Germany demands US spying details

Germany demands US spying details

BERLIN - Germany's justice minister called Sunday for an immediate explanation from the United States over a media report that Washington bugged European Union offices, saying it was reminiscent of the Cold War.

Germany's justice minister called Sunday for an immediate explanation from the United States over a media report that Washington bugged European Union offices.

"It must ultimately be immediately and extensively explained by the American side whether media reports about completely disproportionate tapping measures by the US in the EU are accurate or not," Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement.

"It's beyond our imagination that our friends in the US consider the Europeans as enemies," she said.

"If the media reports are accurate, it is reminiscent of actions among enemies during the Cold War."

The German weekly Der Spiegel on Sunday published a report it said was based on confidential documents, some of which it had been able to consult via the fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

It was former intelligence analyst Snowden who earlier this month revealed details of the so-called PRISM programme operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

He is currently in the transit area at Moscow airport, seeking a country that will accept his request for asylum.

One document, dated September 2010 and classed as "strictly confidential", describes how the NSA kept tabs on the European Union's diplomatic mission in Washington, Der Spiegel said.

Microphones were installed in the building and the computer network infiltrated, giving the agency access to emails and internal documents.

The EU delegation at the United Nations was subject to similar surveillance, Der Spiegel said: the leaked documents referred to the Europeans as "targets".

And the spying also extended to the 27-member bloc's Brussels headquarters.

Der Spiegel referred to an incident "more than five years ago" when EU security experts discovered telephone and online bugging devices at the Justus Lipsius building.

In 2003, the EU announced it had found phone taps in the building targeting the offices of several countries, including Britain, France and Germany. It was not immediately clear if Der Spiegel was referring to this case.

US spying was "out of control", said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

"The US would do better to monitor its intelligence services instead of its allies," he added.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said in a statement: "I am deeply worried and shocked about the allegations of US authorities spying on EU offices", both in Brussels and the United States.

"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 demanded full and speedy clarification from the US authorities.

Even before the latest allegations, the EU's Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding wrote to US attorney general Eric Holder earlier this month calling for answers about its Internet spy programme.

"Fundamentally, this is a question of trust," Reding said in a June 14 speech. "Trust of citizens towards their governments and to the governments of partner nations."

The top-secret PRISM programme collects and analyses information from Internet and phone users around the world, with access to data from Google, Yahoo! and other Internet firms.

US officials say the information gathered is vital in the fight against global terrorism.

The diplomatic squabbling over the fate of Snowden continued, meanwhile.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said that US Vice President Joe Biden had, in a telephone conversation Saturday, asked Quito to reject any asylum request from Snowden.

But in a television interview later, Correa said Snowden's fate was in Russia's hands as Quito could not process Snowden's asylum until he was on Ecuadoran soil.

The president said his government would listen to opinions from US authorities, but that the final decision rested with Ecuador.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, has had his US passport revoked.

"We have not sought out this situation," said Correa.

"Snowden is in contact with (WikiLeaks founder Julian) Assange, who recommended he seek asylum in Ecuador," he added.

Ecuador has already granted refuge to Australian activist Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks website.

Assange, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden on sex assault allegations, took refuge at the Ecuadoran embassy in London a year ago to avoid Britain putting him on a plane to Stockholm.

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