EU assembly set to launch "spy" system inquiry
Updated 12:37 PM ET March 27, 2000 By Yves Clarisse BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Green Party's European deputies said Monday they had garnered enough support to begin an inquiry into allegations that the United States uses an electronic surveillance system for industrial espionage.
"We have the signatures of more than 160 parliamentarians," Isabelle Zerrouk, spokeswoman the European Parliament's Green Group, told Reuters.
Under the assembly's rules, 160 of the 626 parliament members must endorse the demand for a committee.
The creation of a committee of inquiry is a rare event in the EU. The last such inquiry probed so-called "mad cow" disease and succeeded in extracting proposals from the 15-nation bloc for tighter food safety arrangements.
The new committee will probe the Echelon electronic surveillance system developed during the Cold War by the United States in conjunction with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The system is able to intercept millions of telephone, fax and e-mail messages.
The parliamentarians demanded the probe last month after a British journalist Duncan Campbell presented the assembly with a report saying that Echelon was used by the U.S. for military and industrial espionage.
The report charged, among other things, that the United States used Echelon to beat the European consortium Airbus to an aircraft deal with Saudi Arabia in 1994.
Charges that Britain had helped Washington drew angry reactions from other EU countries, notably France.
The United States has denied spying for American firms. Britain has also denied misusing the system.
A former CIA director, James Woolsey, said earlier this month in reaction to the spying allegations that most European technology was not worth stealing.
The European Parliament is to issue a statement on the Echelon system Thursday. The European Commission, the EU's executive body, has stressed that there is no formal proof of the alleged espionage.
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