Espionage Takes Toll On Air Show; U.S. Firms On Guard
LE BOURGET, France (AP) _ It would have been a highlight for this year’s Paris Air Show - a new tilt nozzle on a Pratt & Whitney jet engine that could steer a plane so well it could render tail wings obsolete.
At the last minute, though, worry over possible espionage prompted the U.S. company to decide against bringing it and a pilot simulator with video terminals for aviation buffs to test.
″We had crates ready to go; the engineers were ready,″ said a disappointed William Roberts Jr., project engineer. ″But sometime during shipment, it might have been possible to take X-rays of it.″
Instead, a model with wooden insides sits next to a TV screen showing what could have been.
The Pitch Yaw Balance Beam Nozzle wasn’t the only victim of this spring’s spy scare, stemming from a purported CIA document listing 49 U.S. firms targeted by French economic espionage, including banks, defense and high-tech firms.
Hughes Aircraft Co., whose name was on the list, partly blamed espionage for skipping this year’s air show - the world’s premier aviation showcase. Attendance by companies is down 10 percent amid economic hard times.
France expressed surprise and anger over suggestions the air show was ripe for espionage.
The U.S. Embassy denied Washington was discouraging businesses from attending the show. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown insisted during his visit last week that the Pentagon stayed away for budgetary reasons, not as an anti- spying boycott.
In contrast to the last air show in 1991, when the United States featured virtually all the warplanes it used in the Gulf War, the only two U.S. warplanes here are F-16s brought over by Lockheed Corp.
Gone are the Cold War days when one Soviet agent reportedly tried to stick a gyroscope in his pocket during one trade fair. But a Russian spy official and a former chief of French intelligence said in recent interviews that that their agents were involved in industrial espionage.
Such spying is on the rise overall. The American Society for Industrial Security says theft of proprietary information has nearly quadrupled from 1985 to 1992.
The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are cracking down on attempts to steal trade secrets ranging from technical data to company strategy to competitive bidding.
″Information that other companies can acquire can put you out of business,″ said Eugene Kozicharow, chief spokesman for Textron Inc., which builds Bell helicopters and so-called ″smart″ weapons.
U.S. companies at the air show say they’re keeping close watch, never leaving sensitive information in hotel rooms and posting guards at booths overnight.
″We have a security briefing every year before the show, and the main topic of discussion this year was espionage.″ said Mari Stark, a marketing communications manager for Rockwell International.
″Despite reports of new threats, we’re taking the normal precautions,″ said Lockheed spokesman Mike Hatfield. ″It’s not new for us, and it’s not just the French we’re looking out for.″
Boeing Co. isn’t showing any of its planes, but a company spokesman said that was due to economic reasons.
″Boeing is always worried″ about espionage, said spokesman David Suffia. ″The only difference this year is there was a lot of publicity about it.
″We always assume that any overseas communications, whether fax or telephone, may be compromised,″ Suffia said. ″I’m sure there’s more industrial spying going on at engineering symposiums.″