The European Parliament voted Wednesday to investigate allegations that the United States and allies like Britain and Canada have been abusing their Cold War surveillance apparatus to favour their own industries in international competition.
Specifically, the Euros charge the US National Security Agency (NSA) operates a vast satellite spy network called Echelon, with co-operation from Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Echelon's existence has never been confirmed by the interested governments or proven by outsiders, yet millions are convinced that it exists and is capable of intercepting nearly all the world's e-mail, microwave, cellular phone, and fax traffic.
The NSA, meanwhile, refuses to confirm that Echelon exists, and strenuously insists that it gathers information from foreign businesses solely to detect fraud and has never misused its intelligence gathering to give friendly nations a leg up on the competition. In previous coverage we found that the NSA does indeed appear scrupulous in handling data, at least in regard to US citizens, whom it is forbidden to monitor.
The EU committee formed to investigate Echelon will spend roughly one year conducting an inquiry, and - assuming that it can even manage to prove its existence - issue a report on whether it exerts a negative impact on European commerce and industry.
Europe, and in particular, France, likes the myth of an Anglo-American conspiracy to cheat it of what it deserves, as otherwise it might be forced to concede that its mighty technological and industrial genius has been legitimately outdone by a bunch of snotty foreigners.
Indeed, so keen are the French on a spying explanation for their lack of primacy in international affairs that they have initiated their own inquiry in parallel with the EU, in case, God forbid, the Parliament fails to rach a satisfactory conclusion.
Thus French prosecutor Jean-Pierre Thierry has ordered the government's counter-intelligence service to investigate whether the Echelon network has been used for industrial espionage against French interests.
The French government often expresses moral outrage over Echelon, but actually favours bringing it under international (read 'European') control, so that they might benefit from abusing it too. ®