David Cameron defends Britain's spy services as anger mounts in Europe over US and UK state surveillance

PM accuses US whistle-blower Edward Snowden and newspapers which publish his leaks of putting people's lives at risk

Brussels

David Cameron has launched a fierce defence of Britain’s spy services in the face of mounting anger in Europe over state surveillance, accusing the US whistleblower Edward Snowden and newspapers which publish his leaks of putting people’s lives at risk.

After fresh claims that British and US spy agencies monitored Italian communications, Mr Cameron insisted security services needed to use “all of the modern techniques” to prevent attacks by terrorist groups who “want to do us harm, who want to blow up our families, who want to maim people”.

“What Snowden is doing – and to an extent, what the newspapers are doing in helping him doing what he is doing – is frankly signalling to people who mean to do us harm how to evade and avoid intelligence and surveillance,” he said. “That is not going to make our world safer.”

The Prime Minister was speaking after an EU summit which was overshadowed by German and French anger at allegations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had bugged the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone and tapped up to 70 million communications in France in a month.

The fresh revelations published this week were the latest in a drip feed of reports in both European and American newspapers this year based on leaks by the former NSA contractor Snowden, which have dented Washington’s relations with some of its closest allies.

While there were angry comments from Ms Merkel and other European leaders about the alleged hacking as they went into the summit on Thursday afternoon, the tone shifted towards trying to find ways to repair a transatlantic relationship which brings great benefit to both sides.

“What is at stake is preserving our relations with the United States,” said the French President, François Hollande. “Trust has to be restored and reinforced.”

Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande have demanded urgent talks with the US and an agreement to end the alleged widespread snooping. Germany will send spy chiefs to Washington soon to try to find answers to claims that the NSA listened in on calls on Ms Merkel’s mobile phone.

In a statement issued today, the 28 EU heads of state expressed “deep concern” about the revelations sourced to Snowden, warning that a “lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence-gathering”. The European Parliament voted on Thursday to suspend a data-sharing agreement aimed at detecting terrorist fund-raising.

The text of the EU statement referred to “relations between European countries as well as... relations with the US,” a possible reference to similar accusations of state surveillance levelled at Britain. The Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, has labelled recent reports in L’Espresso magazine that the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ spied on the government and businesses as “inconceivable and unacceptable”.

GCHQ has also been accused of hacking into the Belgian telecoms firm Belgacom, which counts EU institutions as clients. Mr Cameron refused to answer questions about whether he had been able to reassure allies that British intelligence had not been involved in any bugging. He did, however, argue that Britain’s strong security services were of benefit to other nations.

“The information that we gather that we then share with other countries in Europe has helped those countries,” he said, adding: “I will back the work [security services] do and I will criticise those that make public some of the techniques they use because that is helping our enemies – simple.”

Mr Cameron did not name the newspapers to which he was referring, but added: “The first priority for any prime minister is to help to keep the country safe, and that means not having some la-de-da, airy-fairy view about what this all means – it’s understanding intelligence and security services do an important job.”

In Britain, The Guardian has been publishing reports sourced to Snowden, including a memo on Thursday which implied that the NSA may have monitored the phone numbers of 35 unnamed world leaders. The Independent has published one article based on information contained in the Snowden files, regarding a British internet-monitoring station in the Middle East.

The US spying has dominated conversation among leaders at the EU summit in Brussels The US spying has dominated conversation among leaders at the EU summit in Brussels

The spying game: A history of international snooping

Britain spied on US isolationist groups during the Second World War, secret archives published earlier this year revealed. The declassified documents at the National Archives in London showed how Winston Churchill was sent a report on a 1940 private phone call between President Franklin D. Roosevelt, his Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and Joe Kennedy, the US ambassador to London, during which they discussed options “if Europe is overrun” by Nazi Germany.

The following year, British agents in the US compiled a 4in thick dossier on America First, a group urging the US to stay out of conflict.

Great Britain and the Soviet Union were uneasy allies after Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 and continued to spy on each other. In 1942, Gevork Vartanyan, a notorious Soviet agent of the time, managed to attend an entire British training course in Tehran for Russian-speaking spies, whom London wanted to send all over the Soviet Union. His work helped expose the British network despite London’s wartime alliance with Moscow.

A leaked warning by the CIA over French spying on the US was reported in 1993. The agency said that American aerospace and electronics companies would do well to skip the Paris Air Show due to open at the time because the French, according to the CIA, have traditionally used the air show to steal industrial and military secrets.

Revelations that the Americans were spying on Japan at a Geneva economic conference in the mid-1990s fuelled tensions ahead of major trade talks in 1995. But it ultimately did the Japanese no harm, as the talks at Ripley Castle in England culminated in a favourable deal on cars and auto parts for Tokyo.

A former head of Australia’s spy agency gave an interview in 2007 saying Russia had spied on his country for decades. David Sadleir and other sources said the Russians were especially interested in acquiring military technology and knowledge related to lasers, electronic warfare simulation and tactical radios.

Paul Gallagher

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Designer

£32969 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Data Engineer

£35000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Data Engineer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence