The National Security Agency (NSA) would happily carry out industrial espionage operations in pursuit of US economic interests, Edward Snowden has alleged in a German TV interview.
Sunday's interview with ARD TV from his Russian hideout was very light on concrete examples but Snowden did mention German firm Siemens as a hypothetical example.
"If there's information at Siemens that's beneficial to US national interests, even if it doesn't have anything to do with national security, then they'll take that information," he said in a transcription of his dubbed comments by news agencies.
Note the qualification 'hypothetical'. Snowden did hint that the NSA had tapped the communications of a variety of German officials and not only those of Chancellor Angela Merkel, as revelead to much US Government embarrassment last October.
"I would guess it seems unreasonable that someone that was concerned about the intentions of the German leadership that they would only watch Merkel and not her aides, her officials, not heads of ministries or even local government officials."
Of all the man claims that have emerged during the Snowden affair, this has the potential to be the most damaging if it can be backed up with more specifics. If these do emerge during subsequent press articles, the US could find itself facing an unprecedented political backlash.
The key question is what is meant by industrial espionage. Monitoring communications in a general sense might not look good but did this extend to carrying out surveillance on firms competing with US rivals at specific moments in time?
Snowden also gave credence to a report on the BuzzFeed website that quoted US officials as wanting to kill him.
"These people, and they are government officials, have said they would love to put a bullet in my head or poison me when I come out of the supermarket, and then watch as I die in the shower," Snowden said in a quote released by ARD TV.