From: MichaelP <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Fury as CIA admits spying on British environment minister
Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 16:52:55 GMT
CIA agents have secretly investigated the environment minister Michael Meacher, The Telegraph can reveal.
Mr Meacher said last night that he was "astonished" after the US government confirmed that the CIA keeps a file on him. Compiled recently, it is believed to contain details of Mr Meacher's reservations about genetically-modified foods, which Washington promotes in Europe.
The CIA last night refused to release details of the contents of its file, described by another department as a "biographical profile". Inquiries by The Telegraph have uncovered no other files compiled by the CIA on British ministers.
Environment groups expressed alarm over the CIA's actions. Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said: "The immediate fear is that the CIA is working hand in glove with Monsanto [the US biotechnology company] to do anything they can to force this technology down our throats whatever democratic politicians say. It would be dynamite if this file has anything about Michael Meacher's track record on genetically modified crops and foods. What business is it of the CIA's to worry about any politician's views about biotechnology products?"
With the US pressing for GM products to be allowed more freely into Britain - despite British consumers' worries - GM food is emerging as a potential source of conflict between the two countries. President Clinton is known to have had several conversations on the subject with Tony Blair and US diplomatic missions abroad have been ordered to promote the GM industry.
The existence of the CIA file on Mr Meacher came to light after The Telegraph conducted inquiries using the US Freedom of Information Act to ask whether Government agencies held any information about British ministers. Most agencies and departments said they had nothing. A small number of departments replied that they had drawn up conventional briefs to prepare their own staff for visits to Washington by British ministers. The briefs, which were drawn from published and embassy sources, were freely disclosed to The Telegraph.
However, the US Environmental Protection Agency - Mr Meacher's counterpart department - said it held a file on him but could not disclose it because it "originated within the Central Intelligence Agency". The EPA could not say whether it held the complete file, or whether its holding was part of a larger CIA file. A spokesman, Lynn Schoolfield, said: "We have a biographical profile of Mr Meacher which was compiled by the CIA. But I don't think it's of any great concern. There's nothing to worry about here."
The CIA said that it could not release Mr Meacher's file. A spokesman said: "We never comment to the press on the contents of files."
Mr Meacher said he had "no idea" why the CIA had information on him. "I am astonished. I find it interesting, but I have no idea what the reason might be." Mr Meacher refused to comment on the action he may now take, but he is likely to raise the matter with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson.
Within the Government, Mr Meacher has been the most cautious on GM crops, insisting that none should be grown commercially before trial plantings establish whether they pose an environmental risk. He is also reconstituting the main committee advising ministers on GM foods to reduce the number of members with links to the biotechnology industry.
Mr Meacher's background is on the Labour hard Left, but no more so than several other key figures in the Blair government. He led Tony Benn's campaign for the Labour deputy leadership in 1981 and was a member of the shadow cabinet before the 1997 election, but was not appointed to the Cabinet after Labour's election victory. He is well regarded by environmentalists.