Inside Story

US spying saga: Echoes of the Cold War?

We discuss why the United States would spy on its closest partners, and whether or not the damage can be repaired.

Last Modified: 02 Jul 2013 12:16
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There is growing anger in Europe over allegations that the United States bugged offices of the European Union, and Washington is being forced to provide answers.

The incident reads like something out of a Cold War spy novel. The US is accused of snooping on Europe and Germany in particular, bugging EU offices and intercepting phone calls and emails. The latest allegations were revealed to Der Spiegel magazine by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

Every country uses intelligence services to make sense of the world around them and they try to glean what their adversaries are doing and what their friends are thinking.

PJ Crowley, a former assistant secretary of state

According to the Germany-based magazine, a report from September 2010 explicitly named the Europeans as a "location target". It listed 38 embassies including those of France, Italy and Greece as well as a number of other US allies. Other documents seen by the magazine also shows monitoring of the EU delegation at the United Nations.

And this is how the NSA reportedly spied on Europe: The EU's diplomatic offices in Washington DC and New York were targeted first. Using special antennae, the intelligence agency allegedly accessed computer networks so they could see emails and internal documents.

They also bugged telephones so they could listen in to calls. The same thing happened at the EU headquarters in Brussels, possibly giving them access to the phone calls of top officials.

But security experts there noticed something suspicious, so they tracked the origin of the phone tapping. It turned out the NSA was operating out of the NATO headquarters in another suburb of Brussels.

Many in the EU are suggesting ending talks on a trade deal with the US; French President Francois Hollande said there could be no negotiations without guarantees that spying would stop "immediately".

For many Europeans - particularly in the East - the latest revelations have something of the Cold War-era about them.

It brings back memories of when spying in Europe was a deadly business, particularly in Berlin, which until 1989 was split in two parts. Before the Berlin Wall came down it was a time when trust between East and West Germans was non-existent, and when the chill of the Cold War hung over continental Europe.

But why would the US spy on its closest partners? And can the damage of this unsolicited snooping be repaired?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Stephen Cole, is joined by guests: PJ Crowley, a former assistant secretary of state; Michael Stuermer, the chief correspondent for the Die Welt newspaper; and Glenmore Trenear-Harvey, a British intelligence analyst.

"Here in Berlin and around, the excitement is mainly among the media, it is much less conspicuous among the politicians who have a clearer idea of what intelligence is all about, and that it is the second oldest profession ... and it has shifted in direction and emphasis from military to economic and financial."

- Michael Stuermer, the chief correspondent for the Die Welt newspaper


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