If the United States is serious about maintaining smooth relations with its European allies, this latest flap over Echelon isn’t helping much. The European Parliament passed a resolution late Thursday protesting last week’s snub of a European delegation sent to Washington to discuss the controversial satellite surveillance system. The Europeans believe that Echelon, thought to be operated by the National Security Agency, is used by the United States to conduct industrial espionage.
BERLIN — If the United States is serious about maintaining smooth relations with its European allies, this latest flap over Echelon isn’t helping much.
The European Parliament passed a resolution late Thursday protesting last week’s snub of a European delegation sent to Washington to discuss the controversial satellite surveillance system. The Europeans believe that Echelon, thought to be operated by the National Security Agency, is used by the United States to conduct industrial espionage.
The group went home early, and empty-handed. Meetings with the State Department, the Commerce Department, the CIA and the NSA — which the Europeans said had been scheduled beforehand — were abruptly canceled. Spokesmen for the CIA and NSA maintained that no such meetings had been scheduled, a claim the Europeans hotly deny.
The Echelon episode, coupled with widespread European anger over the Bush administration’s backtracking on the U.S. commitment to the Kyoto Protocol — the international effort to cut greenhouse-gas emissions — points to a deterioration in U.S.-European relations.
European Parliament President Nicole Fontaine released the statement blasting the State and Commerce departments, along with the CIA and NSA, for canceling “pre-arranged meetings” with the parliament’s delegation.
“By taking such a decision, the U.S. authorities prevented the members of our temporary committee on the Echelon interception system from carrying out their work properly,” she said.
“The concerns aroused in Europe by the surveillance of communications of all kinds deserve a different response if suspicions are genuinely to be allayed. I find this refusal to countenance dialogue all the more worrying because the very aim of the visit was to enable the U.S. government authorities to respond openly to the various allegations made. I therefore call on them to reconsider their decision.”
Mounting European frustration with what is seen as American arrogance makes it more likely that the temporary committee investigating Echelon will make a strong statement in its final report, due to be voted on in June.
“We have certain allegations that we have uncovered in the course of our inquiry,” said David Low, a member of the delegation.
“We have the facts. We wanted a response. It’s not a problem for us. It should be a problem for the Americans. We’re very disappointed. We went in to this sincerely, in order to pursue the sort of cooperation and confidence that we feel is essential between Europe and the United States. Obviously the subject of our inquiry is one that breeds a lot of distrust.”
Low worked on the arrangements for meetings in Washington, and confirmed that meetings were indeed scheduled with the different government bodies. He said the group could understand the CIA and NSA declining to meet with the European politicians, but found it shocking that American diplomats would shy away from any kind of effort at damage control.
“We had made it clear to the State Department that we did not want to discuss the intelligence,” he said. “The bottom line was to discuss the implications of the affair on EU-U.S. relations. That’s their job. Also, they have had an official who has been present at every meeting we have held since last July. In that context, you can understand our surprise when we weren’t able to talk to anyone in Washington. They can’t just turn around and say at the last minute that they aren’t interested.”
As with the Bush rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the political damage in this case seems to have as much to do with clumsy execution as with any policy decisions.
“What was strange was that all these refusals came right at the last minute, before the delegation was leaving for Washington,” he said. “That was taken by us to have certain political implications, that somebody in the United States, and I would say fairly high up, has decided that these meetings should not have taken place. Most members of our committee believe that was a misjudgment. It would have been perhaps better had we been informed rather earlier.”
Porter Goss (R-Florida), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, met with members of the delegation and later told Newsbytes that they “are on a little bit of a wild-goose chase.”
But he also said that controversy over just what Echelon is and what it does — or might do — “seems to be escalating rather than disappearing.”
Author: Steve Kettmann
News Service: Wired News