By Brendan Sasso - 12/20/13 11:16 AM EST
U.S. and British intelligence agencies spied on the communications of Europe's top business competition official, according to the latest documents leaked to The New York Times by Edward Snowden.
The documents show that in 2008 and 2009, the National Security Agency and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intercepted the communications of Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the European Commission, the Times wrote Friday.
Previous leaks have already revealed that the NSA targeted foreign leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but it is unclear what national security information could have been gleaned from spying on Almunia, who enforces Europe's antitrust laws.
Almunia has fined several U.S. companies, including Microsoft and Intel, in recent years and is still conducting a three-year long investigation of Google over whether it manipulates its search results to stifle competition.
The United States has criticized China for using surveillance to gain an economic advantage, and U.S. officials have repeatedly denied that they engage in such practices.
"As we have previously said, we do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line," Vanee Vines, an NSA spokeswoman, told The Hill.
But she acknowledged that the NSA does sometimes collect economic information to inform national security decisions.
"The United States collects foreign intelligence just as many other governments do," she said. "The intelligence community’s efforts to understand economic systems and policies, and monitor anomalous economic activities, are critical to providing policymakers with the information they need to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our national security."
The Times reported that it was unclear, based on the documents, whether the NSA or GCHQ had requested information on Almunia. The newspaper wrote the documents do not specify whether he was a longtime target or whether his communications were swept up as part of a broader operation.
Almunia told the Times that he was "strongly upset" about the spying.