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Home » Hacking News » US officials snub EU Echelon fact finders

US officials snub EU Echelon fact finders

by phiber on May 14th, 2001 An EU team investigating Echelon, the US-run surveillance system allegedly used to help US companies win foreign contracts, was yesterday snubbed by the Bush administration.
A delegation from the European Parliament investigating the existence and impact of a global satellite surveillance system operated by the United States and other English-speaking allies abruptly ended a fact-finding visit to Washington, DC, yesterday, after some Bush administration officials refused to meet with the group.

Leaders of the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on Echelon -- the name of the alleged surveillance system -- said they had meetings planned with the State Department and Commerce Department's Advocacy Center, an office that helps US companies win foreign contracts, that were abruptly cancelled without a "satisfactory" explanation.

While no firm meetings were set up, committee officials said Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency officials also had indicated ahead of time that they may be willing to meet with the delegation, but refused to do so, saying such a meeting would be "inappropriate," the committee's chairman Carlos Coelho said.

Coelho said during a news conference that he was "concerned and dismayed" by the refusal of the agencies to meet with the delegation. In a statement made during a meeting with House Intelligence Committee leaders on Wednesday, Coelho said the US officials' refusal to meet with the delegation "can only increase the suspicion that there is indeed something to hide." The committee also met with officials from the Justice Department.

Coelho said he wanted to discuss with the national security officials allegations that the United States has used the Echelon system, which is allegedly being run in cooperation with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to engage in economic espionage aimed at helping US companies.

The committee is expected to release a report on its investigation at the end of the month, and the full parliament, the legislative branch of the European Union, may discuss the panel's recommendations in September.

"Given the nature of the allegations which have been made about Echelon, economic espionage and so on, it was extremely important that the United States authorities had the opportunity to respond," Coelho said.

In particular, the committee leaders said they had documents showing that the CIA has met with the Commerce Department's Advocacy Center and wanted to know why a spy agency would meet with an office set up to help US businesses compete globally.

Gerhard Schmid, the parliament member responsible for developing the committee's report on the investigation, said there may be a legitimate reason for why the CIA was involved with the center, but questioned "why can't such a debate take place."

Both NSA and CIA officials have denied that the United States is engaged in industrial espionage. And even the European Parliament officials acknowledged that the committee has not substantiated any of the allegations.

"I recognise that it is standard practice for some countries to use their intelligence services to conduct economic espionage, but that is not the policy or practice of the United States," George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, testified last year before the House Intelligence Committee.

A CIA spokeswoman said the agency never made any promises that it would meet with the European Parliament delegation and that any information it could provide to them has already been stated publicly. She added when asked about whether the CIA met with the officials from the Advocacy Center that the CIA meets with different agencies for a variety of reasons and has stated "clearly" that it does not engage in economic espionage to provide unfair advantage for US companies.

A NSA spokeswoman gave a similar response, saying, "We respectfully declined the EU request. We believe our director's testimony before the US intelligence oversight committees last year provides a synopsis of the NSA's position on the issues at hand."

The United States has never formally acknowledged the existence of Echelon, a global system for intercepting satellite communications. But both Coelho and Schmid said they have no doubt that it does exist.

"Yes it exists and we can prove it," Schmid said. "It can have good purposes and can be misused."

Schmid pointed to the existence of special antennas on US military bases around the world that are only used, he claims, for intercepting satellite communications.

Schmid was asked why the committee is so concerned given that it has been widely known for years that countries intercept satellite communications. He responded that this may be true but that citizens in countries that conduct such activities are often protected by their own constitutions, but there is nothing to protect them against the activities of other countries.

When asked what can be done about the situation, Schmid said he would recommend that EU countries encourage businesses to do more to protect their communications through the use of encryption and other means. He also suggested that the World Trade Organization adopt a requirement that members agree not to spy against foreign companies.

from ZDNet

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