European Officials Infuriated by Alleged NSA Spying on Friendly Diplomats

A report in Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine that the U.S. bugged E.U. offices set off a political firestorm, but the consequences remain unclear

  • Share
  • Read Later

Edward Snowden might have vanished from sight since he supposedly hopped a flight from Hong Kong to Moscow on June 23. But the explosive leaks from the former NSA contractor were in plain sight this weekend, when revelations emerged that the U.S. had allegedly bugged E.U. diplomats in New York City, Washington and Brussels. The news ignited splenetic fury from European politicians, who say the allegations could sour their trade negotiations with Washington. “It is shocking that the U.S. should take action against its nearest allies comparable to measures taken in the past by the KGB in the Soviet Union,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz told reporters at Brussels’ military airport on Sunday, adding that he felt “like the representative of an enemy.”

The story broke Saturday on the website of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, which has a longer account of the details in its print cover story on Monday. To E.U. officials, however, even the sketchy outline was scandalous enough. The magazine alleges that among Snowden’s documents is proof that the NSA planted bugs in the offices of the E.U.’s mission to the U.N. and in its embassy in Washington, and that the agency hacked into the E.U.’s computer network, allowing the U.S. to eavesdrop on closed-door meetings and to read internal e-mails. “An NSA document dated September 2010 explicitly names the Europeans as a ‘location target,’” says Der Spiegel’s article, whose first byline is Laura Poitras, the New York filmmaker whom Snowden initially contacted in January, saying he had information to leak. It also says the U.S. hacked into the communications system at the Brussels headquarters of the European Council, a highly secured building where leaders gather for summits, and where each of the union’s 27 member countries has offices. To some E.U. officials, that detail might come as little surprise: five years ago, E.U. security officers traced suspected telephone hacking back to the NSA offices in the headquarters of NATO in Brussels, according to Der Spiegel.

(MORE: Julian Assange: Snowden Is ‘Healthy, Safe and in Good Spirits’)

On Sunday, some E.U. officials were furious not only at the thought that the U.S. might have spied on them, but that Obama had assured them in mid-June that the NSA surveillance program was aimed at hunting terrorists, not at spying on citizens in friendly countries — assurances that E.U. officials then used to calm the mounting disquiet over the NSA’s Prism program in their home countries. The NSA leaks have evoked particular anger in Germany, where millions still remember life under East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, which bugged thousands of citizens to sniff out anti-Communist dissidents. Protesters in Berlin marched during President Obama’s visit there in mid-June, holding posters showing him wearing headphones, with the caption “Stasi 2.0.” Late Sunday night, Der Spiegel reported that Snowden’s leaked documents show NSA surveillance of Germany was more intense than of any other E.U. country, with as many as 20 million phone calls and 10 million online data exchanges collected “on normal days.”

The weekend’s revelations sparked condemnation from politicians across the region. “If it is true that E.U. representations in Brussels and Washington were indeed tapped by the American secret service, it can hardly be explained with the argument of fighting terrorism,” Germany’s Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement on Sunday. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the surveillance was “totally unacceptable,” while Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn called it “disgusting” and said that “the U.S. would be better off monitoring its secret services than its allies.”

(MORE: Snowden and Putin: NSA Whistle-Blower Fate Is in Russian President’s Hands)

Yet for all the E.U.’s Sturm und Drang, it was not immediately clear on Sunday what the real consequences would be for the U.S., should the allegations prove true. “We have requested more information from the U.S. authorities,” Richard Freedman, spokesman for the European Parliament’s President Schulz, told TIME on Sunday, reflecting the slow-moving nature of the E.U. political system. “We will debate this on Wednesday in the E.U. Parliament and then we will have to see.”

One option for E.U. officials who wish to confront the U.S. is to link the NSA leaks to ongoing talks over a broad free-trade deal. Although there is no clear link between the two issues, E.U. politicians suggested on Sunday that the spying allegations could give them more leverage in their negotiations, which began earlier this month and which they hope to conclude next year. “One consequence [of the Snowden leak] for sure is that people will ask, ‘Does it make sense to negotiate a free-trade agreement without clear rules about data protection and control?’” Schulz told reporters in Brussels. And in Luxembourg, the E.U. Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding said, “We cannot negotiate over a big transatlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators.”

(MORE: On the Run to Moscow, Edward Snowden Keeps Americans Guessing)

Still, with European countries suffering from high unemployment and years of recession, officials would be loath to jeopardize the free-trade deal with the U.S. Both E.U. and U.S. officials (Obama included) have hailed the prospect of a transatlantic trade agreement as having the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and to boost the E.U.’s economy by 0.5% a year. And while a few small obstacles remain, like France’s push to protect its film industry, no one has suggested a serious rollback of the plan.

While the NSA allegations are unprecedented in the era of cyberintelligence, a similar incident 14 years ago caused no lasting damage to the relationship between the U.S. and Europe. In 1999, the so-called Echelon program, a mammoth Cold War surveillance system based in Fort Meade, Md., and Britain’s surveillance headquarters GCHQ in Cheltenham, was used to spy on European industries, giving their Anglo-American competitors an edge. Schulz on Sunday compared the incident with this weekend’s NSA leak, telling reporters, “The only explanation for me is to listen to debates about economic strategy of the E.U. in relation to the U.S. market.”

When the Echelon news broke in the European Parliament in 2000, it was a major scandal. More than a decade later, however, it is all but forgotten. “The European Parliament made some kind of report, but the issue died down after angry reactions,” the European Parliament’s press adviser Marcin Grajewski told TIME on Sunday. “Somehow, it lost its relevance.” U.S. officials must be hoping Snowden’s leaks will head the same way.

COVER STORY: Geeks Who Leak

22 comments
dori1mega9
dori1mega9

@vivwalt @TIMEWorld That's the outrage. Knew spying went on,but officials assumed they were immune if of a certain stature in gov't.

Larry46r
Larry46r

I cannot believe the incredible naivete implied in this report. It is a well-known fact that even close allies such as the US and Israel have been spying on each other for at least the past twenty years. So what's new? Wake up - this is just another media grab looking for a new angle.

WAW
WAW

But we should remember another pair, that of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who concocted the bloody coup in Allende.Mattelart continued his work in the critical study of communication and strategies of domination. His latest book is called A world watched and was published in 2009. There enters the stage after the Fall of the Wall and explains how the dark side, bizarre, hegemonic model. That is, not how manufactures ideology through cartoons and movies but like the sound of these cartoons and movies that help to mute the U.S. dominance over the planet. It does this by controlling the world's airspace by the drone-drone-coastal water via the powerful fleets sailing the oceans, from communications and transportation networks via satellite and, above all, to spying through the telephone and internet connections.

Thanks to the complicity of major print and television trusts, plans are muted low intensity wars and counter they have now, at least in Latin America, to the security forces and police as the main axis for this stage of shock soft and "war against organized crime." It is interesting to study in Mattelart makes programs like Echelon, which allows intelligence agents brought into the private spaces of communication. Using various computer programs, agencies like the CIA can select "targets" from the moment that any Internet user searches, systematically, information about Al Qaeda or manufacture of explosives. This user goes through several stages of filters "intelligent" software until, if it is selected as "potential enemy" becomes controlled by agents of the flesh.

They look like two sides of the construction of imperial authority. On the one hand, fantasy characters that fall in love and make conceal the pain of cultural subjugation. On the other hand, subtle or extravagant methods to advance the interests of a privileged group of people to control territories and nations.

n7specops
n7specops

So, the entirety of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, or South America DON'T spy or gather any intelligence in secret from the United States? You can't tell me that no other countries are gathering intelligence on other nations as well as information about their own citizens... This cold war paranoia is stupid, because things are probably happening behind closed doors somewhere that are much worse than information collection. If someone wants to read my Facebook messages, E-mails, or texts, go ahead and let them, its not gonna affect me if someone reads the intimate texts I send my girlfriend and receive from her or my likes on Facebook. thousands of people probably see an aerial or street view of your and my homes every day, so there is no reason to be afraid of your address being compromised, But at the same time, I do understand the fear of bank account numbers and all of that sensitive stuff being at risk or already breached, but forget the NSA, what about when people owe money to the IRS and all of a sudden your bank account gets emptied or a paycheck is almost nothing because they are allowed to take money to pay on the taxes you owe? So many people with low clearance see all of our financial and personal information every day from around the world, so WHY SO SERIOUS? LOL but on a real note, until the government starts emptying out accounts or you find your house to be bugged, why gripe? And if things get too bad, I'm just saying, governments get overthrown all the time when their people get fed up with what they are doing or have done, once again Just saying. So, people need to quit complaining, especially if you are gonna complain about things that have been going on since the 1st civilization. And to be hypocritical and judge our government when you know damn well that yours is doing the same in some way shape or form, is just egocentric and selfish. If you want to know how easy information gathering is. I had an app on my phone that let me search by name and age any person, and it would bring up a little file giving every address they have ever lived in the past 10 years, all the people that lived with them, their parents or parental guardian's names and info, as well as the addresses and names of all of their neighbors and all of their arrests. People complain too much about the wrong things.



JamieSmith1776
JamieSmith1776

@TIME @TIMEWorld ...as if the EU countries don't do the same thing, just w/less sophisticated technology? Lady doth protest too much?

duduong
duduong

The NSA snooping of everyone on earth has gone way too far. There is no longer any check on abuse. The people in control of all the information are capable of everything and anything, including blackmailing the heads of government, American and European alike. If anyone still thinks this is good for America, much less the world, he is seriously deluded.

Kinggrayiv
Kinggrayiv

1. The placard people need to shape up. "All your data ARE belong to us"

2. oh come on... like everyone isn't spying on everyone else. pffft.

arvay
arvay

The European "leaders" will bark, Washington will jerk their chains, and they will STFU. Time to install a new leadership class, here and there.

Destroyed
Destroyed

Hey Time, your site is utter garbage.

When did you sign on to the NSA's media lapdog program?

Leo68
Leo68

The Land of the Free has become anything but. And the Home of the Brave is forcing their bravest on the run (Snowdon) or torturing them (Manning). Obama comes to Berlin and blabs about friendship, all the while spying on his “friends” and allies and trade partners. The NSA and those in the U.S. Government who condone and support their unconstitutional acts are the true mega villains and terrorists.

GlennAllen
GlennAllen

The EU wags their finger and stomps their feet in indignation, then the leaders go to their intel briefings from their Intel people that are doing the exact same thing.

TMA
TMA

Spyin on friends and other innocent people "for the safety of america", where's the logic in that? Don't the US government realize what they're doing is not making america safe at all? you don't become safer by turning allies into enemies.

Snowden should have gotten a medal from the world, not an indicted and chased like osama bin laden.

rparker
rparker

...the Patriot Act must be curtailed or repealed.

what_the
what_the

Judah, step back and look at the situation.  The hubris at NSA is unbelievable.  Spying on trade negotiators?  Spying on it's own citizens?  Be glad it came out now rather than later, but how could it be worse?

JudahSheprinceofHerr
JudahSheprinceofHerr

OMG this sounds very bad for The U.S. I hope Snowden is happy. It could go bad for him. Iceland + Ecuador my give him asylum but China and Russia WAS NOT going to give that traitor asylum.They wouldn't trust some one who betrayed their country . China and Russia would be spying on him.....What an A-hole this Snowden is.

Juelz
Juelz

@n7specops People aren't complaining for no reasons, but instead all spying-related programs by the US gov should gain more serious attention from everyone than it is now. You sound more like paid by the US government spreading non-sense. Honestly, do you think there is any justifications for the unethical actions taken by the US government at all, without telling anyone that they are secretly looking over your emails to try to get any clue about possible-terrorism, it just doesn't sound right anyhow. Tell me, is that what the most democratic country in the world should be doing? People should have noticed by now that terrorism is just simply a whipping boy, if you want evidence, just tell me why they are also spying on EU and other of its allies, are they also considered "possible-threats or terrorists" by the US government as well? The definition of democracy (for those young americans spending too much time in front of telly watching reality TV shows), literally rule by the people which means its people are going to vote the decisions that's going to shape their future, since I assume that no americans would vote for the government to spying on themselves as the citizens of the united states. Does it sound right to you that "the interest" of the government is utterly against the rights of its people, meanwhile, does it also suggest that there should be separation between US government and its citizens? While natural disasters just killed 19 firefighters, anyone with a proper soul could have imagined the agonies they had gone while their bodies burning in the raging fire. The Obama administration are still planning to cut budget from other part other than national security, ignoring that the money could potentially provide thousands of jobs for its people? Why don't the government talk about human rights now with the proud smile on their face as they always has been? Don't you think that's slightly hypocritical?

Destroyed
Destroyed

Obama sure became a puppet quick, he is a pathetic liar.

Destroyed
Destroyed

They don't care about safety. They care about spying on every man woman and child under the guise of security.

Destroyed
Destroyed

The only ones who betrayed the US citizens are the NSA and Obama.

They shredded the constitution.

n7specops
n7specops

@Juelz @n7specops No, I'm not paid by the government LOL, I wish I was though, at least I would make more money, but then again, I'm not a sell-out. I really didn't mean to sound biased. nothing that any government does in secret is good in any way, shape, or form. I probably do sound like a paid government dude or something by saying that I accept that they read my emails and stuff, but I accept the reality that it happens and what am I supposed to do about it? I, like so many others don't want people knowing anything about me, but what am I to do? What are we to do? And I'm just saying in my original post, that its not just the U.S. government spying on its own citizens or spying on it's friends. The U.S. spies on other countries and those countries spy right back. As well, Due to growing Muslim groups in cities such as London and other places in EU and Asia, there is a growing risk of Muslim extemists and you can't tell me that individual governments in Europe, Asia, South America, or anywhere don't spy on their own people in the name of "security" or that Interpol, MI-6, and other agencies don't gather intelligence on people behind closed doors. (That is not meant to start an argument btw, I'm just saying) spying is everywhere and it sucks really badly because no one has any privacy anymore. And you can't tell me that every country doesn't spy on everyone else just to keep tabs in order to have the upper political or military hand, just in case. Everyone is only looking out for #1.

Juelz
Juelz

@n7specops Just a reminder: Anyone who give up Liberty in the name of security deserves neither-Benjamin Franklin 

CharlesBoyer
CharlesBoyer

@Destroyed Don't forget that they also destroyed their positive relationship with our allies.  The US government is entering "rogue state" territory with its closest friends, and this is something that will come back to haunt it one day  when it needs its friends the most.  I hope that whatever they learned was worth it.