BRUSSELS (AFP) – A long-awaited trade deal between the European Union and the United States could be in jeopardy over allegations that Washington bugged EU offices, European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding warned.
It is the latest spying claim attributed to fugitive intelligence analyst Edward Snowden. Revelations in Monday’s Guardian that the U.S. also targeted the Washington embassies of France, Italy and Greece look set to further strain relations.
Brussels, Paris and Berlin reacted angrily to a report in German weekly Der Spiegel on Sunday which detailed covert surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) on EU diplomatic missions.
The report was based on confidential documents, some of which it had been able to consult via Snowden.
Reding warned that talks to create what would be the world’s biggest free trade area, formally launched earlier this month, could be jeopardised if the bugging allegations proved true.
“We can’t negotiate a large transatlantic market if there is any doubt that our partners are bugging the offices of European negotiators,” Reding said at a meeting in Luxembourg, her spokesperson told AFP.
“We have immediately been in contact with the US authorities in Washington D.C. and in Brussels and have confronted them with the press reports,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The U.S. said Sunday it would respond to the EU via diplomatic channels over the bugging allegations.
“While we are not going to comment publicly on specific alleged intelligence activities, as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” said a statement from the office of the Director of National Intelligence in Washington.
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.
According to documents seen by the Guardian, bugs were implanted on the encrypted fax machine at the embassy as part of operation ‘Perdido’, set up to learn about rifts between member nations.
The EU delegation at the United Nations was subject to similar surveillance, Der Spiegel said, adding that the spying also extended to the 27-member bloc’s Brussels headquarters.
The files also revealed that, in addition to the EU, the U.S. embassies of France, Greece and Italy were among 38 “targets” of NSA spying operations, Monday’s Guardian reported.
In the only US reaction to the Spiegel claims so far, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, while refusing to be drawn into commenting directly on the allegations, said Saturday it was “worth noting” the US was “very close” to EU security services.
The reports are the latest in a series of allegations about U.S. spying activity revealed by Snowden, a former NSA contractor.
He is now stranded at a Moscow airport transit zone looking for a country to accept his asylum request after the United States issued a warrant for his arrest and revoked his passport.