Hackers accessed the European Union’s diplomatic communications network for years, downloading cables that reveal concerns about United States President Donald Trump’s administration and the risk of Iran reviving its nuclear programme, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
In one cable, European diplomats described a meeting between President Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, as “successful (at least for Putin).” Another cable, written after July 16, contained a detailed report and analysis of a discussion between European officials and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was quoted comparing Trump’s “bullying” of Beijing to a “no-rules freestyle boxing match”.
The newspaper received more than 1,100 such cables from security firm Area 1 after it discovered the breach. Area 1 investigators believe that the hackers worked for China’s People’s Liberation Army. The cables include memoranda of conversations with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries that were shared across the European Union.
The European Union cables include detailed reports by diplomats of Russia’s moves against Ukraine, including a warning on February 8 that Crimea – which Moscow annexed four years ago – had been turned into a “hot zone where nuclear warheads might have already been deployed”.
In a cable dated March 7, Caroline Vicini, the deputy head of the European Union mission in Washington, urged diplomats from the 28 member nations to describe the United States as “our most important partner” even as it stood up to Trump “in areas where we disagreed with the US (example, on climate, trade, Iran nuclear deal)”.
The hackers also infiltrated the networks of the United Nations, the AFL-CIO, which is the largest federation of unions in the United States, and foreign affairs and finance ministries worldwide, The New York Times reported. The AFL-CIO hack focused on questions surrounding the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that excluded China.
Some of the United Nations communications contain references to private meetings of Antonio Guterres, the world body’s secretary general, and his deputies with Asian leaders at a time in 2016 when North Korea was actively launching missiles.
In a statement, the European Union’s secretariat said it “is aware of allegations regarding a potential leak of sensitive information and is actively investigating the issue”.