EU bugging row: Fears of Europe and US rift

Edward Snowden has caused a stir in the US. Picture: Getty
Edward Snowden has caused a stir in the US. Picture: Getty
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EU offices in Brussels – as well as its offices in Washington – were allegedly bugged by US spies as part of its massive internet surveillance programme that has created a diplomatic rift between Europe and America.

Der Spiegel magazine today reported details of the bugging operation were based on confidential documents accessed through US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who revealed the existence of the so-called PRISM programme operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

A document dated September 2010 and classed as “strictly confidential” describes how the NSA kept tabs on the European Union’s diplomatic mission in Washington with microphones installed in the building and the computer network nobbled, “giving the agency access to emails and internal documents”.

“The EU representation at the United Nations was subject to similar surveillance,” Der Spiegel said, adding that the leaked documents explicitly referred to the Europeans as “targets”.

In Brussels the headquarters of the EU was targeted. Five years ago security experts working for the union discovered telephone and online bugging devices at the building, following on from a 2003 incident when the EU announced it had discovered phone taps in the building targeting the offices of several countries, including Germany and France.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: “We have immediately been in contact with the US authorities in Washington DC and in Brussels and have confronted them with the press reports. They have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information and will come back to us.”

The US taps half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month and has classed its biggest European ally as a target similar to China, the report claimed.

The document Der Spiegel cited showed that the US categorised Germany as a “third-class” partner and that surveillance there was stronger than in any other EU country.

“We can attack the signals of most foreign third-class partners, and we do it too,” the magazine quoted a passage in the NSA document as saying.

In France, Der Spiegel reported, the US taps about 2 million connection data a day. Only Canada, Australia, Britain and New Zealand were explicitly exempted from spy attacks.

European Parliament chief Martin Schulz said more information was needed but if the spying allegations proved correct, “it’s a huge scandal”.

“It would be a big strain on the relations between the EU and the US,” he added.

Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn said US spying was “out of control”, adding: “The US would do better to monitor its intelligence services instead of its allies.”

The top-secret PRISM programme collects and analyses information from internet and phone users around the world.

The European bloc earlier demanded swift answers from Washington about the programme, warning of “grave adverse consequences” for the rights of EU citizens.