|Author (Person)||Shelley, John|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol 7, No.17, 26.4.01, p3|
THE United States is eavesdropping on European business, but the agency doing it is so secretive that it does not use the information to give American firms a competitive advantage, MEPs were told this week.
At a meeting of the Parliament's special committee set up to examine the Echelon secret spying network, Euro MPs heard claims that the Bush administration is using sophisticated bugging equipment to intercept millions of telephone, fax and email messages in Europe.
However Washington journalist and author James Bamford said the National Security Agency (NSA) was so obsessed with secrecy that even the CIA had difficulty getting information from it, making it virtually unthinkable that US business would be given special access.
"People working in these companies would have to have clearance above top security; even in the military there are not many people with that," he said.
Bamford, who has written two books on the NSA, painted MEPs a worrying picture of a massive and unaccountable security organisation. He said the agency employed more than 50,000 people, mostly in Washington, but with thousands also working in listening stations scattered across Europe and the rest of the world.
Each listening station has the power to intercept one million telecommunications messages every half an hour, he said.
MEPs reacted with alarm to Bamford's account. French left-winger Alain Krivine said: "We are dealing with a sort of octopus, a barbaric instrument that is the very negation of democracy."
Last year, it was alleged that the US used Echelon to beat the European Airbus consortium on an aircraft deal with Saudi Arabia. But Bamford said he did not believe US business was benefiting because the spy network had its work cut out just trying to keep up with national security issues.
"The NSA isn't managing even to do the critical intelligence work it is supposed to be doing," he said. "It missed the nuclear test in India, one of the biggest events they are supposed to be watching out for. There's a lot of things that they miss because they can't be listening to everyone, everywhere, all of the time."
But MEPs were not convinced by Bamford's insistence that this made it highly unlikely that America is spying for economic advantage.
Scottish nationalist Neil MacCormick said the US government's commerce department could be handing out valuable secrets poached from the phone calls and emails of European firms.
"It does seem that companies engaged in large-scale orders could on some occasions activate the NSA," he said.
Another espionage expert, New Zealander Nicky Hager, told the committee that the UK was almost certainly spying on European targets.
Several MEPs expressed concern that the country's close links with the US meant it could not be trusted by its EU partners. "Britain has one leg in Europe and one in the mid-Atlantic," said committee chairman Gerhard Schmid.
The United States is eavesdropping on European business, but the agency doing it is so secretive that it does not use the information to give American firms a competitive advantage, MEPs have been told.
|Subject Categories||Internal Markets|
|Countries / Regions||United States|