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French anger at US-British global spying
The European Parliament: special report
Richard Norton-Taylor and David Gow
The publication of a highly provocative report by the European parliament has brought to a head concerns about a worldwide eavesdropping network dominated by the US and Britain.
The report - by the parliament's justice committee - says that the network, code-named Echelon, infringes rights to privacy. It coincides with a number of European investigations charging the US with industrial espionage and increasing French distrust of the close intelligence cooperation between "Anglo-Saxon" nations.
The parliamentary report claims that the Echelon network is capable of listening in on "billions of messages per hour" - including telephone calls, fax transmissions and private emails - and intercepts sensitive Europe-wide commercial communications.
The existence of the Echelon network was confirmed recently by an official US government document published on the internet. Yesterday Duncan Campbell, the British freelance journalist who helped compile the report, told the committee it was run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) with Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The British element is based at the GCHQ station in Morwenstow, north Cornwall.
Charles Pasqua, the former French interior minister and a member of the committee, said British participation gave its an unfair advantage over its EU partners. "The rules of the game are rigged and they are rigged especially by the British. This is shocking," he said.
The report describes a number of cases in which US companies allegedly won contracts destined for European firms after NSA intercepted conver sations. The Airbus consortium and Thomson CSF of France were among the reported losers.
A former NSA agent, Wayne Madsen, told Australian television last year that the US used information gathered from its base in Australia to win a half-share of a significant Indonesian trade contract for AT&T which intercepts showed was initially going to NRC of Japan.
Meanwhile, in a 100-page report submitted recently to the French defence ministry's strategic intelligence arm, DAS, software giant Microsoft is accused of colluding with the US intelligence services to spy on foreign businesses, amid suspicions that the company planted "back door" spy holes in its MS-DOS operating system and Windows software.
According to yesterday's Le Figaro, the spying devices would enable the NSA to penetrate a company's networks and read top-secret documents.
Microsoft said it had never, in France or any other country, installed a system allowing the NSA or other US government agencies to decode encrypted data coming from a computer equipped with Windows.
Lawsuits against Britain and the US for their role in Echelon have been lodged in France, and parliamentary inquiries are under way in Italy and Germany. In the US, a congressional investigation into Echelon's implications for privacy rights begins later this year.
Last night, the foreign office said British intelligence services worked "entirely within the law". This allowed interception in the interests of Britain's "economic well-being" as well as to protect national security. A spokeswoman added: "We do not engage in bulk surveillance, whatever Duncan Campbell says."
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