The government of Switzerland said Monday that it was investigating whether the United States had conducted illegal spying operations within its jurisdiction.
The Swiss ministry said that US contacts asked for permission in 2007 to conduct an intelligence operation, but were denied “due to a lack of legal basis.”
However, a recently leaked US State Department cable showed that intelligence gathering had been afoot in Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland without those governments’ permissions.
Swiss officials said Monday that they were seeking information on such a program being operated out of the US embassy in Geneva, citing a report by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that showed US surveillance in the country as early as Oct. 2005.
The document noted that US officials had taken photos of political rallies and compiled dossiers on people thought to pose risks to embassy security.
The Swiss called for an immediate halt to any further US intelligence gathering operations in the country.
One lawmaker, the Green Party’s Josef Lang, even called for US agents to be expelled from Switzerland.
US diplomats first came under significant criticism after The Guardian, armed with a leaked diplomatic cable, revealed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had ordered spying operations carried out against the United Nations, continuing a policy that began under the administration of President George W. Bush.
Data sought included unusual information like the makeup of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s DNA, telephone records, Internet usernames and passwords and other highly invasive details.
“The intelligence gathering directives on the UN and other countries were sent from the intelligence operations office within the state department’s bureau of intelligence and research, which describes itself as ‘at the nexus of intelligence and foreign policy’,” the paper later reported.
Other information sought included credit card numbers, frequent flier accounts, Internet protocol addresses, contact lists, social networks and even specific times calls were placed, The Guardian added.
Specific individuals were targeted, the paper added, through a State Department partnership with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The spy agency ultimately gave US diplomats marching orders for their various intelligence operations.
“New cables released last night also reveal that Washington has called for diplomats in Romania, Hungary and Slovenia to provide ‘biometric’ information on ‘current and emerging leaders and advisors’ as well as information about ‘corruption among senior officials’ information about leaders’ health and ‘vulnerability’,” they continued.
American officials insisted they’d broken no laws, calling the information merely part of their standard efforts to safeguard US foreign missions.