The European Union angrily demanded answers from the United States on Sunday over allegations Washington had bugged its offices, the latest spying claim attributed to fugitive leaker Edward Snowden.
The report in German weekly Der Spiegel is likely to further strain relations between the United States and Europe, shortly after they launched formal negotiations to create what would be the world’s biggest free trade area.
Der Spiegel said its report, which detailed covert surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) on EU diplomatic missions, was based on confidential documents, some of which it had been able to consult via Snowden.
“We have immediately been in contact with the US authorities in Washington DC and in Brussels and have confronted them with the press reports, “ the European Commission said in a statement.
“They have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information released on Saturday and will come back to us.”
One document, dated September 2010 and classed as “strictly confidential”, describes how the NSA kept tabs on the European Union’s 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, adding that the spying also extended to the 27-member bloc’s Brussels headquarters.
It said the leaked documents referred to the Europeans as “targets”, in intelligence activity reminiscent of the Cold War.
US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes refused to be drawn into commenting directly on the allegations in a briefing in Johannesburg on Saturday, but said it was “worth noting” the US was “very close” to EU security services.