New documents leaked by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden show that Britain recently spied extensively on Argentine leaders over a period of five years. Bilateral tensions remain over the UK's Falkland Islands.
A report published by the Todo Noticias (TN) news website cited documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that detailed an elaborate espionage program conducted on Argentine officials between 2006 and 2011.
The surveillance was said to have been in a bid to ensure the security of the Falklands, which remain in British hands more than 30 years after Argentina briefly seized them by force.
The Argentine website, which is attached to a news television channel of the same name, quoted the documents as saying that Britain's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group had conducted a "long-term, far-reaching" surveillance program dubbed Operation Quito, which included efforts to tap into Argentine military and political leaders' communications, while at the time using the Internet to spread pro-British propaganda.
"The new, never-before-seen documents expose how (the UK's) most secret task forces used a dirty game and systematic disinformation to launch their cyber-offensive," the website reported. "The objective: to prevent Argentina from getting back the islands."
Snowden, who also previously worked as a computer systems administrator at the Central Intelligence Agency, has been living in exile in Russia since 2013, when he began leaking information to journalists about mass surveillance programs conducted by the US on its allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Argentine invasion, British task force
That Britain would be seeking intelligence on Argentine officials may not come as such a surprise, given the fact that Buenos Aires previously sought to take the islands, which lie just 300 miles (480 kilometers) off Argentina's coast, by force.
In 1982 Argentine forces invaded the Falklands. Britain sent a military task force, which wrested back control of the islands in a 74-day war that claimed the lives of more than 600 Argentine and 255 British servicemen.
The two countries had been at loggerheads over the islands before that war, and have been ever since.
Just last week, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the UK would bolster its defense of the islands, which the Argentines call the "Malvinas," sending, among other things, two Chinook helicopters and an improved surface-to-air missile system.
"Argentina still, sadly, maintains its claim to the islands 30 or more years after the original invasion and the war, and we have to respond to that," Fallon told Parliament.
Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman, criticized the move, describing it in a radio interview as a "provocation for Argentina and an insult to the United Nations." A number of UN resolutions have called on the two sides to negotiate over the Falklands.
The islanders themselves, however, clearly want to stay British. In a 2013 referendum, 99.8 percent of the Islands' residents voted in favor of remaining a British overseas territory.
pfd/rc (Reuters, AFP)