LONDON — Britain's foreign intelligence service stole top-secret breakthrough technology the French had developed for tracking nuclear submarines, a British newspaper reported Sunday.
The Sunday Times said in a front-page report that details of France's anti-submarine program were obtained last year from a French civilian engineer duped by the MI6 spy organization.
The report said the engineer, who was not named, gave details of a breakthrough in anti-submarine equipment to a company that posed as a technical defense consulting firm and publishing house but was actually an MI6 front.
The breakthrough was a remote sensing device said to be capable of tracking submarines from a satellite that was thought to use a laser beam or radar to scan the ocean surface and read tiny changes in water flow, according to the report.
British officials were not immediately available to comment on the Sunday Times report.
It said the disclosure would anger the French and came at a critical time for British Prime Minister John Major, who will meet French President Jacques Chirac at the European Union's summit in Florence, Italy, this week.
According to the Sunday Times, which at one point quoted an unnamed MI6 officer, the phony business was part of British intelligence operations against Britain's European partners.
It said British intelligence set up a network of bogus companies in Europe purporting to publish technical journals and offer consulting services.
It said French officials and specialist writers, including the engineer, were unaware that information they provided was going to British intelligence.
An unnamed MI6 officer was quoted as saying Britain's naval chiefs were shocked to learn that the French might have developed a capability to track submarines.