Former CIA Director Says US Economic Spying Targets "European Bribery"

"We have spied on that in the past. I hope ... that the United States government continues to spy on bribery."

Former United States Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey confirmed in Washington this week that the US steals economic secrets "with espionage, with communications [intelligence], with reconnaissance satellites", and that there was now "some increased emphasis" on economic intelligence.

He claimed that economic spying was justified because European companies had a "national culture" of bribery and were the "principle offenders from the point of view of paying bribes in major international contracts in the world".

Responding to the European Parliament report on interception capabilities and the Echelon satellite surveillance system, Woolsey said that the "Interception Capabilities 2000" report which had been presented to the parliament's Citizens' Rights Committee on 23 February, was "intellectually honest". In two cases cited in the report, "the fact [is] that the subject of American intelligence collection was bribery."

"That's correct", he told a packed audience of foreign press journalists:

"We have spied on that in the past. I hope ... that the United States government continues to spy on bribery."

Woolsey maintained that the products of US economic espionage were normally acted on by the US government rather than given to US companies to use. He claimed that the US had little need of high-tech espionage because "in a number of areas ... American industry is technologically the world leader".

However, this was "not universally true. There are some areas of technology where American industry is behind those of companies in other countries. [But] by and large American companies have no need nor interest in stealing foreign technology in order to stay ahead".

But if US intelligence did compile intelligence on technical breakthroughs by foreign companies, Woolsey believed that this would be passed on.

"Would [...] somebody do a technological analysis of something from a friendly country, which had no importance, other than a commercial use, and then let it sit on the shelf because it couldn't be given to the American company? I think that would be a misuse of the [intelligence] community's resources. I don't think it would be done."

Whether economic or military, most US intelligence data came from open sources, he said. But "five percent is essentially secrets that we steal. We steal secrets with espionage, with communications, with reconnaissance satellites."

Explaining his view that Europe was the main centre of world industrial bribery, he asked "Why ... have we in the past from time to time targeted foreign corporations and government assistance to them?"

"Some of our oldest friends and allies have a national culture and a national practice such that bribery is an important part of the way they try to do business in international commerce ... The part of the world that where this culture of getting contracts through bribery, that actually has a great deal of money, and is active in international contracting is to a first approximation Europe".

"[...] The principle offenders, from the point of view of paying bribes in major international contracts in the world, are Europe. And indeed, they are some of the very same companies -- the companies are in some of the very same countries where the most recent flap has arisen about alleged American industrial espionage."

This was not industrial espionage, he believed. "I ... reserve the term industrial espionage to mean espionage for the direct benefit of an industry. ... I don't call it industrial espionage if the United States spies on a European corporation to find out if it is bribing its way to contracts in Asia or Latin America that it can't win honestly."

"Some of our old friends and allies are in this business as well, not only by putting microphones in the head rests of their airliners which cross the Atlantic, in first class seats, but in other ways as well ... There are European countries where .. if you leave your briefcase when you go to dinner, if you're a businessman and there's anything sensitive in it, you should have your head examined".

"We have spied on that in the past. I hope, although I have no immediate verification, that the United States government continues to spy on bribery."

"But whether it does or not, it seems to me that it should be understandable to anyone who reads the [European Parliament] report, to anyone who thinks at all about whether American corporations need to steal technological secrets from foreign corporations, and anyone who is at all sophisticated about the way international trade and commerce works, that bribery is - or should be in any case - and certainly was in my time at the heart of U.S. intelligence's need to collect secret intelligence regarding foreign corporations and foreign governments' assistance to them".

(Duncan Campbell)