Latest Wikileaks documents: Irish citizen working for the UN Refugee Agency was targeted by the NSA

Irish Citizen, Bernard Doyle, a representative with the UNHCR

It’s still early days but it appears from the latest Wikileaks document release that an innocent Irish citizen, Bernard Doyle, was targeted by the NSA. Doyle is currently the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “Regional Representative for Central Asia.”

Latest Wikileaks Release showing “NSA high priority targets for the UN”

S2C32 is the NSA unit responsible for targeting the UN. The heading “Information_Need” suggests that Doyle was targeted since 2003. Most likely this was because during this time period, Doyle was “Head of UNHCR Sub-Office in Herat, Afghanistan.” before moving on to be the UNHCR Representative in Iran in 2011. The UNHCR does vital work in Afghanistan with over 1.4 million refugees supported through its support programs.

UNHCR’s extensive work supporting refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Nothing new here…

Regular readers of the various post-Snowden releases will find it no surprise that NGOs, the UN or its various agencies (including the children’s agency UNICEF) have been targeted for digital penetration by the NSA and GCHQ.

Indeed, a number of NGO workers in various parts of the world have reported to Security First that they have been targeted by Western governments/businesses for human intelligence penetration attempts — particularly in countries where they have significant interests.

Why do governments want to target NGOs?

Primarily because they have access to physical locations, people and information where government intelligence gathering operations cannot reach. For example, many NGOs are the only organisation’s with reliable data on drone strikes. This would be particularly useful for military planners.

So why does this matter?

This is why it matters.

Polio, once nearly eradicated in Afghanistan and Pakistan — has re-emerged.

It re-emerged because US intelligence abused goodwill towards local NGOs in order to launch a fake polio eradication scheme to gather intelligence and DNA during the hunt for Bin Laden. While no one is going to shed many tears over the death of a mass murderer —

short term tactical policy or intelligence/military objectives risk undermining long-term strategic aims.

NGOs are increasingly collecting large amounts of data on the people who they are caring for (which many are struggling to properly collect, manage utilise and secure) and if it becomes increasingly seen by the recipients on the ground that the information is vulnerable to outside digital/human penetration, then the NGO worker on the ground becomes a target, people are killed and important projects with vital long-term strategy impact are damaged. Already most NGO security professionals will recognise that they are being seen less and less as neutral observers and increasingly as targets for crime, arrest, kidnap, murder and terrorism. Also, NGOs are increasingly concerned about sharing sharing sensitive security relevant information with other NGOs (as they don’t know if they can trust them), which means that many people die due to preventable incidents.

Attacks on Aid Workers are rising. Source:

Globally, reported attacks on aid workers (who are just one subset of the NGO community that also includes human rights defenders, environmental defenders etc) are on the increase and it this is happening all over the world.

Location of attacks on aid workers. Source:
What happens when local populations no longer think the UN and NGO communities are neutral

Even if we set aside the moral argument about spying on people trying to genuinely do good for humanity and unfortunately just speak about realpolitik, policy-makers authorising intelligence operations against NGO’s need to consider the damage this may cause to their long-term ability to actually achieve their objectives. For example, by abusing the UN or NGOs for intelligence operations in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran or Iraq, the policy-maker has damaged their neutrality and actually hampered their ability to conduct their work. No matter what the latest Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) fad, modern militaries have generally shown themselves incapable of meeting the reconstruction and recovery needs of local populations without the help of the local and international NGO community. The targeting of an innocent Irish citizen and the UNHCR is just another example of this short-term thinking which may potentially have devastating consequences for the millions of innocent refugees who rely on its services.

Want more security advice on working as a journalist, aid worker or human rights defender?

Security First just launched Umbrella, a free Android app to help journalists and human rights defenders manage their physical and digital security on the move. It’s open source and has been code audited. You can download it from the Google Play Store. F-Droid download is coming in the next few weeks.

We also regularly train journalists and human rights defenders ranging from some of the largest NGOs in the world, to individuals activists — on digital, physical and source protection security issues. For more information check out our website at