European aircraft maker Airbus has this week threatened legal action over stunning revelations that German intelligence services might have aided or turned a blind eye to US industrial espionage dating back more than a decade.
The threat of spying by countries such as China or Russia is now well understood but the idea that the US operated a long-running campaign of surveillance against its allies possibly designed to benefit its own economic interests is a new and shocking claim.
That a European intelligence service, in this case Germany’s BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), might have aided this with the knowledge of senior politicians will only add to the belief that organisations can no longer trust anyone to defend them - including their own government.
The allegation is contained in a leaked document is that BND passed data to the NSA to facilitate spying against European defence companies to check whether or not they were breaking trade embargoes as far back as 2002.
The German Government is said to have known about this campaign in 2008, with current Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, allegedly aware of the details.
"There is a concrete suspicion of industrial espionage,” a spokesperson for Airbus is reported to have told Reuters.
“We've asked the government for more information. We will launch a complaint against an unknown person on suspicion of industrial espionage,"
The irony in this is that Germany last year made a huge fuss about the alleged US tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone, something she was reported to have personally raised during conversations with President Obama. Complaints of a ‘grave strain’ in relations between the two countries will look hypocritical is the Airbus suit forces further embarrassing revelations about the extent of spying co-operation.