U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Brunei where he was attending a regional security conference on Monday, responded to reports that the U.S. was spying on European Union offices and as many as 38 embassies by suggesting such activities were standard operating procedure for sovereign governments.
"I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security, and all kinds of information contributes to that, and all I know is that it is not unusual for lots of nations," according to German news agency DPA.
Confronted on the topic by Catherine Ashton, head of EU security affairs, at a press conference, Kerry declined to elaborate, saying he needed “to find out precisely what the situation is,” according to the BBC.
The news comes after Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine and Britain’s Guardian newspaper published reports that the U.S. planted bugs at key European Union offices and possibly targeted up to 38 embassies with bugs that harvested electronic communications.
Among the targets: the Justus Lipsius building, which Der Spiegel characterized as “a key EU nerve center in Brussels.” Embassies allegedly targeted, according to the Guardian, include those belonging to France, Italy, Greece, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and India.
This information stems from documents leaked by former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden – who is believed to be in the limbo of an in-transit hotel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport trying to get to a country that will grant him asylum. Fugitive Snowden has said he has a trove of data that he would unleash if anything happened to him.
If the allegations are true, then the extent of the alleged U.S. spy regime went beyond harvesting electronic communications of the public in hopes of apprehending terrorists to also include spying on allies to gather information about general geopolitical negotiations. Kerry spoke as he was attending an annual regional forum of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where China’s claims to regional waters was a main focus.
Kerry joined regional foreign ministers, as well as those from Russia, China, Japan and the EU, to discuss security issues, according to the Economic Times.