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[] NSA/Echelon und europaeische Geheimdienste -

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Fight over Euro-intelligence plans

The sudden closure of one of the world?s largest spy stations is a
potential harbinger of
confrontation between the U.S. and Germany

Duncan Campbell

Today in Brussels, members of the European Parliament will vote to
finalise a report that condemns the use of the British and
American run "Echelon" international communications surveillance system
as a breach of privacy, sovereignty and human rights.

The special report, which is expected to be adopted overwhelmingly by
the full European Parliament at the start of September,
calls for the European Convention on Human Rights to be amended to
enforce the privacy of international communications to
the same standard as applies to national communications. And it demands
that the British and German government enforce their
legal and treaty obligations to ensure proper supervision and
accountability for secret US surveillance operations conducted
from their territory.

"The American authorities have repeatedly tried to justify the
interception of telecommunications by accusing the European
authorities of corruption and taking bribes", the report claims. But
"the USA must leave the task of law enforcement to the host
countries". To do otherwise is "a violation of human rights".

Both Britain and Germany host giant satellite based listening stations
which form the major part of the US international
surveillance network. Bad Aibling Station, in a spa town south of
Munich, was the world?s first satellite spy base, and started
operating in 1968. Menwith Hill Station, near Harrogate, is the largest
electronic listening station in the world, and will play a
major role in President Bush?s controversial missile defence plans.

The world?s largest electronic spying system, of which Echelon is a
part, is run by the UKUSA alliance of Australia, Britain,
Canada, New Zealand and the US It is founded on a still-secret 1948
agreement. The five nations share the take from their
global network of surveillance stations. The only other worldwide
systems are run by Russia, and by France, which has listening
stations in South America and the South Pacific. A new European
intelligence agency, in which Germany and France would
take leading roles, would be a major challenge to the UKUSA group.

The developing spy base controversy has been foreseen as placing Britain
under pressure to choose between its historic
intelligence links with the US and the new European defence and
intelligence initiatives spearheaded by the German
government. These already include the construction of a joint European
satellite receiving station at Torrejon, Spain.

But a series of recent events points to a deeper and different schism
being constructed in Europe, in which Washington appears
to have moved pre-emptively to prevent British isolation and to
undermine a German-led Europe rising over time to become a
rival intelligence power.

It is a battle that only Bonn seems so far to have anticipated and
joined. In a little-reported development two days after the
European Parliament report was published, irate US diplomats wrote to
the German government to announce that, after lengthy
negotiation with the central government and the state of Bavaria, the
Bad Aibling base would peremptorily be closed.

"We have decided to alter our course and will pursue a total closure
.... The US will remove ...all operational equipment under
its control, including antennas and computer processing equipment", the
German foreign ministry was told.

This decision was, according to the US military attache, "driven by the
United States' government's desire to maintain good
relations with your government, and also with the government of

Only last year, the supreme US military commander in Europe testified to
the US Senate about his plans to urgently expand
Bad Aibling as a regional intelligence co-ordination centre. Then, the
US had no intention of leaving. Now, hundreds of tons of
top secret equipment will be pulled out by September 2002.

The Bad Aibling row is the latest in a series of decisions from Bonn
directly challenging the United States on intelligence policy
issues. In 1999, Germany was the first major country to break ranks and
denounce the US intelligence-inspired attempts to
control private and commercial cryptography to levels they could easily
break. France and most of the rest of Europe followed
suit. By December, the United States government had been forced to
abandon its until then successful decade old control
policy on commercial and political grounds.

Four months ago, an edict from Bonn reported in Der Spiegel specified
that German military or foreign service computer
systems would be prohibited from using the Microsoft Windows system, on
grounds that the program code was not open and
could not be checked for security or "back door" flaws. American
designed computer operating systems would not be
permited for use on "sensitive" German government systems.

The American riposte on Echelon came in early June, after President Bush
visited Madrid. After the visit, Spanish and US
officials openly spoke of new arrangements between the US and Spain to
supply communications intelligence from the Echelon
network to help fight ETA, the seperatist Basque terrorist organisation.

Spanish foreign minister Josep Pique confirmed that the US would be
providing Spain with secret intelligence on ETA. "A lot
can be done from the point of view of technology, information and
detecting communications", he said. Government spokesmen
confirmed that "new forms of cooperation with US intelligence services
were still being worked on ? it opens a very promising
field of action".

Since most ETA terrorists operate from south-western France, the
Spanish-American deal effectively endorsed and authorised
US intelligences activities in intercepting telephone calls and other
communications systems operating in France. The Spanish
prime minister, Jose-Maria Aznar, has also ? alone in Europe - endorsed
Bush?s plans for new missile defence systems.

But the ETA-tracking deal is actually the first visible sign of longer
term U.S. plans to set up new bilateral intelligence
arrangements with selected European nations. The US has recently
developed and extended intelligence links with Norway,
Denmark, and Switzerland, and has offered anti-terrorist intelligence
sharing to the Italian and Greek government, as well as the

At the remote village of Skibsbylejren near Hjorring in northern
Denmark, and at Heimenschwand and Leuk in central
Switzerland, contractors are now putting the finishing touches to a new
network of satellite communications interception
centres. The data they collect will be routed to processing centres at
Zimmerwald and near Copenhagen, and then exchanged
with other intelligence agencies.

By the time they are complete in 2002, the new stations will be capable
of simultaneously intercepting messages from about 25
satellites. This will provide the US with more capacity than is provided
by the three smaller members of the current US alliance-
Canada, Australia and New Zealand ? put together.

Neither Denmark nor Switzerland has claimed that the new spy bases are
being provided for national requirements. According
to General Peter Regli, head of the Swiss Untergruppe Nachrichtendienst
der Armee (UNA) military intelligence unit, the
purpose of the Swiss system ? called SATOS-3 ? is to trade information
with partner spy agencies.

Most significantly, the policy of sharing anti-Echelon intelligence with
Spain announced by President Bush is not new. The
agreements were put in place under the previous Clinton administration.
They were then put into operation on 15 September
2000, when a joint French-Spanish police operation netted 20 high-flying
ETA figures, including Ignacio Gracia Arregui,
believed to have been ETA's most senior military commander at the time.
Back in Washington, administration officials gloated
and said that when the right moment came, they would make use of these
results and "let the damn Europeans stick this up their

This and other developments suggest that the U.S. intelligence agencies
have long been planning how to overcome the new
European intelligence and privacy concerns. Their goal appears to go
further than merely protecting existing surveillance
operations against privacy campaigners or restrictions proposed by the
European Parliament. The greater target appears to be
to head off, or at least subvert and minimise the impact of an
independent European intelligence capability. Now, in Bavaria and
the Basque country, these battle lines have been joined.

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