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Australia drawn into spy scandal

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday, February 25, 2000

By GEOFF KITNEY, Herald Correspondent, in Berlin

Australia is being drawn into a row between the United States and its European allies over claims that an American-controlled Cold War electronic spying network is being used for commercial espionage against European governments and companies.

The French Government claims the network - which includes a ground station in Australia - is being used by the US, Britain and their "Anglo-Saxon" partners to eavesdrop on the Europeans, picking up commercially sensitive information.

A Defence Department spokesman in Canberra said they were aware of the debate but the department did not comment on matters of national security and intelligence.

European intelligence sources backed the French claim, saying the Defence Signals Directorate Monitoring Station at Geraldton, Western Australia, was a vital part of the network and "sucked up" vast amounts of commercially valuable electronic communications.

The station - connected to the US eavesdropping network Echelon, established during the Cold War to listen to the Soviet Union's military and diplomatic communications - is used to monitor communications in Australia's region. It is said to have played a vital role during the East Timor crisis allowing Australia to monitor the Indonesian military's activities.

Allegations in the French and European parliaments this week said Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Canada all helped the US to gather commercial information from their European allies.

Members of the European parliament called for a committee of inquiry into the charges of industrial espionage after receiving a report from British journalist and writer on espionage issues, Duncan Campbell.

In his report Mr Campbell listed several specific incidents when he alleged Echelon had been used to win contracts for US firms. The French firm Thomson had lost a radar contract in Brazil and the European Airbus consortium missed a $US6 billion ($9.6 billion) contract to the Boeing Corporation.

A German conservative MP in the European Parliament claimed the spying activities had already cost European businesses more than $US20 billion in lost contracts.

Both the US and the UK governments have denied the system is being used for commerical spying. The US State Department spokesman, Mr James Rubin, said: "US intelligence agencies are not tasked to engage in industrial espionage or obtain trade secrets for the benefit of any US company or companies."

After presenting his report to the parliament's Committee for Justice and Home Affairs, Mr Campbell urged the EU to take action to protect members against the unwanted interception of communications, insisting the eavesdropping violated human rights. He also claimed national security agencies were using major US corporations to help with the interception of data, and named Microsoft, IBM and a certain "large American microchip maker".

The French Justice Minister warned French businesses to be particularly vigilant to the possibility of eavesdropping on sensitive commercial communications, saying they should never carry vital information.

CAFCA - Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa

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