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                 By David Ruppe
                 N E W   Y O R K, July 16 _Some of America's
                 closest European allies suspect a massive U.S.
                 listening post, nestled on the quiet, windswept
                 moors of northern England, has secretly been
                 spying on European governments, businesses
                 and citizens. 


                      In apparent response, the French government last
                 March issued a decree allowing the public to use more
                 powerful encryption, which would hamper eavesdropping
                 on, say, e-mail and telephone conversations. 
                      Germany last month also announced it would relax
                 encryption controls and took the unusual step of
                 announcing it would promote the use of powerful
                 encryption throughout Germany _ even though both
                 moves will likely make eavesdropping by law
                 enforcement more difficult.
                      Neither government mentioned U.S. intelligence
                 gathering as a reason, though each alluded to a
                 growing threat of espionage against national
                 businesses and citizens.
                      In Britain, the government has been asked
                 to provide assurances that operations at Menwith Hill
                 are not breaking the law.
                      In March, a British member of Parliament queried
                 government on whether U.S. activities at Menwith Hill
                 fully comply with British law, U.S. law, European
                 Union law, and international law.
                      Not really answering the question, the
                 responded: "The United States Visiting Forces
                 authorities...at RAF Menwith Hill, are required to
                 respect the laws of this country." 

                 Damaging European Report 
                 Then, in April, the European Parliament released a
                 report specifically charging that the U.S. government
                 used information gained through eavesdropping during
                 international trade negotiations, and that U.S.
                 companies used it, too, to defeat European
                 competitors in major trade competitions.
                      The report, authored by British investigative
                 Duncan Campbell, cited several news accounts of
                 alleged economic espionage, including a 1995 story in
                 The Baltimore Sun. 
                      "Former intelligence officials and other experts
                      say tips
                 based on spying... regularly flow from the Commerce
                 Department to U.S. companies to help them win
                 contracts overseas," the Sun reported.
                      The report said the Commerce Department, which
                 responsible for promoting U.S. trade, has an office
                 specially designated to receive information from the
                 intelligence community.
                      It also charged that Internet browsers and other
                 software shipped to Europe by American manufacturers
                 are intentionally disabled so secure communications
                 can be read by the U.S. National Security Agency, the
                 cornerstone organization of U.S. electronic
                 intelligence, without difficulty.
                      Since the report's release, Sweden's foreign
                 has said his government will investigate whether
                 Swedish companies were harmed by American spying.
                 Another British MP has called on his government to
                 stop Menwith Hill from spying on British companies
                 and citizens. 
                      The NSA refused to comment on Menwith Hill. 

                 A Global System 
                 The two European Parliament reports and two decades
                 of investigative reporting have established that
                 Menwith Hill and Bad Aibling form part of a scheme of
                 more than a dozen major listening posts operated
                 around the world by the United States, Britain,
                 Canada, Australia and New Zealand through a
                 semi-secret alliance called "UKUSA." 
                      The sites are linked by a system known as
                 "ECHELON," through which the countries collect,
                 select and deliver to each other information
                 intercepted from communications worldwide.
                      The NSA also refuses to discuss UKUSA. 

                 Governments Silent 
                 Still, despite all the suspicions, no European
                 government has, at least publicly, protested UKUSA's
                 suspected eavesdropping.
                      Were the issue to be raised at the national
                      level, it
                 would likely occur through the European Union, says
                 Simon Davies, UK director of the watchdog group
                 Privacy International. 
                      "If the level of commercial espionage is as it
                      has been
                 suggested in the European Parliament's report, then
                 both the [European Union's] Maastricht and the
                 Amsterdam treaties are being fundamentally violated
                 by Great Britain, and possibly Germany," he says.
                      But because the United States shares some
                 with other governments, it is not clear what country
                 would bring a case, says Davies. "The Catch-22 is
                 that governments aren't going to take action on
                 ECHELON or any of the other NSA programs, because
                 they are in such collusion with the NSA." 
                      Other countries outside the UKUSA alliance, such
                 Russia, Germany and France, also are believed to
                 operate their own, albeit less sophisticated,
                 eavesdropping facilities around the globe, and so
                 also may be reluctant to point fingers.
                      Another problem, observers say, is that the
                 ECHELON program has never been acknowledged by
                 the United States or Britain. "France can't ask for
                 an assurance on something that is not official," says
                 a French government official. 

                  Exaggerated Concerns? 
                  By the nature of National Security Agency's
                  technology _ which sweeps in all manner of
                  communications from commercial satellites, spy
                  satellites and other means_it is inevitable the
                  agency will intercept messages European companies
                  and citizens consider confidential, experts say.
                       But some are not convinced the agency is
                  analyzing and sharing with U.S. companies such
                  information to any significant degree, if at all.
                       "The concerns of the European community are a
                  overblown," says James Bamford, author of The Puzzle
                  Palace, the definitive book on the NSA.
                       "The [NSA is] not worried about some company in
                  Brussels. They're worried about the things you see
                  on the front page of The Washington Post and The New
                  York Times, terrorism, Kosovo."
                       Steve Aftergood, director of the project on
                  secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in
                  Washington, agrees. "I don't know that to be the
                  case, namely, that industrial espionage is a policy
                  of the U.S. intelligence community."
                       The United States does collect "various kinds
                  photographic, signals, political and other
                  intelligence," Aftergood says, but he asserts the
                  economic intelligence collected by U.S. spy agencies
                  focuses more on "what is going on in markets,
                  emerging markets, where resources are being
                  identified and discovered."
                       However, Duncan Campbell, the author of the
                  Parliament's April report, doesn't believe any of
                  that for a minute. "Everybody does this. It's a
                  surprise to me that anybody thinks it's a surprise,"
                  he says.
                       "Yes, [U.S. spying] includes market trends but
                  doesn't stop there. If you are going to determine
                  economic trends in a fast moving economic situation
                  other than reading The Wall Street Journal and The
                  Financial Times, how are you going to do it? By
                  spying on contractual negotiations as they happen."
                  _David Ruppe 

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