US, UK spies targeted Israeli PM, EU official, according to Snowden leaks

Posted Dec. 20, 2013, at 8:34 p.m.

LONDON — British and U.S. spies targeted a senior European Union official, German government buildings, and the office of an Israeli prime minister, according to the latest leaked documents from Edward Snowden published on Friday.

Other targets from 2008 to 2011 included foreign energy companies and aid organizations, said Britain’s Guardian and the New York Times, citing secret documents from former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Snowden.

Snowden has shone a light on widespread surveillance by the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ, the alleged extent of which has upset many U.S. allies and fueled a heated debate about the balance between privacy and security. He is living in Russia under temporary asylum.

The newspapers reported that in January 2009 GCHQ and the NSA had targeted an email address listed as belonging to the Israeli prime minister, who at the time was Ehud Olmert. Spies also monitored email traffic between then-Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and his chief of staff, Yoni Koren, the newspapers said.

Other targets were said to include the United Nations Children’s Fund, French aid organisation Médecins du Monde, French oil and gas firm Total, and French defence company Thales Group.

Joaquin Almunia, the European competition commissioner who oversees anti-monopoly investigations and has been involved in a long-running case involving Google, was another to appear in GCHQ documents, although it was not clear who ordered the surveillance.

An NSA spokeswoman said the agency did not use espionage to help U.S. businesses.

“We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” the spokeswoman said.

“The intelligence community’s efforts to understand economic systems and policies, and monitor anomalous economic activities, are critical to providing policy-makers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security.”

However, the European Commission said if it was true one of its senior officials had been targeted it would be “unacceptable”.

“This piece of news follows a series of other revelations which, as we clearly stated in the past, if proven true, are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation,” a spokesman said.

“This is not the type of behavior that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states.”

Germany has been especially angered after it was reported that the NSA had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

The Guardian said the disclosure that GCHQ had targeted German government buildings in Berlin was embarrassing for British Prime Minister David Cameron since he had signed an EU statement condemning the NSA’s spying on Merkel.

A spokesman for the German interior ministry said as far as he knew, communication within the government network was secure. He said the ministry was investigating the report.

GCHQ said it was aware of the reports but did not comment on intelligence matters. A spokesman said: “Our work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate.”

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