Tensions with European leaders continue to rise after Saturday’s revelation that the National Security Administration secretly observed data from European Union diplomats both in the United States and at NATO headquarters. The Guardian reported that leaders in France, Germany and Belgium have all called on the U.S. to release information on the full extent of the NSA’s surveillance techniques.
News that the NSA collects information from EU officials comes from a Saturday report in the German magazine Der Spiegel. The magazine stated that that not only did the National Security Agency have access to the private servers of tech giants like Facebook, Google and Microsoft, but that the NSA was also spying on European Union officials and diplomats, particularly those from Germany. The magazine also alleged that the NSA was able to wiretap EU officials working from NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Der Spiegel said that the NSA directly surveyed data from European diplomats in Washington, D.C., and New York City. The information reportedly came directly from having “partly seen” files leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Germany was reportedly singled out for scrutiny as the NSA viewed Germany as being on par with nations such as China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, while at the same time it viewed other friendly English-speaking nations like Canada and the United Kingdom as needing much less scrutiny from the agency.
In response to the news, Germany’s justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, asked that United States officials explain the full extent of the NSA's surveillance on German diplomats. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger noted that if Der Spiegel’s allegations were true, the NSA’s targeting of German diplomats would mark a return to the high tensions and hostilities of the cold war.
"If the media reports are true, it is reminiscent of the actions of enemies during the cold war," the Guardian quoted her as telling German newspaper Bild. "It is beyond imagination that our friends in the U.S. view Europeans as the enemy."
German officials weren’t the only ones outraged about the NSA’s alleged surveillance. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius also asked that the United States explain the allegations.
"These acts, if confirmed, would be completely unacceptable,” Fabius said in a statement. "We expect the American authorities to answer the legitimate concerns raised by these press revelations as quickly as possible."
Der Spiegel’s revelations come only a few days before Washington and Brussels are to begin a series of high-stakes discussions on the possibility of a free-trade pact among the members of NATO. As it stands now, the NSA’s surveillance activities may lead to heightened tensions in the days before talks begin.
"This is absolutely unacceptable and must be stopped immediately,” former Belgian president Guy Verhofstadt told the Guardian. “The American data-collection mania has achieved another quality by spying on EU officials and their meetings. Our trust is at stake."
Snowden fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong in May, a few weeks before the Guardian and the Washington Post published details he provided about secret U.S. government surveillance of Internet and phone traffic. He has been holed up in a Moscow airport transit area since last weekend.