The National Security Agency eavesdropped on the Mexico government by systematically infiltrating an e-mail server and hacking the e-mail account of a former Mexico president, according to a classified documents reviewed by Der Spiegel.
The e-mail domain, which was also used by other members of Mexico's cabinet, contained "diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico's political system and internal stability," according to a 2010 report provided to the German newspaper by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The hack of former president Felipe Calderon's e-mail was conducted by an agency department called Tailored Access Operations and proved to be a "lucrative source" of information, the newspaper said the documents revealed.
During two weeks during the summer of 2012, the foreign surveillance agency reviewed the cell phone communications of then-presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and "nine of his close associates," according to a internal agency presentation reviewed by the newspaper. Software was used to identify the candidate's most relevant contacts, which were also singled out for surveillance.
In all, the agency intercepted 85,489 text messages, some of which were sent by Peña Nieto, who is Mexico's current president. The process "might find a needle in a haystack," the analysts noted, adding that it could be done "in a repeatable and efficient way."
The NSA declined to comment on the specific allegations included in the report.
"We are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," the NSA said in a statement Sunday. "As the president said in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, we've begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."
President Obama, who has defended the NSA's surveillance programs as a necessary tool to confront terrorism, outlined four initiatives in August to address concerns among Americans and foreigners regarding the legality of the agency's activities. Among those initiatives are "appropriate reforms" to the Patriot Act and a focus on increasing the public's confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides judicial review of intelligence activities.