- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

The Bush administration yesterday rebuffed a delegation of the European Parliament that was visiting Washington to discuss its inquiry into a top-secret American-run surveillance system that many Europeans believe is used for industrial espionage.
Four agencies refused to meet with the legislators, who conceded before cutting short their trip and returning to Europe that they have no proof to substantiate the charges.
"There is no evidence whatsoever," said Gerhard Schmid, a member of the parliament from Germany. "We cant prove a case."
Carlos Coehlo, the Portuguese parliamentarian who heads the probe, said the 12-member delegation was "concerned and dismayed" by the snub, which he predicted would harm trans-Atlantic relations.
Mr. Coehlo said the group had a "cordial" meeting with members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The U.S. agencies the departments of State and Commerce, the CIA and National Security Agency — insisted that the Europeans had come to Washington before any meetings had been confirmed.
The tiff marks an additional burden on U.S. and European diplomats, who have spent the first months of the Bush administration wrestling with trade disputes, disagreements over global warming, and missile defense.
The trip to Washington was an outgrowth of a temporary committee set up by the European Parliament, which has limited powers within the 15-nation European Union, to study an American-run electronic eavesdropping and routing system known as Echelon.
The European Parliament formed the committee to study Echelon in July, and it will issue a draft report by the end of this month.
The U.S. government will neither confirm nor deny the existence of Echelon. It is believed to be run by the National Security Agency in cooperation with Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Though American officials, including CIA Director George J. Tenet, have publicly denied that the United States engages in economic espionage, it has become an article of faith among many Europeans that Echelon is used for precisely that.
Published reports in Europe have contended that Echelon can tap into virtually all electronic communications, from faxes to e-mails to regular telephone calls. Mr. Schmid said parliamentarians wanted to give the U.S. government a chance to respond to these charges, not to pry into American intelligence activities.
"We are not looking for classified information," Mr. Schmid said. "We are not foolish."
Mr. Coehlo said his staff had laid the groundwork for meetings weeks ago, but the U.S. agencies countered that the Europeans had never arranged any meetings.
A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said his agency turned down a request for a meeting last week.
"They wanted to talk intelligence," the official said. "Thats not our bailiwick."
The delegation also wanted to talk to the Commerce Department about the links between Commerces efforts to promote U.S. business abroad and the CIA, which does economic analysis for other agencies. But spokesman Pat Kirwan said the department never responded to the Europeans request.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said that "everything" that U.S. intelligence officials would be able to discuss with a foreign delegation is in the public domain and there was no point in discussing the matter in person.
"We never led them to believe that a meeting with CIA officials would take place," Mr. Mansfield said.
The NSA issued a statement making the same point.
The delegation managed to get a meeting with Justice Department officials, who said they knew nothing about Echelon.
Mr. Tenet told a congressional committee in April 2000 that it is "not the policy or practice of the United States" to engage in industrial espionage, though he did say intelligence agencies do work on issues relevant to U.S. economic interests.
Former CIA Director James Woolsey wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal last year in which he said the United States spies on European companies to prevent them from bribing foreign officials to win contracts.


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