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Spy agency tells Congress it is breaking no law

National Security Agency

February 29, 2000
Web posted at: 12:40 a.m. EST (0540 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Faced with a barrage of criticism from European government officials and some U.S. privacy advocates, the secretive National Security Agency has assured Congress it is breaking no laws.

"We want to assure you that NSA's activities are conducted in accordance with the highest constitutional, legal and ethical standards and in compliance with statutes and regulations designed to protect the privacy rights of U.S. persons," wrote Kenneth Heath, of the NSA Legislative Affairs Office in a letter to members of Congress.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

On its Web site, the NSA also takes on allegations that it may be obtaining information on Americans through partner countries' spy agencies.

Under a list of "frequently asked questions" is this entry:

"Couldn't the Agency simply ask its allies to provide them with information about U.S. persons?

"We have been prohibited by executive order since 1978 from having any person or government agency, whether foreign or U.S., conduct any activity on our behalf that we are prohibited from conducting ourselves. Therefore, NSA does not ask its allies to conduct such activities on its behalf, nor does NSA do so on behalf of its allies."

A report to the European Parliament last week said that the United States, Britain and other English-speaking countries may be using an eavesdropping network called "Echelon" that was set up to spy on the Soviet Union to give U.S. companies a commercial edge over their European competitors.

The 18-page report cites "well-informed" news reports in 1995 saying information gathered through Echelon had been given to Boeing and the old McDonnell-Douglas company when they were trying to win a $6 billion contract to sell aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

In response, State Department spokesman James Rubin said, "The NSA is not authorized to provide intelligence information to private firms ... U.S. intelligence agencies are not tasked to engage in industrial espionage, or obtain trade secrets for the benefit of any U.S. company or companies."

Under Echelon, the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand run a network of surveillance stations to monitor billions of telephone conversations, e-mails, faxes and other communications in order to track terrorists, drug lords and hostile international governments.

Communications are run through super computers which search for key words, and then bring suspicious communications to the attention of NSA analysts.



RELATED STORIES:
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Biggest U.S. spy agency choking on too much information
November 25, 1999
Invasion Of Privacy
August 18, 1997

RELATED SITES:
The National Security Agency
U.S. State Department, Official Web Site
Dictionary.com - 'echelon'

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