travelled between satellites.

"These actions violated the political‚ economic and strategic sovereignty of 20 African countries‚ many of whose leaders were allies of Great Britain‚" said Le Monde.

"GCHQ also listened in on the telecommunications of foreign transnational corporations operating in Africa‚ one of their targets being Mediterranean Shipping Company‚ an Italian-Swiss logistics firm.

"Most telecommunications firms‚ including the South African company MTN‚ Saudi Telecom‚ France Télécom and Orange‚ were under surveillance‚" reported Le Monde.

Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu‚ one of the richest men on the continent‚ was targeted‚ along with former prime ministers‚ presidents‚ rebel leaders‚ banks‚ the presidential palace in Luanda‚ Angola‚ former president and warlord Charles Taylor and several African embassies. Businesspeople close to Joseph Kabila were closely monitored in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Surveillance of African diplomatic services was as widespread as the operations targeting their leaders. The British intelligence services eavesdropped on communications involving the foreign ministers of Nigeria‚ Kenya‚ Zimbabwe‚ Sudan and Libya‚ and their closest collaborators. Their e-mails were also intercepted‚" Le Monde reported.

GCHQ declined to answer questions from Le Monde.

Please sign in or register to comment.