EU assembly to investigate U.S. *spy system* - Strasbourg, France, July 5 (Reuters) - The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to form a committee to investigate allegations the United States and allies like Britain used Cold War satellites to conduct industrial espionage in Europe. The U.S. Echelon spy system of satellites and listening posts can intercept millions of telephone, fax and e-mail messages and Washington has been accused of using it for economic espionage against its allies. The United States and Britain have both denied the charges. The EU committee will have one year to establish whether the Echelon system really exists and whether European industry has been damaged by global interception of communications. It will also consider whether the privacy of individuals can be protected from spying and how this can be done. Assembly members said the committee was expected to be headed by Portuguese deputy Carlos Coehlo and would aim to report back on its findings in about eight months. The existence of the Echelon system and allegations it was used to help U.S. firms gain a competitive advantage over their European competitors surfaced in a report to the assembly earlier this year, provoking a furore throughout Europe. The French prosecutor's office said on Tuesday it had appointed a prosecutor to launch a preliminary judicial investigation into the workings of Echelon, set up during the Cold War. Other inquiries have been initiated or are being discussed in Germany and Denmark, European Parliament officials said. But the allegations have turned into a diplomatic nightmare at a time European nations are planning to pool defence capabilities and preparing to launch a global satellite positioning system, called Galileo. A report submitted to the European parliament by a British researcher last October said Echelon's eavesdropping activities had resulted in several major contracts going to U.S. rather than European firms. The Parliament, which has extremely limited powers over European foreign and security policies, was split on how to handle the issue. It rejected a proposal to set up a ``temporary committee of inquiry,'' which could have called witnesses, in favour of a ``temporary committee,'' which in theory has more limited powers.
French Prosecutor Starts Probe Into U.S. Spy System (Reuters) - Paris, July 4 - A French state prosecutor has launched a preliminary judicial investigation into the workings of the United States' Echelon spy system of satellites and listening posts, the prosecutor's office said on Tuesday. Echelon, set up during the Cold War, can intercept millions of telephone, fax and e-mail messages, and Washington has been accused of using it for economic espionage against its allies, a charge it denies. The investigation, which could spark a diplomatic row with the United States, would not necessarily lead to legal action, a spokesman for prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dintilhac told reporters. Coincidentally, the European Parliament is due to decide in Strasbourg on Wednesday whether to set up a commission to investigate whether Echelon infringes the rights of European citizens and industries. Dintilhac's office began the preliminary investigation in response to a letter by a French centre-right member of the European parliament, Thierry Jean-Pierre, who alleged Echelon was potentially prejudicial to French nationals and to France's economic interests. Dintilhac has ordered the state counter-intelligence agency DST to find out whether Echelon's activities could be qualified under French law as "harmful to the vital interests of the (French) nation." Confirmation would lead to legal proceedings, though it was difficult to see how a U.S. government agency could be sued in a French court. A report submitted to the European parliament by a British researcher last October said Echelon's eavesdropping activities had resulted in several major contracts going to U.S. rather than European firms. In particular, it cited a 1994 attempt by the French-led European Airbus consortium to break the U.S. hold on airliner sales to Saudi Arabia. In 1995, France expelled five U.S. diplomats and officials, one of them the alleged Paris station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, in connection with the case. Current C.I.A. director George Tenet said last March, as controversy over Echelon spread to include charges that it also spied on U.S. citizens, that the United States did not spy on foreign firms to give American companies competitive advantage. But his predecessor James Woolsey, C.I.A. director at the time when the U.S. is alleged to have used Echelon to beat Airbus to the Saudi deal, said this year that Washington had found that Airbus agents were offering bribes to a Saudi official. David Nataf, a Paris lawyer representing French firms and individuals who say they have suffered from infringement of privacy by U.S. government agencies, told Reuters that Dintilhac's action came as "a divine surprise." He said French courts had so far been far quicker at replying to requests for action by U.S. government agencies against French nationals than they were at handling cases against official American bodies. "The truth is, our justice system is usually at its fastest when it is asked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or U.S. Air Force to take action against teenage hackers in this country," Nataf said. The lawyer said he would seek to link the complaints he lodged last December, but to which no magistrate has so far been assigned, with Dintilhac's action. Nataf declined to immediately name his clients for legal reasons.
Spy probe adds to U.S.-French tensions - Paul Taylor, Diplomatic Editor
London, July 5 (Reuters) - Relations between France and the United States are at a low ebb, and a French judge's decision to probe alleged American industrial espionage using the Echelon electronic eavesdropping system can only make ties worse. In the last few months, Paris and Washington have clashed on a wide range of issues from trade to missile defence, and from policy on Iraq to the European Union's drive for a defence force autonomous from NATO. Accusations of spying are among the most sensitive between NATO allies, so the disclosure that judge Jean-Pierre Dintilhac is to investigate whether the Echelon system of satellites and listening posts violates French economic interests seems bound to increase tension, even if it never leads to legal action. Underlying these tensions is a French perception that the United States is an overmighty ``hyperpower'' seeking to cement global hegemony, and a U.S. belief that a resentful France is constantly seeking to poke its finger in America's eye. Things are not getting better. On the contrary, the number of misunderstandings is growing on both sides,'' a French diplomat said. ``Despite our ritual professions of friendship, mutual suspicion runs deep,'' he said. - EUROPEANS SHARE ECHELON CONCERN - France is not the only EU country concerned about possible abuse of the Echelon system, which can intercept millions of telephone cals, fax and e-mail messages worldwide, to give U.S. corporations a commercial advantage. The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to form a committee with limited powers to investigate allegations that Washington and allies including EU member Britain have used the Cold War-era network to conduct industrial espionage in Europe. Former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency chief James Woolsey lent credence to European concerns in March when he confirmed that Washington had used communications intercepts to help win a major Saudi aircraft order for Boeing against the European Airbus consortium in 1994. He alleged that the United States had passed on evidence of European attempts at bribery to the Saudi government. In 1995, France expelled five U.S. diplomats and officials, including the CIA's Paris station chief, for alleged economic espionage. The Echelon case could also strain defence cooperation with Britain, which helps operate the eavesdropping system along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But in Franco-American relations, it comes on top of a pile of other disputes. - FRANCE SEEKS COUNTERWEIGHT TO U.S. - President Jacques Chirac has been the most vocal Western critic of U.S. proposals to develop a limited defensive shield against ballistic missiles, branding it destabilising and warning it could unleash a new arms race. Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, who coined the term ``hyperpower'' to describe Washington's political, military, economic and cultural dominance, says U.S. power ``carries in itself, to the extent that there is no counterweight, a unilateralist temptation...and the risk of hegemony.'' In a typical gesture of French ``difference,'' Vedrine refused last week to sign an anodyne declaration on promoting democracy at a U.S.-promoted 100-nation conference in Warsaw, arguing that the West should not be dictating recipes to others, or creating new institutions outside the United Nations. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she was perplexed rather than irritated by the French behaviour. To U.S. policymakers, the idea that a friendly country and military ally should seek to create a counterweight to American influence is in itself hard to accept. When that nation joins forces with Russia and China at the United Nations to try to weaken U.S. and British efforts to isolate Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, it triggers deep anger in Washington, especially in the U.S. Congress. - TRADE DISPUTES FEED STEREOTYPES - France's political establishment is weaned on President Charles de Gaulle's defiance of the United States, despite the younger generation's attraction to American culture and lifestyle. While France is gradually embracing economic globalisation, it is in the vanguard of trade disputes with Washington over hormone-treated beef, genetically modified foods, bananas and subsidies to European farmers and aircraft makers. The trial last week of a French peasants' leader, Jose Bove, feted as a folk hero after he wrecked a McDonald's hamburger restaurant in a protest against ``junk food,'' illustrated American frustrations about France. ``Bove embodies the image of a heroic little anti-American Asterix,'' the French diplomat said, comparing the moustachioed peasant leader with a popular cartoon character of a plucky ancient Gaul fighting the Roman Empire. ``It feeds the cliches on both sides.'' Even if judge Dintilhac's preliminary investigation comes to nothing, Franco-American relations are in for more bumpy times.
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