Press "Enter" to skip to content

Aspects of American Economic Warfare

For a long time now, the Italian press and those specialized in geopolitics and international relations have emphasized the economic warfare waged by China, often neglecting to mention that of our allies, namely the United States. The French, including the School of Economic Warfare, Eric Denécé, Nicolas Moinet, and Ali Laidi, have dedicated many studies to the economic warfare planned by the United States. Let’s briefly illustrate some aspects of this American economic warfare.

In 1994, the American Congress commissioned an ad hoc committee to reflect on the future and the role of American intelligence services in the post-Cold War world. This committee, chaired by Harold Brown and Warren B. Rudman, opposed the use of industrial espionage in favor of American companies. However, it invited the American intelligence community to provide the State or Commerce Department with all information on the business practices of foreign governments that could harm the economic interests of American companies.

This economic activity of American intelligence agencies soon began to worry the United States’ allies. In particular, there was concern over the United States’ global eavesdropping system, known as Echelon. Managed primarily by the NSA (National Security Agency), Echelon is a listening network shared by Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, created after World War II to monitor the communications of the Soviet Union and its allies. Echelon can theoretically intercept all forms of communication: landline and mobile phones, fax, email, internet…

In 1998, the European Parliament publicly expressed alarm over the United States’ commercial espionage techniques through Echelon. Ali Laidi, for example, described how Echelon was used to conduct commercial warfare against the USA’s allies. In particular, the NSA’s listening system was used to award contracts to American companies. In two cases – the Sivam project in Brazil and the sale of Airbus to Saudi Arabia – France was directly victimized, with the commercial teams of Thomson and Airbus being intercepted, and parts of their intercepted conversations ended up in the press, suggesting attempts at corruption by the French. As a result, the contracts slipped away from the companies suspected of corruption.

The Americans do not deny it. In fact, they openly admit it, continuing to practice it as long as they believe that the normal rules of competition are not respected. This is explained by James Woosley, former CIA director between 1993 and 1995, in an article titled “Why We Spy on Our Allies.” He states, “Yes, dear continental friends, we have spied on you because you distribute bribes. The products of your companies are often more expensive, less technologically advanced, or both, compared to those of your American competitors. Consequently, you practice a lot of corruption. Your governments are so complicit that in several European countries bribes are still tax-deductible.”

James Woosley, who would become one of the most fervent neoconservatives of the G.W. Bush era, takes the opportunity to criticize the European economic model: “Why do you use corruption? Not because your companies are fundamentally more corrupt or your technology worse. But because your economic patron saint is Jean-Baptiste Colbert, while ours is Adam Smith… You prefer not to have to face the difficulty of change that would distance you from dirigisme. It is much easier to continue to pay bribes.”

France has indeed been the subject of a true economic war. Let’s look at the details.

In 2003, a strong wave of French bashing (derision against the French) broke out in the United States, especially due to France’s position on military intervention in Iraq. France, considered the main adversary by the USA at the UN regarding the war in Iraq, underwent a particularly aggressive press campaign, which labeled President Jacques Chirac as a traitor and coward by some American media. These media also attacked French companies for their alleged ties with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or their hypothetical corruption in certain markets.

An investigation conducted by a specialized French agency analyzed the impact of this campaign on the French and European economy, its political origins, and the motivations of its promoters. On February 13, 2007, the results of this in-depth confidential investigation (450 pages) were shared with a limited number of people. The investigation included detailed analyses of specific cases of French and European companies targeted by the American press, with accusations ranging from alleged mobile biological weapons laboratories supplied to Iraq by Renault Trucks, to high-precision switches used in the production of nuclear bombs sold by France and Germany to Iraq, as well as hypothetical links between Chirac and Saddam Hussein, or the alleged detention and possibly even delivery by France to Iraq of smallpox stem cells.

The investigation revealed that the campaign was orchestrated against France by a small group of people from the American neoconservative circles, with the intention of punishing France. The motto “Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia” used by Condoleezza Rice in April 2003 summarized the American approach to the countries opposed to the war in Iraq. The study showed that this group was directly connected to two American government entities: the Policy Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (PCTEG) and the Office of Special Plans (OSP), both created within the Pentagon. Presented as advanced intelligence analysis entities, these structures actually operated as disinformation organs, manipulating data to support a preconceived thesis.

These groups relied on numerous neoconservative think tanks (American Enterprise Institute, Project for a New American Century, Center for National Security Policy, Heritage Foundation) and influential personalities (such as Perle, Woosley, Gingrich) to disseminate dubious information. At the heart of this network was also a public relations firm, supported by Richard Perle and James Woolsey. The main goal was to damage France’s image by hitting its economy, but not only. The author of the study emphasized that the attacks also targeted France as a main pillar of a Europe seen as a threat to American power, particularly for its desire for sovereignty, a legacy of Gaullism.

Finally, the study highlighted the consequences of these disinformation campaigns on the European economy, noting the risk of a significant commercial decline in three specific countries, Iran, China, and India, where the anti-European campaign could have caused the most damage.

But the United States complemented its economic warfare strategies with a complex and articulated legal apparatus that extends globally.

Alongside its offensive approach in the field of information, Washington has developed a complex legislative arsenal aimed at combating the economic expansion of its most active competitors. The first legal action in this sense was the adoption of three laws focused on the economic security of the United States: the Industrial Espionage Act of 1996, the Economic Security Act of 1996, and finally the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. These legislative texts aim to discourage any foreign economic activity on American soil.

The Economic Espionage Act incorporates into the United States Code notions of economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and protection of confidential company information. Economic espionage is defined as an action in which a person, knowing that the infraction benefits a foreign government, organization, or agent, knowingly steals, appropriates, takes away, carries, or conceals without authorization a trade secret, or obtains it through fraud, ruse, or deception. Anyone involved in such actions risks a maximum fine of $500,000 and/or up to 15 years in prison.

This type of law also gives the United States the power to defend its economy beyond its borders. Some U.S. federal laws, in fact, claim to apply even outside the federal territory, potentially influencing the dynamism and development of European or Asian multinationals in the United States. An example is the Helms-Burton Act, enacted on March 12, 1996, which aims to sanction all companies, American and foreign, that violate the commercial embargo against Cuba. A company that engages in trade with Cuba can find itself facing a trial in New York and risk being unable to operate in the United States. A similar case occurred with a large French company in the wine and spirits sector.

Another important legislation is the D’Amato-Kennedy Act, voted by the American Congress on August 5, 1996, which limits the commercial relations of multinationals (American or not) with Libya and Iran. These U.S. laws thus propose themselves as equivalents to UN or WTO decisions, generating concern that they may become a powerful weapon in economic warfare. Serving U.S. commercial diplomacy, these laws control the development of foreign companies in countries in conflict with the United States. Thus, when relations between America and these countries are re-established, American multinationals will be able to operate on virgin ground. Obvious examples are Cuba and also Burma. In conclusion, these laws could serve to paralyze the competitors of American companies in the future.

Naturally, in the context of economic warfare, the significant contribution of the CIA could not be missing.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), based in Langley, celebrates the end of the Cold War as its own victory. However, it does not immediately realize the repercussions of the dissolution of the Soviet Union on its future. There is a public and political debate in the United States about the real effectiveness of the CIA in this historical event, with some critical voices, including that of Senator Patrick Moynihan, questioning the competence of the agency.

At the same time, the CIA faces scandals like the Iran-Contra affair, which involves an operation of selling arms to Iran to finance the Contras in Nicaragua. This scandal, still alive in the minds at the end of the ’80s, is resolved only with the intervention of then-President George Bush Sr., who pardoned the protagonists involved.

In the early ’90s, the CIA is under the control of American elected officials, who demand cost cuts and a reprioritization of its activities. Despite the lack of an evident enemy like the Soviet Union, the threat of Al-Qaeda terrorism is still far from manifesting. Robert Gates, appointed as the new CIA director with limited support from the Senate, steers the agency towards defending the economic interests of the United States. In a speech on April 13, 1992, Gates observes that a significant percentage of requests to the CIA are of an economic nature, indicating a shift in focus towards international economic issues.

The agency, however, states it will not engage in economic espionage, limiting itself to monitoring actions of foreign governments that contravene the rules of fair competition. This leads the CIA to play a more active role in economic intelligence, officially supported by the National Performance Review (NPR), a government audit aimed at reforming federal services to better serve the citizen. Although the National Security Act of 1947 prevents the CIA from providing direct information to private companies, the agency can still compile economic analyses for political decision-makers and declassify information for associations or professional federations.

The CIA also engages in the use of open sources, leading to the creation of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) of the Community Open Source Program Office (COSPO), an entity with a budget of 2 billion dollars that includes the CIA, NSA, and DIA, aimed at optimizing the collection and analysis of open information.

In 1995, the Intelligence Authorization Act encourages the sharing of knowledge between intelligence services and civil society, including businesses. Robert Steele, a former intelligence officer, advocates for the transformation of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, affiliated with the CIA, into an agency accessible to American companies.

In July 1995, the Los Angeles Times reports that President Bill Clinton ordered the CIA to conduct economic espionage operations against the United States’ commercial rivals, sparing no ally. The United Kingdom even complains about the CIA’s espionage tactics. The Clinton administration justifies the CIA’s involvement in international trade to combat economic crime, prevent the theft of industrial and commercial secrets, and support American positions in international trade negotiations.

When John Deutch becomes CIA director in 1995, he confirms this direction, highlighting the agency’s role in economic intelligence and counterintelligence to support American businesses, but excluding direct assistance to them. The CIA also begins to focus on issues such as climate change and carbon emission control, and in 1999 launches In-Q-Tel, an investment fund in Silicon Valley to identify and support innovative start-ups in emerging technologies. With an annual budget of 30 billion dollars, In-Q-Tel focuses on technologies such as software analysis, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, chemistry, communications, network infrastructures, and digital security.

The CIA’s interest in this sector is clearly manifested in the case of Gemplus, a French leader in microchip card technology, acquired in 2000 by the American fund Texas Pacific Group (TPG). This acquisition brings CIA-linked figures, like Alex Mandl of In-Q-Tel, into prominent positions within Gemplus, demonstrating a strategic interest in accessing advanced technologies.

Simultaneously, in the United States, the National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX) was established with Presidential Directive PDD-75 in December 2000. The mission of the NCIX is to coordinate the national counterintelligence infrastructure, interfacing with both the public and private sectors. Among its main activities is raising awareness among American companies about new threats of economic espionage, publishing reports on espionage techniques, and recommended preventive measures.

The NCIX reports particularly highlight the vulnerability of American businesses to infiltration by foreign governments and companies, emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity and the protection of commercial and industrial secrets. Additionally, the NCIX warns of new threats posed by devices such as smartphones and PDAs, which can be used to acquire sensitive information.

The NCIX, through its reports, also identifies sectors most at risk of espionage, such as the military and civilian, laser and optical technologies, aeronautics, and advanced materials. The 2005 report emphasizes how attempts by foreign governments to steal information aim to erode the technological and military superiority of the United States.

Another area of interest for the CIA and NCIX is green technologies, particularly technologies for capturing and storing carbon, a sector in which the United States aims to maintain a competitive edge. This focus is part of a broader vision of national security, which also includes safeguarding American economic interests in the global context.

Joel F. Brenner, who led NCIX until 2009, asserts that protecting American companies is a shared responsibility between the government and the private sector, emphasizing the importance of collaboration to face the challenges posed by economic espionage in the digital age. In conclusion, the activities of the CIA and NCIX outline a framework in which national security and economic interests are closely intertwined, reflecting the complex nature of the geopolitical and commercial landscape of the 21st century.

Be First to Comment

    Lascia un commento

    Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *

    Questo sito usa Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come i tuoi dati vengono elaborati.

    Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.