European aerospace giant Airbus is promising legal action over claims its top blueprints were stolen by German spies and given to America's intelligence agencies.
"We are aware that as a large company in the sector, we are a target and subject of espionage," the company said in a statement to the AFP newswire.
"However, in this case we are alarmed because there is concrete suspicion of industrial espionage. We will now file a criminal complaint against persons unknown on suspicion of industrial espionage."
The threat comes after days of speculation in the German press over reports that the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) – the German foreign intelligence agency – has been spying on German and European companies for the Americans since at least 2008.
Spiegel Online reported that the BND's listening station at Bad Aibling in southern Bavaria was used to target up to 2,000 European concerns, including European defense company EADS, the helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter, and various French agencies. This spying was done at the behest of the NSA, and the information may have been fed back to American businesses.
Following complaints in the German parliament from the Left Party and the Greens, the BND launched an investigation and found 40,000 suspicious searches against Europeans – some of whom hold senior business positions across the continent. The search requests were allegedly supplied by NSA analysts.
"The spying scandal shows that the intelligence agencies have a life of their own and are uncontrollable," said the senior Left Party representative Martina Renner. "There have to be personnel consequences and German public prosecutors must investigate."
The German government is now being accused of lying about the affair. On April 14, in response to a question from the opposition Left Party, the Interior Ministry said in a statement: "We have no knowledge of alleged economic espionage by the NSA or other US agencies in other countries." The government has since said it is "now checking whether parliamentary answers in this case remain totally valid."
If true, the report is a severe political embarrassment for both Chancellor Merkel and President Obama. Merkel was furious when it emerged the NSA had been tapping her personal mobile phone, and President Obama went on German television to promise that spying was only carried out in Europe to hunt down terrorists.
Long-time Reg readers will remember that these kinds of allegations are nothing new. Back in 2001 we reported on the ECHELON satellite spying system used by the Five Eyes nations (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and claims that it had been used to hoover up trade secrets.
The EU probed the matter, and in its final report found ECHELON existed and was illegal, and recommended that the UK pull out of the Five Eyes to show its commitment to Europe. So far the EU is still waiting. ®