The Influential German magazine Der Spiegel revealed during the weekend that the United States National Security Agency bugged the communications of the European Union and some of the United States’ closest allies, as well as international bodies. The reaction is shaping up to be furious. The new revelations also undermine the U.S. government’s argument that the surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden, who had been working for NSA contractor Booze Allen Hamilton, is essential to fighting terrorism.
Der Spiegel, basing itself on Snowden’s material, says that the surveillance of online and telephone communications targeted European Union offices in Washington D.C., at the European Union embassy to the United Nations in New York, and at the organization’s main headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
The new revelations suggest that the NSA had put some of the United States’ closest allies in Europe under surveillance. There have, according to the story, over 500 intercepts of German communications per month.
Some of the activity may have been directed from NATO facilities. The activities are being compared to Cold War methods.
In addition, when the surveillance story was first broken by Snowden last month, the U.S. administration and leaders of both parties in Congress claimed that the surveillance was being done to protect the United States from terrorist attacks. These new revelations undermine that story.
The original revelations already set off a spat between the United States on the one hand, and China and Russia on the other. When Snowden, helped by the Wikileaks organization, first showed up in Hong Kong and then appeared in the international transit area at the Shermetyevo airport in Moscow, with stories circulating that he might be given asylum in Ecuador (which has given Wikileaks founder Julian Assange asylum at its embassy in London), Venezuela, or Cuba, the White House and State Department waxed indignant and made veiled threats against those countries if they did not hand him over for prosecution. The Der Spiegel revelations will assure that few European countries with the exception of the United Kingdom, whose GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is also accused of illegitimate surveillance activities, will support the United States in diplomatic conflicts that result from this.
Public figures throughout Europe are now lining up to denounce the U.S. activities, and some suggest that the quarrel may sink the new free trade agreement that the United States is negotiating with the European Union. Several pointed out that the spying may have targeted European Union offices involved in trade matters.
Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, one of the 27 states that belong to the European Union, was quoted by Der Spiegel’s online English language edition as saying, “if these reports are true, then it is abhorrent.
German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Scharrenberger said that the spying report “defies belief that our friends in the U.S. see the Europeans as their enemies.”
She and others also compared the U.S. surveillance activities as being comparable to Cold War tactics.
In an initial response, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to downplay the uproar, saying that it is well known that countries take measures to protect their national security. He added that the United States will respond to questions about the surveillance through diplomatic channels.
Photo: NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 18, before the House Intelligence Committee. J. Scott Applewhite/AP