Echelon system identified as "legislation-free zone"
In a major report to be published this week, the Echelon committee of the European Parliament has found that the conduct of electronic surveillance activities by US intelligence breaches the European Convention of Human Rights even when conducted, allegedly, for law enforcement purposes. It concludes that if the British and German governments fail to prevent the improper use of surveillance stations sited on their territory to intercept private and commercial communications, they may be in breach both of community law and of human rights treaties.
Two drafts of the proposed EP report, prepared by rapporteur and MEP Gerhard Schmidt, were leaked earlier this month. The form and wording of the committee's final report is due to be settled by the full committee in a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday 29 May.
Comparison of the two drafts shows that the committee was waiting to question American government and trade officials about their use of economic intelligence before making its final comments. But, two weeks ago, the American government decided to snub them after members had already arrived in Washington, abruptly cancelling a series of planned meetings.
The declared policy of the US government, as explained last year by former CIA director James Woolsey, is to use the U.S. intelligence system spy on European companies in order to gather evidence of bribery and unfair trade practices. Woolsey said "Yes, my continental European friends, we have spied on you. And it's true that we use computers to sort through data by using keywords". "We have spied on you because you bribe", he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
US economic intelligence policies in support of business and trade were exposed four months ago in a detailed new report to the Echelon committee. That report on "COMINT impact on international trade" is published here exclusively for the first time today. The report traces in detail how U.S. intelligence gathering priorities shifted dramatically after the end of the Cold War, with the result that "about 40 percent of the requirements" of U.S. intelligence collection became "economic, either in part or in whole".
The new priorities for economic intelligence were approved by the first President Bush in a document called NSD-67 (National Security Directive 67), issued by the White House on 20 March 1992. By using the CIA and NSA to spy on foreign rivals of American companies, the declared U.S. objective was to "level the playing field" in foreign trade.
After the new policies came into force, the incoming Clinton administration set up a new Trade Promotion co-ordinating committee, with direct intelligence inputs from the CIA and direct links to U.S. business through a new "Advocacy Center". Intelligence from NSA and CIA was supplied to the U.S. government department of Commerce through an "Office of Intelligence Liasion", which was equipped to handle intercepted communications such as those supplied by the Echelon network.
According to documents provided to the Echelon Committee and now published here, the CIA team in the Commerce Department proposed gathering information on "primary competitors" of American business in a major Asian market. One document shows that, of 16 U.S. government officials attending a meeting on winning contracts in Indonesia, 5 were from the CIA (see Annexe 2-3).
Two of the NSA's largest electronic intelligence stations are located at Bad Aibling, Bavaria and Menwith Hill, in England. Both stations intercept satellite communications and use surveillance satellites to collect communications from the ground, anywhere in the western hemisphere.
The U.S. congress was recently told that, as a result of "levelling the playing field", American companies gained $145 billion worth of business during the 1990s, after intelligence agencies claimed to have detected and defeated bribery or unfair conduct by foreign competitors. Many such contracts were listed in dossiers of cases publicised during the 1990s.
According to reports of "success stories" published by the Advocacy Center, European countries have lost out massively. France lost nearly $17 billion dollars worth of trade, and Germany $4 billion out of a total of about $40 billion. Sweden lost $386 million worth of business, the Netherlands $184 million. Not all "successes" necessarily involved allegations of bribery, but many did.
Despite the huge number of cases in which it claims to have detected bribery, the U.S. government has never published any evidence to substantiate its claims. Nor has it instigated any prosecutions. Equally hard to substantiate has been evidence in specific cases where secret interception activities are alleged to have affected a major contract. All of the specific accounts of European business losses, such as the lost of an $8 billion Airbus contract in 1994, were published by the American press, at a time when the Clinton administration wanted to publicise that it was doing its best for business.
The clear motive was to tell the Americans that their government and intelligence agencies were now helping with the economy. But when Europe became concerned about the Echelon system, such stories stopped appearing in the U.S. media, and information dried up.
Many MEPs suspect that the American claim only to use their secret listening systems, including the Echelon network, to prevent bribery are a smoke screen to cover straightforward spying for business and trade purposes.
The report on "COMINT impact on international trade" sets out, with many detailed sources, the case that from 1992 to date Europe is likely to have sustained significant employment and financial loss as a result of the U.S. government policy of "levelling the playing field". The report does not address whether the U.S. position that such interventions were and are justified by corrupt and or unfair behaviour by foreign competitors or governments are reasonable or, in fact, are true.
But it is not necessary to show that intelligence information has been given directly to U.S. corporations for major economic damage to be assessed to have occurred. The boundaries of such estimates could lie between $13 billion and $145 billion. The only certain observation is that the exact figure will never be known.
Although failing to find new reports of European business losses beyond those appearing in the American media in 1994-1996, the Echelon committee has found that even if it were proven that bribery was involved, this does not make NSA activities of this kind legal in Europe. The draft report points out that:
"The American authorities have repeatedly tried to justify the interception of telecommunications by accusing the European authorities of corruption and taking bribes. It should be pointed out to the Americans that all EU Member States have properly functioning criminal justice systems. If there is evidence that crimes have been committed, the USA must leave the task of law enforcement to the host countries. If there is no such evidence, surveillance must be regarded as unproportional, a violation of human rights and thus inadmissible."
Just a week ago, former CIA director Woolsey repeated his claims of European bribery at a meeting in New York. In the context of any such activities conducted at NSA's British and German stations, this now appears to be an admission of unlawful conduct.
According to the draft report, "under the terms of the ECHR, interference in the exercise of the right to privacy must be proportional and, in addition, the least invasive methods must be chosen. As far as European citizens are concerned, an operation constituting interference carried out by a European intelligence service must be regarded as less serious than one conducted by an American intelligence service".
Not least, this is because European citizens or companies could only get legal redress for such misconduct in national courts, not American courts.
"Operations constituting interference must therefore be carried out, as far as possible, by the German or UK authorities, particularly when investigations are being conducted for law enforcement."
The draft committee report concludes that "there would seem to be good reason ... to call on Germany and the United Kingdom to take their obligations under the ECHR seriously and to make the authorisation of further intelligence activities by the NSA on their territory contingent on compliance with the ECHR".
The IC2001 papers
Four new studies on "Interception Capabilities - Impact and Exploitation" were commissioned by the Temporary Committee on the Echelon Interception System of the European Parliament in December 2000. The new studies update and extend the previous EP report, "Interception Capabilities 2000", which was prepared in 1999. They cover the use of communications intelligence (COMINT) for economic purposes, legal and human rights issues, and recent political and technological developments. Among the key topics covered are the documentary and factual evidence for the existence of the COMSAT (communications satellite) intercept system known as "ECHELON".
These studies were presented to the Echelon Committee at its Brussels meeting on 22 and 23 January 2001. The fourth study, on new political and technical developments, was presented only in the form of a slideshow. These studies are published with permission from the secretariat of the Echelon Committee.
ECHELON and its role in COMINT
This paper summarises the evidence for the existence of ECHELON as a global interception system. It records official admissions about the secret UKUSA agreement that links English-speaking signals intelligence organisations. The paper also provides detailed answers to questions put by the Committee. It points out that very few media reports have provided original new information about Echelon, and that many press reports have enlarged on the nature of the interception systems and their capabilities, without evidence.
COMINT impact on international trade
Paper 2 sets out, with detailed sources, the case that from 1992 to date Europe is likely to have sustained significant employment and financial loss as a result of the U.S. government policy of "levelling the playing field", introduced in 1991. It also refers to:
Annexe 2-1 Background papers about the U.S. Trade Promotion Co-ordinating Committee (TPCC) and the Advocacy Center, including statements of purpose
Annexe 2-2 A questionaire for U.S. companies to answer in order to determine whether or not they are deemed "American" and thus qualify for official assistance. The questionnaire is also on the internet.
Annexe 2-3 Documents revealing the CIA's role in U.S. trade promotion, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Annexe 2-4 U.S. trade "Success stories" affecting Europe - financial and geographical analysis Many of the stories can be viewed online For example, this report concerns the controversial power plant at Dabhol, India.
COMINT, privacy and human rights
This paper reveals that Britain undertakes to protect the rights of Americans, Canadians and Australians against interception that would not comply with their own domestic law, while offering no protection of any kind to other Europeans. This and other background papers provided to the Echelon committee have prompted them to observe that "possible threats to privacy and to businesses posed by a system of the ECHELON type arise not only from the fact that is a particularly powerful monitoring system, but also that it operates in a largely legislation-free area."
The committee were also given copies of three key articles about US intelligence and economic activity:
- "Why We Spy on Our Allies", by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, Wall Street Journal, 17 March 2000. "It's true that we use computers to sort through data by using keywords. Have you stopped to ask yourselves what we're looking for?"
- "U.S. spying pays off for business" by Bob Windrem, NBC News Online, 15 April 2000 Originally published at MSNBC This link is broken, but an alternative copy is here and on other sites. "U.S. companies have benefited when U.S. intelligence redirected its Cold War assets towards economic intelligence."
- "U.S. steps up commercial spying - Washington gives companies an advantage in information", by Bob Windrem, NBC News Online, 7 May 2000. Again, the link has recently been broken, but an alternative copy is at www.gn.apc.org/cndyorks/caab/articles/spying.htm. "Documents, all published during the Clinton administration, appear to confirm reports that America's electronic eavesdropping apparatus was involved in commercial espionage."