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[FYI] (Fwd) French Prosecutor Starts Probe of U.S. Spy System

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Tue, 4 Jul 2000 16:12:07 +0200 (CEST)
From:           	Maurice Wessling <maurice@xs4all.nl>
Subject:        	French Prosecutor Starts Probe of U.S. Spy System
To:             	gilc-plan@gilc.org
Send reply to:  	gilc-plan@gilc.org

SYSTEM. PARIS, July 4 (Reuters) - 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 (CIA), in connection with the case. Current CIA 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, CIA 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 (US) 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. (C) Reuters Limited 2000. REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

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