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Monday, April 13, 2009

EDF suspends managers suspected of spying on nuclear opponents

[Latest on the French espionage story.]


Paris (Platts)--10Apr2009
Electricite de France on Friday suspended two senior nuclear security managers alleged to have hired outside consultants to spy on antinuclear activists using illegal means, including computer hacking, in violation of company rules.

The French utility said in a statement that "as a precautionary measure following an internal inquiry," it had decided to suspend Pierre Francois, site protection engineer, and his line manager Pascal Durieux, security manager in the EDF Production and Engineering Division, from their duties "to ensure that the legal inquiry into unlawful intrusion into information systems is conducted with the necessary impartiality."

A Paris-area judge filed charges against the two EDF employees in March in connection with "fraudulent intrusion" into the computer system of Yannick Jadot, a former Greenpeace campaign director, in association with Kargus Consultant, a computer intelligence firm.

The two denied knowingly hacking into a computer system, as did two Kargus employees also charged in the case, but a contractor for Kargus admitted hacking into Jadot's computers.

At the time, EDF registered as an intervenor, saying it would seek recourse against Kargus. But Friday's announcement indicates that at least in a second case, the two executives may have overstepped their authority.

On Friday, EDF said it had "just found out during internal investigations" that "a monitoring contract with Securewyse...was signed without full regard for [EDF's] rules."

Securewyse, based in Switzerland, specializes in private detective work.

EDF did not say who signed the contract, but the French investigative weekly Canard Enchaine reported Wednesday that Securewyse was contracted to "monitor" the movements and contacts of Stephane Lhomme, a spokesman for the antinuclear group Sortir du Nucleaire.

Lhomme revealed in 2006 that he was in possession of an internal EDF document acknowledging weaknesses in the resistance of the EPR (European Pressurized water Reactor) nuclear plant design to a direct crash impact from a commercial jetliner. The 2003 document was stamped "defense confidential."

When Lhomme was charged with endangering national security by revealing the contents of the document, Sortir du Nucleaire and other groups reacted by publishing it on their Internet sites. Meanwhile, Securewyse was hired to find out who had leaked it, the Canard said.

Lhomme has not been judged; if convicted, he risks a five-year prison sentence.

So far, Sortir du Nucleaire said in a statement Thursday, the organization's informant has apparently not been identified.

EDF has said that the 2003 document is obsolete because the design of the EPR -- which predated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US -- has been modified to meet new aircraft-crash requirements.

In the statement Friday, EDF said it "endeavors to ensure safety" at its facilities "in order to prevent violent action at its sites." That, it said, requires "constant monitoring of information that may affect its activity."

But EDF said "monitoring" on its behalf must be conducted within the law and that it "wholeheartedly condemns any method aimed at obtaining information illegally."

Durieux is a former police officer. The Canard said that EDF and nuclear vendor Areva employ several former officials from the Ministry of Interior, which oversees both the French police and the national investigation bureau, now called DCRI.

Sortir du Nucleaire said it was preparing to file suit against both EDF and DCRI, which it suspects of helping the utility "in this espionage and infiltration affair."

After the revelation of the Kargus affair, French environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who is responsible for energy, said he was keeping an eye on the case but was not worried about the allegations.

"If these extraordinarily things turned out to be true, what [kind of] country would we be living in?" he said during an interview on France Inter radio April 1.

--Ann MacLachlan, ann_maclachlan@platts.com

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