The US bugged Europe: Is this news?

Martin Schulz, European Parliament President (on the left) commented on information unveiled by the German Newspaper 'Der Spiegel' on which the impression can be gained that EU institutions had been bugged by U.S. authorities. Here pictured with Commission President Manuel Barroso during the Accession of Croatia - Welcome ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (European Parliament photographic library, 1/7/2013)

Martin Schulz, European Parliament President (on the left) commented on information unveiled by the German Newspaper ‘Der Spiegel’ on which the impression can be gained that EU institutions had been bugged by U.S. authorities. Here pictured with Commission President Manuel Barroso during the Accession of Croatia – Welcome ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (European Parliament photographic library, 1/7/2013)

It took a new wave of publications by major European media (Der Spiegel, Guardian) about the bugging of EU’s and EU member states’ offices in the US by the American secret services, to wake up the European Union leaders. Yesterday all three European Union presidents and at least two Commission vice presidents issued statements asking clarifications from the US. The American government said they will offer explanations over the diplomatic channels in due course…

The European Sting writer Leo Buonapartis on 19 June reported that “On top of that, another slide gives away the age of the Prism programme and the exact time that each of the 9 American companies joined it. Microsoft was the first in 2007 to join, followed by Yahoo in 2008, Google, Facebok and PalTalk in 2009, Youtube in 2010, Skype and AOL in 2011. Apple seems to have resisted the most until they finally conceded with this outrageous Private Data bazaar and only joined the PRISM at the end of 2012”.

Tapping Europe

As this affair unfolds it seems that the American authorities are not only monitoring any kind of electronic communication all over the world but also they have physically bugged the European Union mission building and a number of EU member states offices in the US, even within the United Nations tower in New York. This affair takes new dimensions now because the EU and the US have started negotiations for a major Free Trade and Investments Agreement, aimed at creating a seamless economic environment over the Atlantic. Obviously in this negotiation any information about the other side’s red lines is of paramount importance.

On top of that the Americans may have used the stolen internal EU documents and live discussions for industrial espionage purposes on a large number of fields. There are many friction points between Europe and the US, particularly in the aerospace industry, telecommunications, agriculture and food etc.

The new chapter of this espionage story opened when the US National Security Agency ex-adviser, Edward Snowden, gave more information to the Press about an American operation designed to steal top-secret documents from the EU mission in the US. The NSA not only had managed to systematically monitor the internal electronic communications of the EU mission but they had filled the building with bugs. Of course this was not all. Der Spiegel revealed that the surveillance especially of Germany went on for a long time. At least 500 million telephone calls and SMSs every month were monitored in Germany by the NSA. In a ‘normal’ day at least 20 million telephone conversations and 10 million Internet connections were taped.

In view of this mountain of revelations the entire Brussels leadership was shaken. Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament stated on 29 June, “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 allegations.”

More statements

Yesterday the European Commission issued a Press release going like that, “Statement by the European Commission on alleged surveillance of EU premises. These are disturbing news if proven true. They demand full clarification. As soon as the media reports about alleged spying and eavesdropping on EU premises and delegations were made known, the Commission asked the European External Action Service to immediately raise the matter with the US authorities in Washington DC and in Brussels to verify the veracity of these reports…The EU is now expecting to hear from the US authorities. Clarity and transparency is what we expect from partners and allies, and this is what we expect from the US”.

The line of reactions continued yesterday with a statement by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. The statement was issued by his spokespersons and went like that, ”The President of the European Council is very concerned by the press reports with allegations of U.S. surveillance of EU premises abroad and in Brussels. The European Union, including through its External Action Service, is examining the allegations and in contact with U.S. authorities. The European Union has demanded and expects full and urgent clarification by the U.S. regarding the allegations. The President of the European Council takes note of the remarks today by U.S. President Barack Obama and his commitment to make sure to provide all the information that U.S. allies want and what exactly the allegations have been”.

The truth is that all over the world spying has become a daily affair, and the average European knows that very well. Targets and interceptors vary widely. The background may be internal and international politics, military and industrial affairs, marketing and technology issues, even private conflicts. Everybody can imagine that the Americans are ‘leaders’ in this domain. Under the pretext of fighting terrorists, who on many occasions the US has created itself, every possible and impossible American agency or related private business prey on any target they choose. On many occasions this is the main activity of business like appearing companies.

At the bottom of it, it’s rather certain that the Europeans also do whatever they can in this field. The problem is that the US administration has primary access to state of the art technologies and methods, through their complex relations with US gigantic multinationals. It is also very probable that the European leaders knew about all that long before it broke to the press, and now they react for the EU voters to see.

Some years ago in Athens an American telephone tapping network was accidentally revealed. The operation was targeted against the then Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. Despite the fact that every technical detail pointed to the American Embassy in central Athens and the death of a young technocrat working for the multinational mobile operator involved in the affair, the case is still ‘under investigation’ after five years. Unfortunately it seems that we commoners learn only by accident what is common knowledge in the corridors of power.

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