March 20, 2003
Europe Union Finds Bugging of Offices of 5 Nations
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS, March 19 — The European Union has uncovered a bugging operation directed at 5 of its 15 member nations, the organization announced today.
Listening devices were found late last month in the offices of the French, German, British, Austrian and Spanish delegations in a headquarters building, officials said.
European officials said they had not determined who had placed the devices.
"This equipment, which is assumed to be of hostile intent, is currently being examined in order to determine whether it may have resulted in breaches of privacy or possible damage," said a statement by the European Union. "A full investigation is under way in cooperation with the member states involved."
The disclosure comes on the eve of a two-day meeting of the leaders of the union, which has been torn apart by differences over the apparently imminent American-led war against Iraq. The sprawling glass-and-marble Justus Lipsius building in central Brussels, where the listening devices were found, was inaugurated in 1995 and is used for summit meetings. It also houses the secretariat of the union's council of ministers.
The European Union had hoped to keep the bugging scandal secret, in order to complete its investigation quietly, but it was disclosed in today's issue of the French daily Le Figaro.
Word of the bugging comes at a time of extreme tension between some union nations — particularly France and Germany — and the United States. The Bush administration's decision to use force to disarm Iraq has been vehemently criticized by the French and German governments.
"At this point we cannot say who planted these bugs," said Cristina Gallach, a spokeswoman for Javier Solana, the union's high representative for foreign and security policy.
The devices were uncovered in a routine sweep by the union's security services. According to the statement, the union discovered an "anomaly in an internal telephone line" and detected the presence of "an unknown electronic device linked to the telephone system," adding, "A small number of similar devices were found immediately afterwards in other locations in the building."
This is the first time in the building's history that a spy operation has been uncovered, officials said. The devices could have been present for some time, perhaps years, they added.
No devices were found on the phones at the military wing, which is situated in the same building, Ms. Gallach said.
Ed Kemp, a spokesman at the American mission to the union, said the mission had "received no communication about the investigation" from the European Union.
In Washington, Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said: "I wouldn't be in any position to talk about it in any case, whether it's true or false."
Early this month, the British newspaper The Observer reported that the United States was conducting a spy operation against United Nations Security Council delegations as part of a campaign to win votes for a resolution backing the use of force in Iraq. The reports could not be confirmed.
European officials reacted to today's disclosure with shock and anger. "The first thing I can do is to condemn this act," said Foreign Minister George Papandreou of Greece, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the union.
He added that "to all those who feel that it is necessary to tap our phones, we say that Europe is a very transparent organization" and that they should not "go to such lengths to try to find out information." He vowed that "appropriate measures" would be taken against those responsible after the investigation.
In Paris, François Baroin, a member of Parliament and a spokesman for President Jacques Chirac's political party, said he was "surprised, very astonished and profoundly shocked" by the discovery. "Everything concerning illegal devices, everything concerning the surveillance of friendly countries is a pure and real scandal," he said in the National Assembly.
Georg Possanner, a spokesman for the Austrian delegation to the union, was quoted by the Austrian Press Agency as saying the bugging was a "totally professional operation."
A British delegation spokesman confirmed that its offices were among "about half a dozen" affected. "We are obviously very concerned about this," he said.
Two years ago, the European Parliament investigated reports that an American-led global spy network dubbed Echelon spied on Europe's business sector. American officials have not acknowledged that such a network exists and have said American agencies do not engage in industrial espionage.