Europe demands answers on claims of US spying
Calls and email in EU diplomatic mission allegedly monitored
European Parliament president Martin Schulz demanded “full clarification” from the US, warning that, if the report was correct, the surveillance would have a “severe impact” on EU-US relations. Photograph: Reuters/Laurent Dubrule
The controversy over US surveillance tactics shifted to Europe yesterday, following reports in a German publication that the National Security Agency had bugged offices of the European Union and routinely scanned millions of emails, phone calls and text messages in individual member states.
According to Der Spiegel, the US intelligence agency installed microphones and infiltrated computer networks in the EU’s diplomatic mission to the US, and its United Nations delegation.
Half a billion communiqués
In addition, the US National Security Agency collated data from up to half a billion emails, phone calls and text messages each month in Germany alone, the publication said, adding the NSA classifies Europe as a data-collection “target”. The magazine said its information was based on documents sourced from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor on the run from a US arrest warrant.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz demanded “full clarification” from the US, warning that, if correct, it would have a “severe impact” on EU-US relations.
A European Commission spokeswoman said the EU’s European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic arm, had “immediately” been in contact with the US authorities in Washington DC and Brussels, and confronted them with the press reports. “They have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information released yesterday and will come back to us,” she said.
According to Der Spiegel, the surveillance was discovered by EU security staff, who detected infiltration of the telecoms network in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels where all EU summits are held. The infiltration was then tracked down to a building used by the NSA in the nearby Nato headquarters.
Most spied-on country
In the files, the NSA details its access to most of the major fibre-optic cables, which transmit voice and telephone data. On average days, it saves data from up to 20 million phone calls and 10 million internet connections in Germany, according to the magazine, making it the most spied-upon country in Europe.
Data shows a surveillance peak on January 7th, when 60 million German phone calls were saved in a 24-hour period. According to NSA files, Germany and 30 other countries in Europe are viewed as a potential “third-party” partner.
“We can attack the signals of most third parties – and do this, too,” according to the files cited by the magazine.
Reports prompted a protest at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie yesterday, where demonstrators held up pictures of President Barack Obama and banners reading “Yes We Scan”.
The German government said today that if the media reports of large-scale US spying were confirmed, it would be unacceptable Cold War-style behaviour between partners who require mutual trust to forge a new transatlantic trade area.
“If it is confirmed that diplomatic representations of the European Union and individual European countries have been spied upon, we will clearly say that bugging friends is unacceptable,” said chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert. “We are no longer in the Cold War.”
Germany wanted an EU-US free trade deal which would foster economic growth and job creation, Mr Seibert said, but “mutual trust is necessary in order to come to an agreement.”