NATO chief downplays reports of US spying in Brussels
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 4, 2013
STUTTGART, Germany — NATO Secretary-General Andrs Fogh Rasmussen on Thursday said he has no knowledge that U.S. intelligence gathering services have been secretly using alliance facilities in Brussels to spy on its allies in Europe, where outrage over the allegations could threaten to derail talks of a new free trade agreement between the U.S. and Europe.
On Monday, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that it had seen documents provided by the National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden, which suggested that the NSA had used NATO headquarters in Brussels for the purposes of infiltrating email and phone networks used at the European Union, which also has offices in the Belgian capital.
For his part, Rasmussen said he was unaware of any spying being conducted by the U.S. — the alliance’s dominant member stake — at NATO.
“I don’t have any information about possible NSA facilities within the U.S. representation at NATO,” said Rasmussen. “I have no reason to believe NATO security has been compromised in any way.”
Each of NATO’s 28 member states and several partner nations have their own offices within the alliance’s headquarters located on the outskirts of the Belgian capital. The U.S. mission occupies a large complex inside the central building.
The allegations that the NSA used the complex to monitor EU communications is extremely sensitive for NATO, founded as a coalition of friendly democracies in the aftermath of World War II. The alliance has been seeking a new role for itself ever since its original mission — to defend Western Europe against Soviet aggression — ended with the disintegration of its Cold War rival two decades ago.
When asked if he had taken the issue up with U.S. officials, Rasmussen said he had not.
“I haven’t spoken with my American friends because NATO is not involved in this,” Rasmussen said. “This is not a NATO case and as a matter of principle I never comment on leaks or alleged leaks and this is why I don’t have any comments on this case.”
Instead, Rasmussen said he hoped the EU and U.S. press forward with negotiations on a new trade deal.
“I do believe that like-minded countries like the European and North American Allies should work much more closely together not only when it comes to security but also when it comes to economics,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rasmussen said the mission in Afghanistan reached a key milestone last month when Afghan forces officially took the lead in combat operations.
NATO plans to end its combat role in 18 months, although the Taliban insurgents remain undefeated. The alliance plans to mount a follow-on training and advisory mission after the 2014 drawdown.
“For ISAF, it means that we will no longer plan, lead or execute combat operations,” Rasmussen said. “But we will continue to help the Afghan troops on such operations, when needed. We will remain ready for combat until the end of 2014.”
“The Afghan security forces are strong, and they are getting stronger,” Rasmussen continued. “They are getting support and sustainment not just now, but for years to come. As they stand ready to sustain the progress of the past ten years, the international community will continue to stand with them.”