Fresh evidence emerged Friday that China isn’t the only country engaged in rampant industrial espionage. European aerospace giant Airbus is promising legal action over claims its top secret blueprints were stolen by German spies and then given to the NSA.
The revelations make it increasingly difficult for the United States to take issue with China’s massive industrial espionage campaign against both the U.S. and international targets.
“We are aware that as a large company in the sector, we are a target and subject of espionage,” the company said in a release 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 announcement comes after days of speculation in the German media over reports that the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) – the German intelligence agency – has been spying on German and European companies on behalf of the United States since at least 2008.
Spiegel Online revealed 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 companies. This spying was done at the urging of the NSA, and the information was then fed back to American businesses.
The allegations are startling, as while there are many disclosures of state on state spying, industrial espionage between allied countries has had a very low to no media profile.
Following complaints in the German parliament, the BND launched an investigation and found 40,000 suspicious searches against Europeans – some of whom hold senior business positions across the continent, particularly in the defense and aerospace sectors. The search requests were allegedly given by NSA analysts.
“The spying scandal shows that the intelligence agencies have a life of their own and are uncontrollable,” said the senior German Left Party representative Martina Renner. “There have to be personnel consequences and German public prosecutors must investigate.”
The German government is also being accused of lying about the affair.
On April 14th, in response to a question from the opposition Left Party, the German Interior Ministry said in a statement: “We have no knowledge of alleged economic espionage by the NSA or other U.S. agencies in other countries.” The government has since said it is “now checking whether parliamentary answers in this case remain totally valid.”
The report is a severe political embarrassment for both Chancellor Merkel and President Obama. It is also embarrassing for plane-maker Boeing, who was no doubt the main beneficiary of the EADS blueprints.
Merkel was apparently 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. As is the case with most White House statements, this was evidently a lie.
It remains to be seen what the response to the latest revelations will be but no doubt there will be economic repercussions. Google, IBM and Microsoft have all complained that since the NSA spying allegations they have lost business from countries such as China and it is likely that Boeing in particular will face similar backlash after the latest revelations.