Over 60 million calls and e-mails monitored in one month

After France and Germany, on Monday it was Spain’s turn to cry foul and summon the U.S. Ambassador for an explanation on large-scale monitoring of phone calls and e-mails of Spain’s citizens, its government and legislators.

The newspaper El Mundo revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored over 60 million calls and e-mails in the space of one month. The newspaper’s allegations were based on documents received from Edward Snowden.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, who is on a visit to Poland, told journalists at a news conference in Warsaw that he had contacted the U.S. Ambassador to Spain regarding this matter. “So far, we have no official indication that our country has been spied on,” he said. But El Mundo said it had obtained papers that showed numbers that had been dialled and e-mails intercepted by the NSA)

There is now palpable anger among the European leadership. At a recent summit meeting in Brussels, EU leaders proposed the establishment of a transatlantic code of conduct for such activities. “Spying on such a massive scale shows that the Americans are technically perfectly capable of listening to everything everywhere and stocking it. And even if the data is not used immediately. It can always be used later,” Francois Heisbourg, adviser to French President Francois Hollande and the Director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, told The Hindu. “Even if the Americans are our allies, this represents a massive challenge for Europe. And it is unacceptable that such an opaque system should be allowed to flourish.”

The French and Germans were feeling abashed because both Le Monde in France and Der Spiegel in Germany had revealed that their own services spied on the French and German people while actively cooperating with the U.S. “We were therefore not confrontational enough with the Americans. However, news that the NSA had snooped on our top officials, on the Elysee Palace and on Mrs Merkel, that too from before she became Chancellor, when she was a mere hopeful, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Also the Europeans were shocked by the ease with which top Washington bureaucrats parted with encrypted personal telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of our leaders. Is there nothing sacred in diplomacy anymore?” asked a senior diplomat who wished to remain unnamed.

The Europeans are particularly outraged by the “cavalier” manner in which the U.S. treated these allegations, promising to give “full and complete” answers but in effect giving none. They were specially shocked by the White House spokesman’s evasiveness on whether Ms. Merkel’s phone had been tapped. “It is not being monitored and it will not be monitored in future,” he said. But what about the past? These queries have been met with a resounding silence.

U.S. Republican Senators, instead, said the French and Germans should be grateful that American spying had allowed the foiling of several terrorist attacks on European soil. The chasm separating Europe and the U.S. appears unbridgeable though analysts like Mr Heisbourg are quick to point out that there is little the Europeans can effectively do to stop such practices except engage in vociferous protest.

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