Senior European Union officials have angrily demanded answers from the United States after a German magazine alleged the U.S. National Security Agency bugged EU offices and gained access to its internal computer networks as part of its spying activities.
The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said Sunday that if the reports are true "it would have a severe impact on EU-U.S. relations." He called for "full clarification" from U.S. authorities.
Germany's justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, accused Washington of using "Cold War" methods against its allies, saying it is "beyond comprehension that our friends in the U.S. see Europeans as enemies."
Some have called for a suspension of talks on the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement.
On Saturday, the German weekly Der Spiegel
reported that the NSA placed listening devices in European Union offices in Washington, Brussels and at the United Nations in New York, and infiltrated EU computers to monitor telephone conversations, e-mails and other documents.
It quoted secret U.S. documents obtained from fugitive whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Snowden fled the U.S. to Hong Kong in May and then disclosed key documents about the surveillance programs being conducted by the National Security Agency to thwart terrorism.
Earlier this month, he flew to Moscow and is believed to be staying in a transit zone at the airport while seeking asylum in Ecuador.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Sunday that Snowden's fate is in the hands of Russian authorities because he cannot leave the airport without a valid U.S. passport. He said his government cannot begin considering asylum for Snowden until he reaches Ecuador or an Ecuadorian Embassy.
Russia has repeatedly stated that Snowden is not on Russian territory in the airport's transit area and he is free to depart whenever he wants. Russian authorities repeated that position Sunday in response to Correa's comments.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden asked Correa in a telephone call Friday to reject Snowden's asylum request.
According to an NSA document dated September 2010, only a few countries labeled as close friends by the U.S. are explicitly exempted from monitoring - Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
reported that on an average day, the NSA monitored about 20 million German phone connections and 10 million Internet data sets, with the rate rising to 60 million phone connections on busy days.
The magazine said that in France the U.S. taps about two million data connections per day.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.