Europeans voice anger over reports of spying by US on its allies

Europeans voice anger over reports of spying by US on its allies

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London:  European officials and politicians reacted angrily on Sunday to reports that the United States has been spying on its European Union allies, saying the claims could threaten impending talks with Washington on an important trade agreement.

The latest accusations surfaced in the online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which reported Saturday that US agencies had monitored the offices of the EU in New York and Washington. Der Spiegel said information about the spying appeared in documents obtained by Edward J. Snowden, the former American intelligence contractor, and seen in part by the magazine.

On Sunday, the online edition of the British newspaper The Guardian reported additional details about the surveillance program. The newspaper said that one document it had obtained listed 38 embassies and diplomatic missions in Washington and New York, describing them as "targets." It detailed a broad range of spying methods used against one, including bugs implanted in electronic communications gear and the collection of transmissions using specialized antennae.

The list of targets included the EU's missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as those of several other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey, The Guardian reported.

The reports came at a time when there was already considerable tension between the United States and its European allies over Snowden's earlier revelations of apparent American spying on officials of allied governments and the gathering of data on electronic communications by millions of people around the world.

In the latest allegations, the documents seen by The Guardian suggest that the aim of the eavesdropping against the EU's office in Washington was to gather inside knowledge of policy differences on global issues and other potential disagreements among member countries, the newspaper said. Catherine Ashton, the EU's top foreign policy official, said in a written statement on Sunday that the union was seeking "urgent clarification of the veracity of and facts surrounding these allegations."

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said in a statement that he was "deeply worried and shocked." He added, "If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations."

The United States and the EU are scheduled to begin talks on a trans-Atlantic trade agreement over the summer and to complete them by November 2014. Those talks would be threatened by the espionage revelations, according to Viviane Reding, the EU's commissioner for justice.

"We cannot negotiate over a big trans-Atlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators," Reding said at a meeting in Luxembourg on Sunday. "The American authorities should eliminate any such doubt swiftly."

American officials declined to directly address the allegations on Sunday. In Washington, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence wrote in an email, "The United States government will respond appropriately to the European Union through our diplomatic channels," as well as through a forum for American and European intelligence specialists that the United  States proposed creating several weeks ago.

"While we are not going to comment publicly on specific alleged intelligence activities, as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," the spokesman wrote.

Michael V. Hayden, the former director of both the National Security Agency and the CIA, pushed back at the European anger on Sunday in an appearance on the CBS program "Face the Nation," saying in effect that all countries spy.

"No. 1: the United States does conduct espionage," Hayden said. "No. 2: our Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans' privacy, is not an international treaty. And No. 3: any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing."

According to Der Spiegel, the NSA installed listening devices in EU diplomatic offices in downtown Washington and tapped into its computer network. The Guardian reported that the eavesdropping involved three different operations focused on the office's 90 staff members. Two were electronic implants and one involved the use of antennas to collect transmissions.

"In this way, the Americans were able to access discussions in EU rooms, as well as emails and internal documents on computers," Der Spiegel reported.

The American code name for a similar eavesdropping operation aimed at the EU's mission to the United Nations is "Perdido," The Guardian reported. That operation involved the collection of data transmitted by bugs placed inside electronic devices, and another covert operation appeared to yield copies of everything on computer hard drives at the mission, the newspaper reported. Among the documents the newspaper said it had obtained from Snowden was a floor plan of the mission, in midtown Manhattan.

Der Spiegel also suggested that eavesdropping was conducted in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, where representatives of EU member nations have offices. It was not the first report of spying in that building: there were reports in 2003 that foreign intelligence agencies had planted listening devices there, and it is widely assumed that among the thousands of diplomats working in Brussels, a number are intelligence officers.

In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday that the government had urgently demanded an explanation from the American authorities. The reported American spying, if confirmed, would be "completely unacceptable," he said in a statement.

The loudest criticism came from Germany, which was not on the published list of target countries, but where privacy issues are a matter of political significance.

"If the media reports are accurate, then this recalls the methods used by enemies during the Cold War," said the German justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, according to The Associated Press. "It is beyond comprehension that our friends in the United States see Europeans as enemies."

Birgit Sippel, a Social Democrat and member of a European Parliament committee on civil liberties, wrote in a Twitter posting that she would like "to suspend upcoming negotiations with the USA. and to review existing agreements."

Rebecca Harms, a leader of the Green Party in the European Parliament, called for a special committee to investigate the claims and the possible cancellation of existing agreements between the EU and the United States concerning bank transaction information and airline passenger data.

© 2013, The New York Times News Service
Story First Published: July 01, 2013 08:25 IST

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