ROME (Reuters) - U.S. and British intelligence services have monitored Italian telecoms networks, targeting the government and companies as well as suspected terrorist groups, Italian weekly L’Espresso reported on Thursday.
The report, based on evidence from former U.S. intelligence operative-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, is likely to fuel growing anger among Washington’s European allies over the activities of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).
“The NSA has many spying operations, also on European governments and including the Italian government,” journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first published documents leaked by Snowden, told L’Espresso in a preview of an article due to be published in full on Friday.
The summary issued on Thursday did not contain specific evidence but said documents held by Snowden “contain a great deal of information on the control of Italian telecommunications which will be released in the next few weeks”.
The issue is set to dominate a meeting of European Union leaders on Thursday, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel called U.S. President Barack Obama to protest at reports, judged credible by Berlin, that her mobile phone had been bugged.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Wednesday that the United States was working to “find the right balance between protecting the security and privacy of our citizens” and that consultations with partners including Italy would continue.
As well as surveillance under the U.S. PRISM programme, a separate programme dubbed Tempora and run by Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) also spied on telephone, Internet and email traffic carried through three undersea fibre-optic cables in Sicily, L’Espresso said.
It said British intelligence services sought information in Italy to protect British economic interests as well as to identify “the political intentions of foreign governments” including on military affairs.
In addition to information on nuclear, chemical and biological arms proliferation, British priorities included advanced military technology which could include legitimate Italian trade deals with Arab countries, the magazine said.
The report said Italian intelligence services had knowledge of the information collected by the British under an information sharing agreement but it gave no details.
No comment was immediately available from Italian intelligence officials.
On Wednesday, the Italian state secretary with responsibility for security services told a parliamentary committee there was reasonable certainty that communications between Italian citizens in Italy had not been monitored.
Giacomo Stucchi, head of the Italian Parliamentary Committee for the Intelligence and Security Services and for State Secret Control (Copasir) told online daily affariitaliani.it that he did not believe Italian prime ministers had been bugged.
“The only thing we do not have clarity on is metadata from communications between the U.S. and Italy,” he said, referring to the information about addresses or duration of calls and emails rather than their actual content.
Greenwald did not immediately respond to a request to verify his comments.
Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Alistair Lyon