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7-Misc: CIA keeps file on UK Minister of Environment

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TITLE:  Fury as CIA admits spying on British environment minister
SOURCE: The Telegraph (London)
        by Andrew Gilligan, Rob Evans and Greg Neale
DATE:   11 July, 1999

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Fury as CIA admits spying on British environment minister

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.

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