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'NSA bugs EU embassies, infiltrates their computer networks'

June 30, 2013 15:18 IST

American intelligence service used bugs, phone taps and cybermonitoring to obtain information from European Union embassies and offices in Washington, New York and Brussels, a German weekly reported on Sunday.

The disclosure triggered strong reaction from EU leaders who demanded full and speedy clarification from the US. "Documents from September, 2010 classified as 'top secret' by the National Security Agency, which were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, revealed how the agency planted bugs at the EU offices in Washington and in New York and gained access to their internal computer networks.

"This enabled the NSA not only to snoop into the conversations at the EU missions, but also to monitor the emails and internal documents on their computers," the news weekly, Der Spiegel, reported in its latest edition.

"Five years ago, the NSA also planted bugs and infiltrated the computers and telephone networks at the JustusLipsiusBuilding in Brussels, headquarters of the EU Council of Ministers and the European Council," the report said. Member-nations keep their offices in this building, which is also the venue for high-level ministerial meetings. EU's counter-espionage officials traced the NSA's infiltration into the building to a closely guarded area used by the American agency's specialists at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, the report said.

An NSA document from September 2010 explicitly named the Europeans as a "location target", Der Spiegel said, adding "the attacks on the EU institutions showed yet another level in the broad scope of NSA's spying activities." Documents leaked by whistle-blower Snowden early this month exposed a systematic and large-scale surveillance of phone and internet communications by the NSA around the world. He had revealed that the British intelligence service GCHQ operated a similar surveillance programme codenamed "Tempora" under which it monitored and stored internet and telephone data of millions of users by tapping Transatlantic fibre-optic cables and shared those information with the NSA.

Angry over the disclosure, European Parliament president Martin Schulz demanded full and speedy clarification from the US, saying "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," Schulz warned.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said, "the US would do better to monitor its intelligence services instead of its allies." He called US spying "out of control" and said that "if these reports are true, it's disgusting." Under its top-secret PRISM programme, the NSA collected information from Internet and phone users around the world, with access to data from Google, Yahoo! and other Internet firms. US officials maintain the information gathered is vital in the fight against global terrorism. President Barack Obama had strongly defended sweeping secret surveillance, saying it has helped the US prevent terrorist attacks. India, a strategic ally of the US, has emerged as the fifth most tracked country by the American intelligence.

A snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA "global heat map", shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide, Britain's Guardian newspaper had reported recently.

It showed that Iran was the country where the largest amount of intelligence was gathered, with more than 14 billion reports in that period, followed by 13.5 billion from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America's closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7 billion, Egypt fourth with 7.6 billion and India fifth with 6.3 billion.

Mammen Mathew Berlin
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