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Echelon Reporter answers Ex-CIA Chief
Kevin Poulsen, SecurityFocus 2000-03-24

NSA spying benefits American execs, says the author of the key European Parliament report.

The British reporter who brought the word "Echelon" into the vernacular responded to a former CIA director's claim that the US doesn't commit industrial espionage on Monday.

Last Friday, former CIA director R. James Woolsey told continental Europe to "get real," as it investigates allegations that the US National Security Agency uses its global electronic surveillance network to spy for American corporations.

"True, in a handful of areas European technology surpasses American," Woolsey wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. "But, to say this as gently as I can, the number of such areas is very, very, very small. Most European technology just isn't worth our stealing."

The U.S. only spies on its European allies to combat bribery when international contracts are at stake, Woolsey wrote. "That's right, my continental friends, we have spied on you because you bribe."

The commentary comes as the European Parliament moves toward convening a rare "special inquiry" into NSA spying, based on a recent report it commissioned from British journalist Duncan Campbell. On Monday, Campbell told SecurityFocus News that Woolsey "is not wrong" in claiming that intelligence agencies do not steal corporate secrets for American companies... but he's not exactly right either.

"US intelligence collection is not tasked -- that is to say, instructed -- by US corporations," says Campbell. "It's tasked by the government. However, communications intelligence is passed through channels to agencies, including the Department of Commerce and the White House, among others."

"It is these politicians and civil servants who decide as to whether economic intelligence should be communicated outside the government," Campbell says. "There is a formal channel for passing communications intelligence data to companies, but only as result of political decisions which can be taken on a case by case basis."

Europe Overreacting
Another scholar of the United States' largest spy agency disagrees.

"That's nonsense," says James Bamford, the author of the "The Puzzle Palace," the 1982 book that first brought the NSA to public attention. "I think there's been an enormous overreaction to this in Europe, and most of what's come out of it is nonsense."

Bamford believes that the NSA needs careful oversight, but he says that agency intelligence doesn't wind up in the hands of corporate America, even indirectly. "The NSA is a very, very secretive place. Even if you're in the government, even if you're in another intelligence agency, it's hard to get information from the NSA," says Bamford, who's working on a second book on the spy agency, due out early next year.

The NSA is concerned "mostly with topics that are on the front page of the newspaper everyday. Where is Usama Bin Laden, what's the latest on nuclear testing in India and Pakistan," says Bamford. "When the National Security Council meets, they don't ask, 'what's the latest on BMW?'"

Campbell says that evidence of economic intelligence funneling can be found in public reports, including a 1996 Baltimore Sun article that reported that the Commerce Department routinely passed such information to select American corporate executives. He expects Woolsey's Wall Street journal commentary to spur European Parliament to further action, but frets that the big picture may be lost.

"My greatest concern is that the squabble about the interception of business communications will overshadow the much greater concern, which I think Americans and Europeans should and do share," says Campbell. "About the gigantic scale of intrusion into personal privacy by the electronic intelligence agencies, whether they are American, British, or from anywhere else."

"I certainly agree that the French do the same," says Campbell, "just as shamelessly as Mr. Woolsey did while in the CIA."


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