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NSA hacked Mexican President's emails

The government of Mexico has been revealed as the latest victim of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and its widespread spying operations, according to the latest reports. Targets include the private email accounts of former President Felipe Calderon, and that of the current sitting President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The German news source Spiegel Online (opens in new tab) says its evidence for the allegations was among the leaks released by Edward Snowden (opens in new tab) in June of this year. According to reports, the NSA systematically infiltrated a high-level computer network belonging to the Mexican government, spying on politicians and cabinet members.

This makes Mexico the latest in a series of countries to express outrage at the NSA's overseas intelligence-gathering techniques, and coincides with the revelation that the NSA spied on millions of phone calls in France.

The Mexican attacks, codenamed "Flatliquid", were apparently carried out by the NSA's special operations unit, known as "Tailored Access Operations" (TAO), which typically gathers intelligence on computer systems used by enemies of the United States.

A document, dated May 2010, and marked "top secret" boasted that "TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon's public email account."

The unit considered its operation to be a "lucrative source" of intelligence, and gathered information on "diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico's political system and internal stability."

The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement deploring the practice, which it described as "unacceptable, illegal and against Mexican and international law." It went on to say that "in a relationship between neighbours and partners there is no place for the actions that allegedly took place."

TAO's information-gathering abilities have hit headlines before. Bloomberg Businessweek (opens in new tab) reported in May that the amount of data harvested by the unit from foreign computer networks has grown to over 2 petabytes an hour - nearly 2.1 million gigabytes.

The NSA has likely been closely monitoring the Mexican government's approach to its war on the drugs barons. When he was elected last year, President Peña Nieto vowed to remove the country's military from the operations against the cartels, and the approach has caused some consternation in Washington.

This isn't the first revelation of spying operations against high-level figures in Mexico, or even against the current President. In September, Brazilian television network TV Globo revealed that the NSA had monitored Peña Nieto and others around him during his presidential campaign in the summer of 2012. In the wake of those allegations, the US Ambassador was summoned, and Mexico demanded an investigation.

Revelations of the spying agency's actions have also angered others in South America. In September, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called off a planned trip to the US after allegations that the NSA had intercepted her emails and those of her close personal aides, as well as that of the Brazilian national oil company, Petrobras. She later decried the practice in a blistering speech in the UN General Assembly.

She alleged that the ""Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately," and went to say that "tampering in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law."

Brazil is now moving to force companies that hold information on Brazilian users to base their data centres inside the country (opens in new tab). Many other countries are making efforts to shift the flow of their data (opens in new tab) away from US providers.

Nearly five months after the first leaks released by Edward Snowden, the disclosures continue to make the news and cause ructions in the diplomatic community.

Image: Flickr (Enrique Peña Nieto)

Paul has worked as an archivist, editor and journalist, and has a PhD in the cultural and literary significance of ruins. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The BBC, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Discover Magazine, and he was previously Staff Writer and Journalist at ITProPortal.