European Commission fears 'increasing' espionage
11.02.09 @ 15:37
BRUSSELS - The European Commission fears that its confidential documents are increasingly at risk from spies who use a number of covers while working in the EU capital.
"We are not only pointing the finger at journalists. It could be the pretty trainee with the long legs and the blonde hair," commission spokeswoman Valerie Rampi said on Wednesday (11 February).
The remarks come after the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German newspaper. the same day published parts of a confidential letter from the director of the commission's security services to its head of resources.
"The threat of espionage is increasing day by day. A number of countries, information seekers, lobbyists, journalists, private agencies and other third parties are continuing to seek sensitive and classified information," the commission memo, dating back to December, said.
The work is done by "intelligence officers, or persons directly linked to the intelligence services who adopt a range of covers."
Ms Rampi noted that the head of Belgium's security services, Alain Winants, in January told Flemish magazine Mo that the location of the European Commission and NATO headquarters make Brussels a target for Russian spies.
"This is something that 'in globo' has been noticed by all Western intelligence services - that the activity of the Russian services abroad has risen exponentially. That it displays a certain aggressiveness, self-consciousness," Mr Winants said.
Some of the European Commission's most sensitive documents relate to competition law or trade decisions that could give a financial advantage to individual corporations.
Last September, an EU trade official allegedly offered to sell secrets on upcoming import tariff rulings to reporters from the UK's Sunday Times posing as Chinese businessmen.
The European Commission also has access to texts from the EU's "Situation Centre," a Brussels-based office run by EU member state secret service personnel, which drafts reports on, for example, terrorism risks or war crimes fugitives, for EU foreign relations chief Javier Solana.
The commission on Wednesday said that mention of journalists in the security memo in no way has an impact on freedom of press in the EU capital.
Brussels' respect for freedom of press was in recent years put in doubt by the case of German reporter Hans-Martin Tillack.
The Belgian police, allegedly acting on an informal tip from commission officials about bribery, in 2002 seized several boxes of Mr Tillack's documents, computers and mobile phones.
He was later cleared, but the police held the materials until 2008, potentially exposing his sources to scrutiny and making other EU officials think twice about informal contact with the press.
"The commissioner [anti-fraud chief Siim Kallas] has the utmost respect for your profession, press freedom and the need to protect sources," Ms Rampi told journalists on Wednesday.