The U.S. says it gathers the same kinds of intelligence as other nations to safeguard against foreign terror threats, pushing back on fresh outrage from key allies over secret American surveillance programs that reportedly installed covert listening devices in European Union offices.
Facing threatened investigations and sanctions from Europe, U.S. intelligence officials plan to discuss the new allegations — reported in Sunday's editions of the German newsweekly Der Spiegel — directly with EU officials.
But "as a matter of policy, we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," concluded a statement issued Sunday from the national intelligence director's office.
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The Guardian is reporting new details today on the extent of United States spy operations. The British newspaper said France, Greece and Italy have been targets of U.S. surveillance, and it repeated allegations that appeared in Sunday editions of Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that said European Union offices were bugged.
The source of the information, according to The Guardian, is a National Security Agency document leaked by fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden. EU officials have expressed their dismay over the report and say relations with the United States could suffer.
"Democracies based on the same values should co-operate in our world in which we are living in the 21st century," said Martin Schultz, president of the European Parliament.
"But if another democracy is spying on the European Union, this is for sure a strong strike against those people who are deeply in favour of an enhanced co-operation between the United States and Europe," Schultz said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said if the Der Spiegel report is accurate, such activities by the U.S. would be "totally unacceptable."
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In Germany, where criticism of the NSA’s surveillance programs has been particularly vocal, a senior government official accused the United States on Sunday of using Cold War methods against its allies by targeting EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels.
“If the media reports are accurate, then this recalls the methods used by enemies during the Cold War,” said German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. “It is beyond comprehension that our friends in the United States see Europeans as enemies.”
It was the latest backlash in a nearly monthlong global debate over the reach of U.S. surveillance that aims to prevent terror attacks. The two programs, both run by the National Security Agency, pick up millions of telephone and Internet records that are routed through American networks each day. Reports about the programs have raised sharp concerns about whether they violate public privacy rights at home and abroad.
The concerns came as the former head of the CIA and NSA urged the White House to make the spy programs more transparent to calm public fears about the American government's snooping.
Several European officials — including in Germany, Italy, France, Luxembourg and the EU government itself — said the new revelations could scuttle ongoing negotiations on a trans-Atlantic trade treaty that, ultimately, seeks to create jobs and boost commerce by billions annually in what would be the world's largest free trade area.
"Partners do not spy on each other," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. "We cannot negotiate over a big trans-Atlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators. The American authorities should eliminate any such doubt swiftly."