Paris targeted secrets of British defence firms: Entente cordiale 'derailed' by a mocking French President and industrial espionage

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SOME OF Britain's top defence and hi-tech companies have been systematically targeted by France's intelligence services, according to a leaked document from the Direction General de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE).

The dossier reveals that Paris instructed its spies to investigate British Aerospace, Rolls- Royce, Westland and Vickers, among other companies to try to steal a march on the oposition in a market worth tens of billions of pounds a year in defence sales.

Revelations last month that the DGSE was targeting more than 50 US high-tech companies and Wall Street banks caused deep embarassment in France, triggering a hunt for an intelligence services 'traitor'.

The document states that France's top priority was to obtain information on the European Fighter Aircraft project financed by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain. The Eurofighter is expected to provide 97,000 jobs when production begins and France is worried about the implications for its jet fighter industry.

The DGSE also wanted to know about 'corporate restructuring, takeovers and joint ventures' by British Aerospace, as well as 'alliances with American companies' and research into 'stealth technology'.

It sought information on Tornado aircraft development 'particularly (on the) Wild Weasel electronic warfare version, (and) advanced missile systems'. From GEC-Ferranti, it wanted specifications on the Eurofighter's ECR 90 radar, and from Rolls-Royce, blueprints for the 'motor for horizontal take-off and landing aircraft, lasers and electromagnetic launchers'.

From Westland it sought the marketing strategy for the Blackhawk helicopter and from Vickers Marine Division, the 'marketing and market forecasting studies in Asia and Spain'. France has not challenged the authenticity of the documents, dating from 1988-89, but claims it is 'old news' and that co-operation with allies is unaffected.

French intelligence sources say US intelligence agencies are trying to stir up an industrial espionage scare with Congress to preserve their budgets.

French attention was not confined to Britain's commercial companies. The DGSE targeted the Ministry of Defence and the Government's defence export services organisation.

The French also spied on Ministry of Transport commercial negotiations with Boeing for the UK's space programme.

Outside Britain, the DGST targeted the Australian, Canadian and Argentinian delegations to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in Geneva. In Switzerland, French industrial spies have tried to get information on pre-Gulf war nuclear export contracts to Iraq and Iran.