Spying among Friends

March 18, 1995

The comic opera handling of a serious espionage dispute between France and the United States afforded rare public insight into the post-Cold War use of clandestine dirty tricks in industrial rivalry between countries that politically are friends and that otherwise cooperate.

The CIA would appear to have been caught trying to recruit agents within the French government for the purpose of combating French spying on American industrial firms. French agents have sought U.S. firms' production secrets or trade strategies, particularly in rivalry between French and U.S. defense firms for weapons sales abroad. The French asked the U.S. embassy to remove five Americans from Paris for inappropriate behavior, the embassy refused and a respected French newspaper broke the story last month.

Americans like to believe that businesses are independent of government supervision and help, but government-corporate joint planning occurs in such countries as France and Japan, as well as in formerly Communist countries. In the U.S. defense industry, however, a similar relationship does exist with respect xTC to research, development and marketing. It is not difficult for government aid, once established, to extend to the intelligence area.

If France has been spying on U.S. firms, the CIA should indeed do what it stands accused of attempting. Americans would prefer that allies not spy on each other, which seems too much to ask. Despite all, French and American intelligence cooperation is both necessary and apparently in good order with respect to combating Islamic extremist terrorism and other mutual concerns.

The complexity of this relationship leads to the mutual fetish for discretion, so that embarrassing behavior may continue in secret. Official U.S. indignation was directed more to the publicity than the accusation. That both electorates learned what really goes on is a fortuitous byproduct of tawdry electioneering in the French presidential election.

The publicity is attributed to the hard-edged interior minister, Charles Pasqua, who hopes to succeed Edouard Balladur as prime minister should the latter win the presidency. At least, that was implied by the foreign minister, Alain Juppe, who supports a rival Gaullist, Jacques Chirac, for president. Mr. Balladur was leading in the race until tarred by scandal, particularly wire-tapping to discredit a potentially damaging investigation.

Though Mr. Pasqua may have intended to distract the French public, the effect was to strengthen the case of an otherwise demoralized CIA at budget time. Sacre bleu!

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