Politics of Spying

From the July 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

The politics of spying are heating up in Europe to a point which may even force Britain to ultimately opt out of the European Union. According to a report leaked from the European Parliament in May, the EU is in the early stages of developing its own intelligence arm to back up its planned rapid reaction force.

“The document puts Britain on notice that it cannot continue to operate a joint intelligence system with America now that the EU is acquiring military ambitions” (Daily Telegraph, May 28).

The draft text of the leaked report apparently does not restrict the motivation to create an autonomous EU intelligence capacity to military use only. It also states that “EU economic integration would ‘necessitate’ an intelligence capability” (ibid.).

This, no doubt, has resulted from claims, as yet unproven, that the U.S. and Britain use their cooperative echelon electronic intelligence system to spy on European companies for commercial advantage. Such suspicions were strengthened in the minds of some Europeans when, last year, the U.S. National Security Agency (nsa) exposed two clear examples of French corruption. The nsa simply intercepted messages involving sensitive, illegal attempts by French corporations to influence defense contracts with bribes.

Anglo-American cooperation in intelligence gathering and sharing dates back to 1942. It operates under a system that binds the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, one not habitually shared with France or Germany.

The EU claims that Britain, as an EU member, is bound to share its intelligence with member nations. In the aforementioned report, Britain’s response to the EU’s plans for an autonomous electronic surveillance system are called “a serious test of the European ambitions of the United Kingdom.” The report warns that “intelligence gathering may be precisely the issue that forces the United Kingdom to decide whether its destiny is European or trans-Atlantic” (ibid.).

In an in-your-face move seemingly calculated to put the EU in their place, the nsa announced last month that it will move hundreds of personnel from its Bavarian base in southern Germany to Menwith Hill in Britain, chief site for the echelon system. This initiative foreshadows an expansion of echelon to facilitate implementation of the Bush administration’s planned national missile defense shield.