US spied on European Commission vice president, internal sources claim

NSA reported to have monitored Joaquín Almunia’s phone calls at the start of Europe’s financial crisis

Joaquín Almunia, seen in Brussels on Wednesday.
Joaquín Almunia, seen in Brussels on Wednesday.OLIVIER HOSLET (EFE)

The US National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the cellphone of European Commission Vice President Joaquín Almunia between 2008 and 2009, when the Spaniard served as commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, EC sources have told EL PAÍS.

The former leader of the Spanish Socialist Party is the first high-level EC official known to have been a target of the NSA’s spying activities. Sources said that the 65-year-old Almunia has been made aware that his phone was tapped.

After revelations were made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was spied on by the United States, EC authorities told reporters at the time that none of their officials have been targets.

Sources said that Alumnia’s calls and text messages were monitored at the end of 2008 and early 2009 by not only the NSA but also Britain’s intelligence service GCHQ. The timeframe was a crucial period for the European community.

After almost a year of trying to convince Europeans that the financial crisis that began in the United States would not spill across the Atlantic, leaders around the continent began to realize that the impact on the European Union was going to be more severe than previously thought.

During this time, Brussels began announcing measures to tighten regulations at certain agencies so that it could be better equipped to deal with the crisis. It was also during this period when the European Commission proposed creating a mechanism to supervise and control the banking industry across the continent so that risks could be detected early on and to avoid the bank failures and nationalizations that have since taken place.

On more than one occasion, Almunia warned that the health of the bloc’s banking industries was unknown and certain toxic assets financial institutions were holding could only further aggravate the crisis, which at the time was just beginning.

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