European parliamentarians visiting Washington last week were snubbed by the Bush administration and cut short their trip intended to pursue suspicions that the US uses a global eavesdropping device codenamed 'Echelon' to spy on European companies, according to an EU source.

The Bush administration refused to meet the delegation. The NSA (National Security Agency) and the CIA also refused a meeting, said Carlos Coelho, chairman of the European Parliament temporary committee on the Echelon interception system, on his return from the US.

"We are very disappointed by the last-minute reluctance of the CIA and the NSA to meet our delegation in spite of the advanced preparations that had been made," Coelho said.

A State Department spokesman said no meeting with the committee had ever been scheduled because US signals intelligence interception is not within its remit. However, three years of research by the European Parliament's Echelon committee says otherwise.

"We have some documents which seem to prove that the CIA is of help (to the Advocacy Center). This might mean something or it might be purely by chance, as everyone knows the CIA conducts economic analysis as well," European Parliament vice president Gerhard Schmid said last month. He was not available for further comment on Friday.

The Advocacy Center supports US companies in their efforts to secure contracts overseas. It is an office of the US State Department.

Schmid said the European Parliament has found no evidence of industrial espionage so far, but warned companies to be vigilant. "It would be rational for companies to protect themselves," he said.

"Companies that believe they have been spied on refuse to say so openly, but privately they say they are aware they are being spied on but they don't know who by," said David Lowe, who also is involved with the European Parliament committee investigation.