The NSA Discussed Spying on Nonmilitary Russian Targets in its Top Secret Newsletter

A newly released slide from Snowden Archives shows US spies conspiring to target “Russian civil targets” in 2005.
May 29, 2019, 8:41pm
Image: Vladimir Smirnov/TASS via Getty Images

A leaked post in the latest document dump from The Intercept's ‘SIDToday’ archive—a series of top secret National Security Agency newsletters provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden—reveals that the United States discussed spying on Russian nonmilitary targets with Norwegian spies.

The news illustrates how espionage on nonmilitary targets between the US and Russia goes both ways, even as the US intelligence community openly cries foul over the interference of Russian military hackers in the 2016 Presidential election.

According to the document, NSA officials met with leaders of the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) at their annual policy conference in April 2005 to discuss an array of mutual interests, one of which was targeting Russia.

“One highlight of the conference was a decision to begin, in earnest, cooperation on Russian civil targets,” says the newsletter, which came after the NSA provided Norwegian spies with a “Russia posture paper that identified our strengths and weaknesses on the Russia target.”

At the time of the NSA and NIS meeting, Russian President Valdimir Putin had recently secured his second term in elections the previous year and was consolidating his domestic power. Relations between the US and Russia were stable. Months earlier at an international summit in Slovakia, President George W. Bush and Putin had agreed to continue an open dialogue on finding ways to better integrate their commercial energy sectors.

But against the outcry of the international community, Putin was prosecuting oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which has been seen as one of the ways the Russian president brought the domestic oil and gas industry more tightly under his direct purview.

Russian energy was top of mind for the NSA and Norwegian intelligence officials, who discussed targeting Russia’s petroleum sector.

“Much of the first day of the [conference] focused on the Russia target,” reads the document, “with briefings on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oil and Gas Developments.”

The document ends by noting in vague terms how the NSA would be asking the NIS to "do many things, which they might find difficult to satisfy, but that they should push back when it is too much and be given the tools needed to help satisfy our requests if they are able to help.”

The NSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Norway—a NATO member-state sharing a border with Russia—has had generally strained relations with the Kremlin going back to the Cold War. Earlier this month, Russia accused Norway of operating a spy radar 50 kilometers from its border, which it says feeds intelligence directly to the US.