The New York Times reported late Tuesday that hackers, using methods similar to ones long used by an elite unit in the Chinese military, gained access to European Union diplomatic communications networks for three years. The breach allowed the infiltrators to download thousands of sensitive cables.
The report said the breach was discovered by cybersecurity company Area 1, which provided more than 1,100 of the cables to the newspaper.
According to the newspaper, the compromised material provides insight in to Europe's concerns about "an unpredictable Trump Administration," including EU feelings that a negative attitude from Trump toward the bloc "had created a lot of insecurity."
The material also highlights the regional bloc's struggle to "deal with Russia and China and the risk that Iran would revive its nuclear program," and includes memorandums of conversations with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries shared across the European Union.
The information the hackers accessed was classified, but at a low level with cables labeled limited and restricted. The Times cited European officials as saying more sensitive documents are kept in a separate system.
One cable from the EU's deputy head of mission in Washington recommended other EU diplomats try to work directly with members of Congress, instead of Trump, and to try to boost relations by describing the United States as its "most important partner."
The Times said in another cable, European diplomats discussed Trump's July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki where the U.S. leader went against the assessment of his intelligence agencies by saying he did not see any reason why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election that brought Trump to power.
That cable described the summit as "successful (at least for Putin)" and further included discussion of White House damage control efforts.
Another cable cited in the report dealt with a meeting between European officials and Chinese President Xi Jinping and discussion about Trump administration moves to escalate tariffs on Chinese goods as the two countries engaged in a trade spat.
The cable said "U.S. demands were inconsistent, illogical, and ultimately would hurt its own self interest." It also quoted Xi asserting his country "would not submit to bullying" by the United States.
The Times said the operation included intrusions at more than 100 organizations in all, including the United Nations and a number of foreign and finance ministries.