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29th May 2022

WikiLeaks: US spied on Merkel, Ban Ki-moon

  • Earlier revelations of US snooping prompted public anger in Germany (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Whistleblower site WikiLeaks has published new evidence that the US spied on EU leaders in trade talks, climate talks, and on Israel.

The five secret US documents published on Tuesday (23 February) indicate that the National Security Agency (NSA) tapped 13 phone lines between 2006 and 2011 linked to government officials and offices in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland.

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  • EU and US free trade negotiators in Brussels on Monday (Photo: European Commission)

The targets included Marco Carnelos, an aide of former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, Berlusconi’s national security advisor Bruno Archi, and Italy’s ambassador to Nato, Stefano Stefanini.

They also include two UN officials, Bernard Doyle and Johann Human, and an unnamed Nato official in Brussels.

One of the documents, marked "Noforn", meaning it cannot be shared with foreign states, covers the EU and Japan's response to US tactics in the Doha trade talks.

The Doha talks aimed to bring about a global trade accord but broke down in 2008, prompting countries to pursue alternative deals such as the EU-US free trade pact.

The document details a conversation between Japanese agriculture minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, the then EU farming commissioner Marianne Fischer-Boel, and one of her advisers, Klaus-Dieter Borchardt.

It contains sensitive information on the levels of reduced US subsidies for its agricultural sector that the EU might be willing to accept.

It also noted that Borchardt promised Japan that the EU would not try to "enter into a bilateral, under-the-table deal with the US (as had happened in Cancun in 2003".

One of the NSA documents on Italy is marked "FVEY", meaning the US probably shared it with its principal allies Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - the so-called Five Eyes group.

It covers a meeting between Berlusconi and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in 2010 in which Netanyahu tried to justify plans for building 1,600 new settler homes.

"Berlusconi promised to put Italy at Israel's disposal in helping mend the latter's ties with Washington," it says.

A second NSA file on Italy, dated 2011 and also tagged Noforn, covers a "tense and very harsh" meeting between German leader Angela Merkel, former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, and Berlusconi.

It said Merkel and Sarkozy "pressured" Berlusconi to tackle Italy’s debt pile.

Italian banks

"Sarkozy was said to have told Berlusconi that while the latter's claims about the solidity of the Italian banking system may be true in theory, financial institutions there could soon 'pop' like the cork in a champagne bottle," the file says.

It also covers a separate meeting between a Berlusconi aide, Valentino Valentini, and former EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy.

It says Van Rompuy urged Rome to "undertake policies aimed at reducing the impression within the EU" that its debt was out of control.

Two other NSA files, both marked Noforn, cover the run-up to the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009, which, like Doha, failed to yield any accord.

One of the documents details a meeting between Merkel and Ban Ki-moon in which he urged the EU to "maintain its leadership role in combating climate change" and praised Merkel for "her personal efforts regarding the issue … and for encouraging other EU leaders to agree".

The other file covers talks between a senior Japanese official, Masaharu Kono, and his German counterpart, Bernd Pfaffenback, on the US negotiating position.

Awkward timing

The revelations are unlikely to cause surprise after NSA contractor Edward Snowden earlier leaked files showing how the US spied on EU leaders.

The Snowden leaks showed that the NSA even tapped Merkel's mobile phone.

But the new WikiLeaks cache comes at a tricky time for EU-US talks on free trade and data protection.

The 12th round of talks on the so-called TTIP free-trade accord began in Brussels on Monday, with a meeting between lead negotiators Dan Mullaney from the US and the EU's Ignacio Garcia Bercero.

The new revelations also come amid a fresh campaign for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over sexual assault allegations.

Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy to the UK in London since 2012 to avoid being arrested by British police and sent to Sweden.

He says he fears that Sweden would send him to face trial in America.

'Everyone at risk'

Earlier this month, a UN panel said his self-confinement in the embassy amounted to "arbitrary detention" by the UK. But the UK authorities rubbished the findings.

Assange said in a statement on Tuesday: "Today we showed that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon's private meetings over how to save the planet from climate change were bugged by a country intent on protecting its largest oil companies.

If the [UN] secretary general can be targeted without consequence then everyone from world leader to street sweeper is at risk."

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