The National Security Agency (NSA) helped Spanish authorities to track the whereabouts of three Catalan aid workers who were kidnapped by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2009, intelligence sources working on the case have told EL PAÍS.
The NSA used tracking devices to monitor the calls of kidnapping victims Roque Pascual, Alicia Gámez and Albert Vilalta when they were allowed to telephone their families. Not only was the metadata given to Spanish authorities, the NSA also provided them with photographs and graphics related to their whereabouts, the sources said.
This latest revelation supports arguments made by US intelligence officials that European spy agencies have long cooperated with the NSA.
The three were kidnapped on December 28, 2009 while they were traveling on a road between the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott and the port city of Nouadhibou before being taken across the border into Mali. Pascual and Vilalta were held for nine months while Gámez was released after four months. At the time, Spain's Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega said their release was down to the work of diplomats and intelligence agents.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reported on its website Friday that Spanish, German, French and Swedish intelligence services have within the past five years all developed ways to monitor and gather information from traffic on the internet and over the telephone, and have been working closely with Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping agency. Quoting from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden on GCHQ, the newspaper said that intelligence services cultivated relationships with telecoms in their countries.