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France, Israel Cited in CIA Espionage Study

National security: The agency says the allies are heavily involved in economic spying against the U.S. But it finds that Japan's information gathering is 'mostly legal.'

August 15, 1996|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The governments of France and Israel are extensively involved in economic espionage against the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency has claimed for the first time in a public report.

By contrast, Japan, sometimes accused by lawmakers of being among the most aggressive in trying to steal U.S. corporate secrets, takes part in "mostly legal" information gathering, the CIA concluded.

"We have only identified about a half-dozen governments that we believe have extensively engaged in economic espionage as we define it," the CIA said in the report released this month by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

"These governments include France, Israel, China, Russia, Iran and Cuba. Japan and a number of other countries engage in economic collection, but we believe their efforts are mostly legal and involve seeking openly available material or hiring well-placed consultants," it said.

Spokesmen for the French and Israeli embassies denied their governments are involved in economic spying against the United States.

"It's absolutely not true and we don't accept such accusations," said Bernard Valero of France. Gadi Baltiansky said Israel is not involved "in any sort of espionage either within or against the United States."

The CIA assessment, dated May 10, responded to a question from the Senate intelligence committee. It was published by the committee as part of its hearing record on current and projected national security threats to the United States.

France and Israel have long been among the countries accused by U.S. officials, more or less openly, of trying to steal high-tech secrets for commercial advantage.

But the report to Congress marks the first time the CIA has formally branded the two U.S. allies on the public record, experts who monitor the issue said.

"This disclosure by the CIA of some of the countries currently engaging in economic espionage will help focus business leaders' attention on the increased targeting of [U.S.] intellectual property for illegal acquisition," said Richard Heffernan, an information security expert who acts as a consultant for the FBI.

Heffernan, co-author of a March report on trends in intellectual property loss for the American Society for Industrial Security, said he was mildly surprised by the CIA decision not to list Japan among the alleged worst offenders.

He said Japanese nationals ranked fifth overall in the society's survey of incidents of theft of intellectual property or proprietary secrets, after suspects believed to be of Chinese, Canadian, French and Indian nationality.

In coming up with its list, the CIA said it used a narrow definition of economic espionage "to include a government-directed or -orchestrated clandestine effort to collect U.S. economic secrets or proprietary information."

"We do not characterize as economic espionage legitimate information-gathering activities by a foreign government or foreign corporation, even if carried out aggressively and skillfully," the CIA said.

A CIA spokesman, asked about the decision to go public with the agency's blacklist, said it was strictly a matter of responding to the Senate intelligence panel, although such sensitive replies are typically classified to be kept out of the record.

The spokesman, Mark Mansfield, denied any link between the decision to spare Japan and a reported U.S. covert operation said to have eavesdropped on Japanese officials during drawn-out car-import talks last year.

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