FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 file photo, Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen addresses the media after talks with Slovak President Andrej Kiska at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria. Austria demanded clarification from neighboring Germany on Saturday June 16, 2018 of reports that its spy agency snooped for several years on nearly 2,000 targets in the Alpine nation, including companies and ministries (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)

Austria seeks explanation from Germany about spying reports

June 16, 2018 - 2:01 pm

VIENNA (AP) — Austria demanded clarification from neighboring Germany on Saturday of reports that its spy agency snooped for several years on nearly 2,000 targets in the Alpine nation, including companies and ministries.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said "spying among friendly states is not just unusual and unwanted. It is unacceptable." Austria and Germany are both members of the European Union.

He and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz were responding to reports in the Der Standard newspaper and the Profil magazine about a list of alleged targets in Austria of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, between 1999 and 2006. It reportedly included most major companies and banks in Austria, as well as phone numbers at the chancellery and various ministries in Vienna.

Kurz noted there were suspicions a few years ago of German intelligence activity in Austria and suggested that was partly responsible for German laws subsequently being tightened to prevent such activities. He acknowledged that an Austrian investigation at the time didn't reach any conclusions on the spying because Germany didn't cooperate, but said prosecutors will revisit the matter now "if there is new information."

Kurz said Austria has contacted German authorities following the news reports and is asking who was spied on and when the surveillance ended.

"We want to have certainty that (the surveillance) ended, and if data were saved our request is of course for it to be deleted," he told reporters. But he said "we have no indication at present that the surveillance was continued" after 2006.

Armin Schuster, the chairman of the German parliament committee that oversees the intelligence service, told Germany's Funke newspaper group that the panel is already looking into whether the allegations are new or part of what was already known in 2015, when the BND faced allegations that it may have helped the United States spy on Europeans.

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