Washington's efforts to contain fallout from the Snowden espionage debacle unravelled dramatically on Sunday as the European Union and individual European governments nations were revealed as targets of industrial-scale American snooping into government and private communications around the globe.
Suggesting that the leaker, former contract intelligence worker Edward Snowden, has put in place an elaborate country-by-country plan of leaks to cause maximum diplomatic embarrassment for the US, the German magazine Der Spiegel published the first in what is says is a series of reports, causing near-apoplexy in the capitals of the continent.
"Such behavior among allies is intolerable. They have completely lost balance - George Orwell is nothing by comparison." Elmar Brok, chairman of the EU foreign affairs commitee.
According to the Der Spiegel reports, The US National Security Agency has bugged the EU offices in Washington and its mission to the United Nations in New York and has hacked into the EU's computer network, directing a flood of EU correspondence, documentation and high-level meeting conversations to analysts in the US.
Also revealed is a huge eavesdropping operation in Brussels, seemingly conducted from a building at the headquarters of NATO, of which 20 or more European countries are members, against on the telecommunications system at the EU headquarters in the same city. According to the reports, every EU member state has rooms at the building, with telephone and internet connections, which are used by EU ministers.
Singled out for the greatest US attention, in what appeared to be an operation that goes beyond that focused on the EU, is Germany with as many as 500 million communications, by phone and internet, being monitored each month, according to the documents.
"We can attack the signals of most foreign and third-class partners, and we do it too," the German magazine quotes from one of the NSA documents.
The first target of European anger at the revelations could be ambitious negotiations for a trans-Atlantic trade pact worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The first substantive talks on the deal are scheduled to get underway this week.
But amid angry comparisons of US spying with the work of the hated Stasi in post-WWII East Germany and claims that Washington has reverted to the worst conduct of the Cold War, there were calls for the talks to be postponed, pending Washington explaining itself.
A taste of the reactions across Europe - German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: "If the media reports are correct, then it is reminiscent of methods used by enemies during the Cold War. It defies belief that our friends in the US see the Europeans as enemies."
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