BUENOS AIRES – Documents provided by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden show that Britain tasked one of its spy agencies with thwarting Argentina’s push for sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, the object of a brief but bloody 1982 war between the two countries.
A report published jointly by The Intercept and Argentine cable and Internet news channel Todo Noticias cites e-mails, slides and internal documents from the period 2008-2011.
No later than 2009, a specialized unit of GCHQ, the British equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, began work on a plan dubbed “Operation QUITO,” aimed at preventing Argentina “from taking over the Falkland Islands.”
GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group, known by the acronym JTRIG, took the lead in the effort, which involved both intelligence collection and “effects operations.”
Information previously provided by Snowden indicate that the term “effects operations” refers to actions such as disseminating false information on the Internet.
The goals of Operation QUITO included seeking to undermine Argentine efforts to garner diplomatic support from neighboring countries in the quarrel with Britain over the South Atlantic archipelago that Latin Americans know as the Malvinas.
News of the intelligence operation came as Argentina marked the 33rd anniversary of the landing of Argentine troops in the Falklands.
Fighting officially began on May 1, 1982, with the arrival of a British task force, and ended 45 days later with the surrender of the Argentines.
The conflict claimed nearly 1,000 lives – some 700 Argentines and 255 British soldiers and sailors.
The dispute over the Falklands took on new importance in 2010 with the discovery of large offshore oil and gas deposits in the islands.
Tensions flared last week when Britain announced it was bolstering its military garrison in the Falklands in response to an ostensible Argentine plan to lease long-range bombers from Russia.
Both Argentina and Russia denied that any such deal was in the works.
Buenos Aires demands that Britain comply with a 1965 United Nations resolution describing London’s control of the Falklands – which dates from 1833 – as colonialism and calling on the parties to resolve the dispute through dialogue.
London has refused to discuss the question of sovereignty and says that the Falklanders, who are overwhelmingly in favor of remaining British, should decide their own future.