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Swiss prosecutor probes US spying allegations

Malcolm Curtis · 2 Dec 2013, 12:26

Published: 02 Dec 2013 12:26 GMT+01:00

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SonntagsZeitung reported on Sunday that from 2005 and “possibly up to today” that security specialists working for the American government were hired to do intelligence work in the Swiss city.

The weekly newspaper said it spoke to two former employees of a company based in Carouge, a municipality in the canton of Geneva, who were contracted to collect information for the US government.

The newspapers said the company received one million dollars a year to conduct “illegal surveillance” of diplomatic posts, UN buildings and international organizations.

The two former agents, identified as Jane and John Doe, told the newspaper that eight people in a surveillance detection team were equipped with “video cameras, recording devices and radios” to snoop on these establishments.

“We call it classical detective work,” Jane Doe is quoted as saying.

“People, cars and buildings were shadowed and monitored within a one-kilometre radius of the US Mission to the UN,” she said.

The agents checked on who was going where, any “flashy” behaviour that attracted attention and anyone who seemed to be out of place, the source told SonntagsZeitung.

Information gathered was fed into a data base known as the Security Incident Management Analysis System.

The company had a contract which ran from 2006 to 2011 and when it expired the agents lost their jobs, said SonntagsZeitung which said it had seen documents that back up its claims.

The report follows earlier revelations from Edward Snowden, the whistle-blowing former CIA employee and a contractor for the National Security Agency, who was once posted to work at the US Mission in Geneva.

Snowden, who leaked NSA documents detailing a massive global internet and telephone “data-mining” surveillance program by the agency, also reported that CIA agents worked under cover at the US Mission in Geneva to collect intelligence.

SonntagsZeitung said the US government in 2006 and 2007 sought to obtain permission from the Swiss government to collect intelligence near the American Embassy in Bern but this was refused because of a “lack of legal basis”.

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The newspaper concluded that the US government had engaged in “severe” violations of Swiss law and “prohibited acts for a foreign state”.

Last month The Local sought a statement from the US Embassy with regard to concern about US spying in Switzerland and in other countries following disclosures such as the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

“The United States takes the concerns of our partners and allies seriously, “ Alexander Daniels, public affairs officer at the embassy, responded.

“We believe it would be a mistake for us to address these matters in a way that exacerbates tension and damages our many efforts to work together on a range of important bilateral and multilateral issues,” Daniels said.

“We know these disclosures have created significant challenges in our relationships with some of our closest foreign partners,” he said.

“President Obama directed the US Intelligence Community to declassify and make public as much information as possible regarding US intelligence programs while being mindful of the need to protect sensitive classified intelligence and national security,” Daniels said.

“Thousands of pages have already been released.”

Daniels said Obama “has also asked his national security team, as well as outside experts, to review how, in light of changing technologies, the United States can best use its technical collection activities to optimally protect US national security and foreign policy interests while respecting U.S. commitments to privacy and civil liberties”.

The US president, he said, “has been clear that just because the United States can do something, doesn’t mean it should do it”.

But US intelligence programs “contribute greatly to the security of our European allies,” Daniels noted.

“There is no question that information generated by such programs has been used to identify terrorist threats in Europe,” he said.

“The United States has made clear that we collect intelligence of the type gathered by all nations to protect our citizens, allies, and partners and to advance our foreign policy.”  

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

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