US spy programme leaker Edward Snowden might have opened a can of worms US will have to deal with for a long time. First it was just spying in the US Snowden talked about, then, Hong Kong and China. There are now allegations Washington had bugged European Union offices, and the EU is angrily demanding answers from the United States.
The report in German weekly Der Spiegel is likely to further strain relations between the United States and Europe, shortly after they launched formal negotiations to create what would be the world’s biggest free trade area.
Der Spiegel said its report, which detailed covert surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) on EU diplomatic missions, was based on confidential documents, some of which it had been able to consult via Snowden.
“We have immediately been in contact with the US authorities in Washington DC and in Brussels and have confronted them with the press reports,” the European Commission said in a statement.
“They have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information released yesterday and will come back to us.”
One document, dated September 2010 and classed as “strictly confidential”, describes how the NSA kept tabs on the European Union’s mission in Washington, Der Spiegel said.
Microphones were installed in the building and the computer network infiltrated, giving the agency access to emails and internal documents.
The EU delegation at the United Nations was subject to similar surveillance, Der Spiegel said.
US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes refused to be drawn into commenting directly on the allegations in a briefing in Johannesburg on Saturday, but said it was “worth noting” the US was “very close” to EU security services.
The Spiegel report is the latest in a series of allegations about US spying activity revealed by Snowden, a former NSA contractor who is holed up in a Moscow airport transit zone after the United States issued a warrant for his arrest and revoked his passport.
EU powerhouse Germany said the United States must quickly say whether the reports were true or not.
“It’s beyond our imagination that our friends in the US consider the Europeans as enemies,” Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement.
The US authorities issued an arrest warrant this month for Snowden after he revealed details of NSA’s so-called PRISM program which collects and analyses information from internet and phone users around the world.
Snowden himself remains in political limbo at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after flying in from Hong Kong last week, unable to fly on without legal travel documents or exit the airport without a Russian visa.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said that US Vice President Joe Biden had asked Quito to reject any asylum request from the 30-year-old who is wanted by the United States on charges including espionage, a request Ecuador would probably refuse as Correa says Snowden’s fate lies in his own hand, as he has to get to Ecuador before his asylum request could be processed.