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SPYING

Spain demands details of mass US eavesdropping

Spain demanded on Monday details of reported mass US eavesdropping on its citizens, denouncing the alleged surveillance as "inappropriate and unacceptable" as outrage spread over the worldwide espionage programme.

Spain demands details of mass US eavesdropping
Spain delivered the message to US Ambassador James Costos (centre), summoned to explain the latest revelations in a growing scandal over US spying. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

Spain delivered the message to US Ambassador James Costos, summoned to explain the latest revelations in a growing scandal over US snooping on telephone and online communications of ordinary citizens and world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The news emerged just as a European Parliament delegation was to begin a three-day mission to Washington to probe the impact of the surveillance on EU citizens' "fundamental rights" and to discuss a request to suspend an EU-US agreement on the transfer of bank data in the wake of the scandal.

Spanish foreign ministry officials met with the US envoy hours after daily newspaper El Mundo published a classified document purportedly showing that the US security services tracked 60.5 million Spanish telephone calls in a single month.

The National Security Agency recorded the origin and destination of the calls and their duration but not the content, said El Mundo, which printed a classified graph showing 30 days of telephone call tracing up to January 8 this year.

The graph illustrated the daily volume of calls traced in the period, peaking at 3.5 million on a single day, December 11.

Though not shown on the graph, the newspaper said such systematic trawling of huge volumes of digital information — or metadata — would include intercepting personal details through Internet web browsers, emails and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

The article was jointly authored by US blogger Glenn Greenwald, who said he had access to previously secret documents obtained by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The Spanish foreign ministry said it had underscored with the US ambassador its concern over the reported snooping.

"Spain conveyed to the United States the importance of preserving the climate of trust that governs bilateral relations and of knowing the scale of practices that, if true, are inappropriate and unacceptable between countries that are partners and friends," it said in a statement.

Spain's state secretary for the European Union, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, "urged the US authorities to provide all necessary information about the supposed tapping in Spain", it said.

The US ambassador said in a separate statement that some of the security programmes played a "critical role" in protecting Americans and were also instrumental in protecting allied interests.

He promised to work diplomatically to address Spain's concerns.

El Mundo said it had reached an agreement with Greenwald for exclusive access to Spain-related spying documents leaked by Snowden.

The paper urged Spanish prosecutors to charge the NSA with spying, saying such tracing of telephone calls without the proper judicial authority amounted to a criminal offence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said after a summit with fellow European Union leaders in Brussels on Friday that he had no evidence that Spain had been spied on.

At the summit, the 28 European Union leaders approved a statement which said they valued the relationship with the United States but it had to be based on trust and confidence, especially in intelligence matters. 

France and Germany are to lead efforts to reach a new understanding with Washington by the end of this year.

The Wall Street Journal said Monday that the NSA had tapped the phones some 35 world leaders including close ally Merkel, who last week branded the snooping as unacceptable between friends.

President Barack Obama learned of the espionage programme only after an internal mid-year review,and the White House then ordered an end to the spying on some leaders, including Merkel, the Wall Street Journal said.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines flatly denied reports in Germany that NSA chief General Keith Alexander had briefed Obama on the operation against Merkel in 2010 but that the president let the spying continue.

German media had reported at the weekend that eavesdropping on Merkel's phone may have started in 2002, when she was Germany's main opposition leader and three years before she became chancellor.

And the daily Bild am Sonntag quoted US intelligence sources as saying that Obama himself had been informed of the phone tap against Merkel by NSA chief General Keith Alexander in 2010 but allowed it to continue.

Alexander "did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel," Vines said Sunday.

"News reports claiming otherwise are not true."

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CORRUPTION

Spain’s second biggest bank charged with corruption over corporate spying

Spain's second biggest bank BBVA has been charged with corruption for alleged corporate spying involving a disgraced former police chief.

Spain's second biggest bank charged with corruption over corporate spying
Photo: AFP

Spain's National Court, which handles major financial cases, charged the bank with “corruption and breach of confidence”, a spokeswoman for the court said.

The announcement comes five days after prosecutors asked that the bank be charged.   

Earlier this month, nine former or current managers at the bank were put under formal investigation in the same case.BBVA is suspected of having used Jose Manuel Villarejo, a now retired police superintendent, to illegally tap the phones of journalists, politicians and businesspeople to push back an unwanted shareholder, according to Spanish media.   

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In January, the bank admitted it had previously used the services of a business intelligence group called Cenyt and had launched an internal probe into the issue.

 

Cenyt was linked to Villarejo who is currently in jail, suspected of having done dirty work, such as blackmail or threats, on behalf of companies or rich individuals for decades.

For years, he also recorded conversations with the all-powerful and has been drip-leaking these from prison, striking fear among high-profile politicians, business leaders and even the monarchy.

Prosecutors had argued that employing Villarejo could be considered corruption “because of the incompatibility” of his position as a police officer and the type of work for BBVA on behalf of Cenyt.

They also accuse some BBVA executives of having received gifts from Cenyt in exchange for awarding contracts.

Among those probed in the BBVA case is Angel Cano, who as chief operating officer from 2009 to 2015 acted as deputy leader of the bank.   

“Our priority is to clarify the facts and collaborate with authorities and that will continue to be the case,” BBVA chairman Carlos Torres Vila said in a statement.

In January, BBVA said it had not “found any paperwork reflecting any monitoring or tapping of private communications” in its initial internal probe. 

But the case still forced Francisco Gonzalez, who as executive chairman of BBVA was its top leader, to resign from all his posts, including honorary ones, by March 2019.

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