EU leaders warn of rift with America over bugging claims
EUROPEAN leaders have warned that relations with America could be severely damaged following fresh allegations of US spying on European Union diplomats and communications.
Newly leaked National Security Agency (NSA) documents state that EU offices in Washington and New York were bugged and that data on half a billion telephone calls, emails and text messages were harvested from Germany and France every month.
"The Americans were able to access discussions in EU rooms as well as emails and internal documents on computers," according to a report in the German news magazine 'Der Spiegel'.
NSA officials were said to describe Germany as a "third-class partner" and boast that US spies "attack the signals" of Germans as extensively as they monitor states such as China and Saudi Arabia.
The documents claim that the NSA monitored about 20 million German telephone calls and 10 million internet communications per day, as well as two million online connections in France.
A number of senior European politicians yesterday lined up to condemn the US for using Cold War-style tactics against its allies, threatening ongoing negotiations over a US-EU free trade pact.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said in a statement that the EU was demanding "full clarification and requires further information speedily from the US authorities".
"If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations," said Mr Schulz.
Former Taoiseach John Bruton, who was the EU ambassador to the US, said he would be "very concerned indeed" if the revelations are true.
"The EU has been working very closely and on a trusting basis with the United States where we put our cards on the table and we hope and expect them to do the same," Mr Bruton said. "If they are seeking to take an unfair advantage by accessing surreptitiously and in what is effectively a hostile way, our internal communications, that upsets the balance of the relationship in a very damaging way."
The latest top-secret documents were released by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has exposed a series of classified operations since fleeing his job at a listening post in Hawaii in May.
Claiming to be acting out of a desire to inform the US public about their government's vast surveillance apparatus, Mr Snowden is said to be in Russia, having fled Hong Kong, and has requested political asylum from Ecuador.
While it has frequently been claimed that the US spies on the activities in America of foreign diplomats, even from allied countries, proof of such surveillance is rarely available.
Peer Steinbruck, the Social Democratic challenger to the pro-American German chancellor, Angela Merkel, demanded that she investigate yesterday's disclosures. Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Germany's justice minister, described the allegations as "reminiscent of methods used by enemies during the Cold War".
"If these reports are true, it's disgusting," added Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign minister. "The EU and its diplomats are not terrorists. We need a guarantee from the very highest level that it stops immediately."
Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, said he "asked the American authorities for an explanation".
Green MEPs called for an immediate suspension of talks over the free-trade agreement between the US and EU, a priority that was announced by US President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address earlier this year.
An EC spokesman said it, too, was awaiting answers from US officials after having "confronted them with the press reports".
US government spokesmen and aides declined to discuss the reports. (© Daily Telegraph, London)