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Saturday, 2 June, 2001, 02:29 GMT 03:29 UK
US to close Echelon spy station
European Parliament Vice-President Gerhard Schmid speaking before the European Parliament's temporary Echelon committee
Gerhard Schmid: Trade espionage fears remain unproven
Nearly 12 years after the end of the Cold War, the US Army is shutting down its third largest monitoring post in the world.

The Bad Aibling station in the Bavarian Alps, which for years has been alleged to be a part of a US-led super-secret global eavesdropping network dubbed Echelon, is scheduled to close in September 2002, according to US officials.

Nearly 12 years after the end of the Cold War, this is an overdue step

Wolfgang Gerhardt
German MP
German politicians and media reports for years after the Cold War have accused the United States of using the station for industrial espionage.

However, the Pentagon said the Bad Aibling station, located about 80km (50 miles) from Munich, was has been to help US forces keep tabs on the Balkans.

'Echelon exists'

A European Parliament report about Echelon, released this week after seven months of research, concludes that the network does exist despite US denials.

The report names Bad Aibling as one of about 20 stations believed to make up the network.

Echelon was allegedly set up at the beginning of the Cold War for intelligence gathering. According to the report, it has since grown into a network of stations meant to intercept private and commercial communications, not military intelligence.

However, the parliament's vice president, Gerhard Schmid, admitted the group could not prove that Americans were passing on European trade secrets to give US business an advantage.

The report also backed off an earlier study by the parliament that said the spy network listens in on "billions of messages per hour," including telephone calls, fax transmissions and private e-mails.

Other technologies

The station will be handed back to Germany, without the spying equipment, said Shirley Startzman, a spokeswoman for the US Army Intelligence and Security Command.

"Nearly 12 years after the end of the Cold War, this is an overdue step," said Wolfgang Gerhardt, leader of a small pro-business party in the German parliament.

An US National Security Agency spokeswoman at the secretive agency's headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Bad Aibling's tasks would be performed by "other technologies" once it shuts down.

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