America's NSA intelligence service allegedly targeted the European Union with its spying activities. According to new information, the US placed bugs in the EU representation in Washington and infiltrated its computer network. Cyber attacks were also perpetrated against Brussels in New York and Washington.
New information shows that America's National Security Agency (NSA) not only conducted online surveillance of European citizens, but also appears to have specifically targeted buildings housing European Union institutions. The information appears in secret documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden. A "top secret" 2010 document describes how the secret service attacked the EU's diplomatic representation in Washington.
The document suggests that in addition to installing bugs in the building in downtown Washington, DC, the European Union representation's computer network was also infiltrated. In this way, the Americans were able to access discussions in EU rooms as well as emails and internal documents on computers.
The attacks on EU institutions show yet another level in the broad scope of the NSA's spying activities. For weeks now, new details about Prism and other surveillance programs have been emerging from what had been compiled by whistleblower Snowden. It has also been revealed that the British intelligence service GCHQ operates a similar program under the name Tempora with which global telephone and Internet connections are monitored.
The documents indicate that the EU representation to the United Nations was attacked in a manner similar to the way surveillance was conducted against its offices in Washington. An NSA document dated September 2010 explicitly names the Europeans as a "location target".
The documents also indicate the US intelligence service was responsible for an electronic eavesdropping operation in Brussels. A little over five years ago, EU security experts noticed several telephone calls that were apparently targeting the remote maintenance system in the Justus Lipsius Building, where the EU Council of Ministers and the European Council are located. The calls were made to numbers that were very similar to the one used for the remote administration of the building's telephone system.
Security officials managed to track the calls to NATO headquarters in the Brussels suburb of Evere. A precise analysis showed that the attacks on the telecommunications system had originated from a building complex separated from the rest of the NATO headquarters that is used by NSA experts.
Now senior European Union officials are outraged by revelations that the US spied on EU representations in Washington and New York. Some have called for a suspension of talks on the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement.
"We need more precise information," said European Parliament President Martin Schulz. "But if it is true, it is a huge scandal. That would mean a huge burden for relations between the EU and the US. We now demand comprehensive information."
''If these revelations are true, then it is abhorrent," said Luxembourgian Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. "It would seem that the secret services have gotten out of control. The US should monitor their own secret services rather than their allies." Asselborn characterized the operation as a breach of trust. "The US justifies everything as being part of the fight against terrorism. But the EU and its diplomats are not terrorists. We need a guarantee from the very highest level that it stops immediately."
Elmar Brok, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in European Parliament added his opprobrium. "The spying has reached dimensions that I didn't think were possible for a democratic country. Such behavior among allies is intolerable." The US, he added, once the land of the free, "is suffering from a security syndrome," added Brok, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. "They have completely lost all balance. George Orwell is nothing by comparison."
Washington has some explaining to do, it is for its best interests. If these revelations are true European Union might be tempted to open proceedings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The EU might also be temped to suspend negotiations with the US over a free trade agreement. European Union would not like to negotiate over a big trans-Atlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that its partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of its negotiators. The American authorities should eliminate such doubt swiftly.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Analyst