Berlin accuses Washington of cold war tactics over snooping

05.07.2013 15:36

Transatlantic relations plunged at
the weekend as Berlin, Brussels and
Paris all demanded that
Washington account promptly and
fully for new disclosures on the
scale of the US National Security
Agency's spying on its European
As further details emerged of the
huge reach of US electronic
snooping on Europe, Berlin accused
Washington of treating it like the
Soviet Union, "like a cold war
The European commission called
on the US to clarify allegations that
the NSA, operating from Nato
headquarters a few miles away in
Brussels, had infiltrated secure
telephone and computer networks
at the venue for EU summits in the
Belgian capital. The fresh
revelations in the Guardian and
allegations in the German
publication Der Spiegel triggered
outrage in Germany and in the
European parliament and
threatened to overshadow
negotiations on an ambitious
transatlantic free-trade pact worth
hundreds of billions due to open
next week.
The reports of NSA snooping on
Europe - and on Germany in
particular - went well beyond
previous revelations of electronic
spying said to be focused on
identifying suspected terrorists,
extremists and organised criminals.
Der Spiegel reported that it had
seen documents and slides from the
NSA whistleblower Edward
Snowden indicating that US
agencies bugged the offices of the
EU in Washington and at the UN in
New York. They are also accused of
directing an operation from Nato
headquarters in Brussels to
infiltrate the telephone and email
networks at the EU's Justus Lipsius
building in the Belgian capital, the
venue for EU summits and home of
the European council.
Citing documents it said it had
"partly seen", the magazine
reported that more than five years
ago security officers at the EU had
noticed several missed calls
apparently targeting the remote
maintenance system in the building
that were traced to NSA offices
within the Nato compound in
Less than three months before a
German general election, the
impact of the fresh disclosures is
likely to be strongest in Germany
which, it emerged, is by far the
biggest target in Europe for the
NSA's Prism programme scanning
phone and internet traffic and
capturing and storing the
The documents reviewed by Der
Spiegel showed that Germany was
treated in the same US spying
category as China, Iraq or Saudi
Arabia, while the UK, Canada,
Australia, and New Zealand were
deemed to be allies not subject to
remotely the same level of
Germany's justice minister, Sabine
called for an explanation from the
US authorities. "If the media
reports are true, it is reminiscent
of the actions of enemies during the
cold war," she was quoted as saying
in the German newspaper Bild. "It
is beyond imagination that our
friends in the US view Europeans as
the enemy."
France later also asked the US for
an explanation. The foreign
minister, Laurent Fabius, said:
"These acts, if confirmed, would be
completely unacceptable.
"We expect the American
authorities to answer the legitimate
concerns raised by these press
revelations as quickly as possible."
Washington and Brussels are
scheduled to open ambitious free-
trade talks next week after years of
arduous preparation. Senior
officials in Brussels are worried
that the talks will be setback by the
NSA scandal. "Obviously we will
need to see what is the impact on
the trade talks," said a senior
official in Brussels.
A second senior official said the
allegations would cause a furore in
the European parliament and could
then hamper relations with the US.
However, Robert Madelin, one of
Britain's most senior officials in
the European commission, tweeted
that EU trade negotiators always
operated on the assumption that
their communications were listened
A spokesman for the European
commission said: "We have
immediately been in contact with
the US authorities in Washington
and in Brussels and have
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."
There were calls from MEPs for
Herman Van Rompuy, president of
the European council - who has his
office in the building allegedly
targeted by the US - and José
Manuel Barroso, president of the
European commission, to urgently
appear before the chamber to
explain what steps they were taking
in response to the growing body of
evidence of US and British
electronic surveillance of Europe
through the Prism and Tempora
Guy Verhofstadt, the former
Belgian prime minister and leader
of the liberals in the European
parliament, said: "This is absolutely
unacceptable and must be stopped
immediately. The American data-
collection mania has achieved
another quality by spying on EU
officials and their meetings. Our
trust is at stake."
Luxembourg's foreign minister,
Jean Asselborn, told Der Spiegel: "If
these reports are true, it's
disgusting." Asselborn called for
guarantees from the highest level of
the US government that the
snooping and spying be halted
Martin Schulz, the head of the
European parliament, said: "I am
deeply worried and shocked about
the allegations of US authorities
spying on EU offices. If the
allegations prove to be true, it
would be an extremely serious
matter which will have a severe
impact on EU-US relations.
"On behalf of the European
parliament, I demand full
clarification and require further
information speedily from the US
authorities with regard to these
There were also calls for John
Kerry, the US secretary of state on
his way back from the Middle East,
to make a detour to Brussels to
explain US activities.
"We need to get clarifications and
transparency at the highest level,"
said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch
liberal MEP. "Kerry should come to
Brussels on his way back from the
Middle East. This is essential for the
transatlantic alliance."
The documents suggesting the
clandestine bugging operations
were from September 2010, Der
Spiegel said.
Der Spiegel quoted the Snowden
documents as revealing that the US
taps half a billion phone calls,
emails and text messages in
Germany a month. "We can attack
the signals of most foreign third-
class partners, and we do," Der
Spiegel quoted a passage in the NSA
document as saying.
It quoted the document from 2010
as stating that "the European Union
is an attack target".
On an average day, the NSA
monitored about 15m German
phone connections and 10m
internet datasets, rising to 60m
phone connections on busy days,
the report said.
Officials in Brussels said this
reflected Germany's weight in the
EU and probably also entailed
elements of industrial and trade
espionage. "The Americans are
more interested in what
governments think than the
European commission. And they
make take the view that Germany
determines European policy," said
one of the senior officials.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German
Green party MEP and a specialist in
data protection, told the Guardian
the revelations were outrageous.
"It's not about political answers
now, but rule of law, fundamental
constitutional principles and rights
of European citizens," he said.
"We now need a debate on
surveillance measures as a whole
looking at underlying technical
agreements. I think what we can
do as European politicians now is
to protect the rights of citizens and
their rights to control their own
personal data."
Germany has some of the toughest
data privacy laws in Europe, with
the issue highly sensitive not least
because of the comprehensive
surveillance by the Stasi in former
communist east Germany as well as
the wartime experience with the
Gestapo under the Nazis.
Der Spiegel noted that so far in the
NSA debacle, the chancellor, Angela
Merkel, had asked only "polite"
questions of the Americans but that
the new disclosures on the
sweeping scale of the surveillance
of Germany could complicate her
bid for a third term in September.