(CNSNews.com) – “The United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” a spokesman for the office of the director of national intelligence said Sunday, in response to a wave of criticism from European Union officials over claims of National Security Agency surveillance on E.U. facilities.
E.U. officials reacted strongly to claims, the latest in a series arising from documents leaked to media by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, with Germany’s justice minister saying that, if true, they recalled the way Cold War enemies treated each other.
The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported claims that U.S. agencies had bugged E.U. offices in Washington and at the United Nations in New York.
E.U. foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton said in a statement her department had “made contact with the U.S. authorities in both Washington D.C. and Brussels to seek urgent clarification of the veracity of and facts surrounding these allegations.”
“The U.S. authorities have told us they are checking on the accuracy of the information released yesterday and will come back to us as soon as possible,” she said. “While this is clearly a matter for concern, we will make no further comments at this stage, until we have more clarity on the matter.”
The spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the U.S. would respond to the allegations through diplomatic channels and “discuss these issues bilaterally with E.U. member states.”
“While we are not going to comment publicly on specific alleged intelligence activities, as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
Declaring himself to be “deeply worried and shocked,” European Parliament president Martin Schulz said he had asked the U.S. Embassy in Brussels if the allegations were true, and if so, to provide a justification.
“Are we enemies, are we not allies? What are you fearing from the European Union?” Schulz said he recognized the necessity of U.S. security measures.
“I admit it is not Hamburg, neither Berlin or Paris or London where the planes attacked the towers. It was New York, and I respect the necessity of security measures of the United States, no doubt. But [to spy] against the most important ally … why?”
Reaction was especially strong in Germany, since the reports also claimed that NSA documents identified Germany as a “target” country for surveillance, excluding it from a category of allies comprising Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand.
The reports appeared just days after President Obama visited Berlin, meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and delivering a keynote speech, amid opinion poll figures showing 88 percent of Germans hold favorable views of the president.
Talks on a long-envisaged transatlantic free-trade deal are scheduled to begin next week, and some E.U. figures hinted that those could now be at risk.
“We cannot negotiate a large transatlantic market when there is the slightest suspicion that our partners spy on the offices of our negotiators,” E.U. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding was quoted as saying during a meeting in Luxembourg. “The U.S. authorities should quickly dispel any such doubts.”
Former NSA director General Mike Hayden told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that he did not know whether the NSA has been spying on the E.U. and that if he did know he would not confirm or deny it.
What he could confirm, he said, is that the U.S. “does conduct espionage,” that the Fourth Amendment “”is not an international treaty,” and that “any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing.”
Hayden agreed that the damage done by Snowden’s leaks has been significant, citing the exposure of operational matters and the potential harm to bilateral relationships.
“We cooperate with a lot of governments around the world. They expect us to be discreet about that cooperation,” he said. “I can't imagine a government anywhere on the planet who now believes we can keep a secret.”