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Eu phones tapped { March 21 2003 }

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Phone bugs set EU alarm bells ringing
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
March 21 2003

Delegates from six countries have had their telephones bugged - possibly for as long as eight years - in a spying operation at the headquarters of the European Union.

The leaders of representative countries were scheduled to meet at an economic summit in the building yesterday.

EU officials said the telephones of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria had all been tapped, but dismissed speculation in the French media that the CIA was responsible.

"We do not know who is behind it. I don't know who was on the other end of the line," said Dominique-Georges Marro, head of the EU Council press service.

The bugging devices were placed on lines between the central switchboard and the national delegations at the labyrinthine Justus Lipsius building, home of the Council of Ministers, close to the European Commission in Brussels.

The Swedish ambassador, Sven-Olaf Petersson, who took part in a briefing of all 15 EU envoys on Wednesday, said there were signs the eavesdropping may have been built into the system as long ago as 1995.

"They were very sophisticated installations, which only a few intelligence services are able to install," he said.

With tensions already running high over Iraq, EU diplomats were speculating on whether the culprit could be an EU member state, an eastern European country wanting secrets on enlargement policy, or further afield.

Fingers were pointing at Paris and London, which are viewed as cunning enough to bug their own lines to disguise the operation. But the Russians, Israelis and Chinese were also being floated as candidates.

Officials denied a report in the French newspaper Le Figaro that the devices had been linked to the United States, and said an investigation was continuing with the help of security experts from the countries involved. "At this point we cannot say who planted these bugs," a council spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, said.

Mr Petersson said the devices had been found on February 28, attached to certain phone lines in the central switchboard. Investigators wanted to keep the discovery quiet to stand a better chance of catching the culprits, but Le Figaro broke the story.

It seems unlikely the bugs are linked to the war in Iraq. The equipment was discovered during a routine sweep at the end of last month but there were indications that it had been installed as long ago as 1995, when the building was being completed.

No bugging devices were found in the offices used by the EU's foreign policy and security chief, Javier Solana. EU military matters are handled on separate, more secure premises.

George Papandreou, the Greek Foreign Minister and spokesman for the EU's rotating presidency, condemned the espionage operation, but said it was a waste of effort.

"To all those who feel that it is necessary to tap our phones, we say that Europe is a very transparent organisation," he said. "They shouldn't go to such lengths to try to find out information - we can provide it for them."

The Telegraph, London; The Guardian, Associated Press

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