EU allies were bugged for data on disagreements

July 01, 2013 11:23 pm | Updated June 04, 2016 11:35 am IST - RIO DE JANEIRO:

U.S. intelligence services are spying on the European Union (EU) mission in New York and its embassy in Washington, according to the latest top secret U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

One document lists 38 embassies and missions, describing them as “targets”. It details an extraordinary range of spying methods used against each target, from bugs implanted in electronic communications gear to taps into cables to the collection of transmissions with specialised antennae.

Along with traditional ideological adversaries and sensitive West Asian countries, the list of targets includes the EU missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey. The list in the September 2010 document does not mention the U.K., Germany or other western European states.

One of the bugging methods mentioned is codenamed Dropmire, which, according to a 2007 document, is “implanted on the Cryptofax at the EU embassy, DC” — an apparent reference to a bug placed in a commercially available encrypted fax machine used at the mission. The NSA documents note the machine is used to send cables back to foreign affairs ministries in European capitals.

The documents suggest the aim of the bugging exercise against the EU embassy in central Washington is to gather inside knowledge of policy disagreements on global issues and other rifts between member states.

The new revelations come at a time when there is already considerable anger across the EU over earlier evidence provided by Mr. Snowden of NSA eavesdropping on America’s European allies.

Germany’s Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, demanded an explanation from Washington, saying that if confirmed, U.S. behaviour “was reminiscent of the actions of enemies during the cold war”. The magazine Der Spiegel reported at the weekend that some of the bugging operations in Brussels targeting the EU’s Justus Lipsius building — a venue for summit and ministerial meetings in the Belgian capital — were directed from within NATO headquarters nearby.

The U.S. intelligence service codename for the bugging operation targeting the EU mission at the United Nations is “Perdido”. Among the documents leaked by Mr. Snowden is a floor plan of the mission in midtown Manhattan. The methods used against the mission include collection of data transmitted by implants, or bugs, placed in electronic devices, and another covert operation that appears to provide a copy of everything on a targeted computer’s hard drive.

The eavesdropping on the EU delegation to the U.S., on K Street in Washington, involved three different operations targeted on the embassy’s 90 staff. Two were electronic implants and one involved the use of antennas to collect transmissions.

Although the documents are part of an NSA haul, it is not clear in each case whether the surveillance was being exclusively done by the NSA — most probable as the embassies and missions are technically overseas — or by the FBI or the CIA, or a combination. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

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