Report to EU says US and UK spied on alliesBy Barry James
Paris, Thursday, February 24, 2000
BRUSSELS - A report to the European Parliament asserted Wednesday that the United States and Britain used a surveillance network to spy on the communications of their allies to obtain military, industrial and economic secrets - an accusation immediately rejected by the British prime minister.
"No is the short answer," Tony Blair said when asked if the accusation was true. "These things are governed by extremely strict rules, and those rules always will be applied."
But the report drew heated protests from European politicians. Charles Pasqua, a former French interior minister and now a member of the EU Parliament, said that "all means are acceptable" for the United States, but "what is more shocking for us is the attitude of the British because Britain is an integral part of the European Union."
"A good part of this surveillance network is based in Britain, and Britain benefits from priority information," Mr. Pasqua said.
The report was prepared last year for a parliamentary subcommittee that assesses science and technology. Much of it was written by a British journalist, Duncan Campbell, who has long specialized in espionage and security issues and who presented the findings to a parliamentary hearing Wednesday. Some of the information surfaced recently in the United States under the Freedom of Information act.
The president of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, condemned the spying practices as an outrageous attempt on the privacy of individual citizens and on the legitimate activities of private companies.
"For the European Union, the interests involved are essential," Mrs. Fontaine said. "It seems well established that there has been a violation of the fundamental rights of its citizens, and economic espionage may have had disastrous consequences on employment, for example."
A member of the French National Assembly, Rene Galy-Dejean, asked the government to demand "official explanations" from Washington and to lodge a protest with London. The French justice minister, Elisabeth Guigou, told the Assembly that a system originally built for defense purposes appeared to have been "inverted to the purposes of economic espionage and for keeping a watch on competitors."
The report said an automated system known as Echelon "has long been routinely used to obtain sensitive data concerning individuals, governments, trade and international organizations."
It said the United States had routinely spied on European interests such as the Airbus consortium , the European fighter jet and Thomson-CSF, the French defense electronics company, as well as obtaining information about the negotiation positions of other countries in trade negotiations.
The report estimated that Û15 billion ($15.05 billion) to Û20 billion is spent every year on communications intelligence, the bulk of it by the major English-speaking nations.
It said a consortium of intelligence-gathering countries known as UKUSA and including the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had built up a worldwide network to eavesdrop on virtually every means of modern communication, from pocket pagers to the Internet.
"UKUSA nations place no restrictions on intelligence gathering affecting either citizens or companies of any non-UKUSA nation, including member states of the European union" except Britain, the report said. This information is made available secretly to competing companies, it alleged, for example to help Boeing thwart a bid by Airbus to sell passenger jets to Saudi Arabia.
It said the spying depends on no fewer than 120 satellite-based data collection systems. " There are few gaps in coverage," the report said. "The scale, capacity and speed of some systems is difficult fully to comprehend. Special purpose systems have been built to process pager messages, cellular mobile radio and new satellites."
The report accused the United States of deliberately misleading other countries that the true purpose of its intelligence gathering was the need to combat crime and terrorism. It said policy in this area was entirely led by the National Security Agency sometimes to the complete exclusion of judicial or police officials.
Mrs. Fontaine said it was now up to the political groups in the Parliament to decide what to do with the information contained in the report and to establish the responsibility of EU member states in the alleged espionage.