BBC 991103 | CBN 000210 | Times 000210 | Age 000214 | Daily Telegraph 000222 | Times 000223 | BBC 000223 | BBC 000223 | Daily Telegraph 000224 | NYT 000224 | Washington Post 000224 | NYT 000224 | Age 000225 | IHT 000228 | Nando Times 000229 | Nando Times 000330 | BBC 000330 | Times 000331 | BBC 000405 | Washington Post 000411 | Nando Times 000705 | NYT 000705 | Independent 000705 | Daily Telegraph 000706 | BBC 000706 | Independent 000706 | Independent 000706 | Popular Mechanics 010101 | Yahoo 010511 | Daily Telegraph 010511 | BBC 010511 | Daily Telegraph 010528 | BBC 010529 | Guardian 010530 | Yahoo 010530 | Independent 010530 | Times 010530 | BBC 010602 | Observer 020609 | IHT 020610 | Independent 020927 | Counter Punch 031125 | Independent 040227 | Guardian 040227 | IHT 050414 | Nimmo 060511 | THC 071214 | GR 110720 | GR 120423 | GR 120425 | AC 130712 | GR 131029
America's spying apparatus, Echelon, NSA eavesdropping and outsourcing
2013 10 29
This essay is an excerpt from Big Lies: How Our Corporate Overlords, Politicians and Media Establishment Warp Reality and Undermine Democracy. Greg Guma’s latest book, Dons of Time, is a sci-fi look at the control of history as power.
Despite 24-hour news and talk about transparency, there’s a lot we don’t know about our past, much less current events. What’s worse, some of what we think we know isn’t true.
The point is that it’s no accident.
Consider, for example, the circumstances that led to open war in Vietnam. According to official history, two US destroyers patrolling in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam were victims of unprovoked attacks in August 1964, leading to a congressional resolution giving President Johnson the power “to take all necessary measures.”
In fact, the destroyers were spy ships, part of a National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping program operating near the coast as a way to provoke the North Vietnamese into turning on their radar and other communications channels. The more provocative the maneuvers, the more signals that could be captured. Meanwhile, US raiding parties were shelling mainland targets. Documents revealed later indicated that the August 4 attack on the USS Maddox – the pretext for passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution – may not even have taken place.
But even if it did, the incident was still stage managed to build up congressional and public support for the war. Evidence suggests that the plan was based on Operation Northwoods, a scheme developed in 1962 to justify an invasion of Cuba. Among the tactics the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered then were blowing up a ship in Guantanamo Bay, a phony “communist Cuba terror campaign” in Florida and Washington, DC, and an elaborate plan to convince people that Cuba had shot down a civilian airliner filled with students. That operation wasn’t implemented, but two years later, desperate for a war, the administration’s military brass found a way to create the necessary conditions in Vietnam.
NSA and Echelon
For more than half a century, the eyes and ears of US power to monitor and manipulate information (and with it, mass perceptions) has been the NSA, initially designed to assist the CIA. Its original task was to collect raw information about threats to US security, cracking codes and using the latest technology to provide accurate intelligence on the intentions and activities of enemies. Emerging after World War II, its early focus was the Soviet Union. But it never did crack a high-level Soviet cipher system. On the other hand, it used every available means to eavesdrop on not only enemies but also allies and, sometimes, US citizens.
In Body of Secrets, James Bamford described a bureaucratic and secretive behemoth, based in an Orwellian Maryland complex known as Crypto City. From there, supercomputers linked it to spy satellites, subs, aircraft, and equally covert, strategically placed listening posts worldwide. As of 2000, it had a $7 billion annual budget and directly employed at least 38 000 people, more than the CIA and FBI. It was also the leader of an international intelligence club, UKUSA, which includes Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Together, they monitored and recorded billions of encrypted communications, telephone calls, radio messages, faxes, and e-mails around the world.
Over the years, however, the line between enemies and friends blurred, and the intelligence gatherers often converted their control of information into unilateral power, influencing the course of history in ways that may never be known. No doubt the agency has had a hand in countless covert operations; yet, attempts to pull away the veil of secrecy have been largely unsuccessful.
In the mid-1970s, for example, just as Congress was attempting to reign in the CIA, the NSA was quietly creating a virtual state, a massive international computer network named Platform. Doing away with formal borders, it developed a software package that turned worldwide Sigint (short for “signal intelligence”: communication intelligence, eavesdropping, and electronic intelligence) into a unified whole. The software package was code named Echelon, a name that has since become a synonym for eavesdropping on commercial communication.
Of course, the NSA and its British sister, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), refused to admit Echelon existed, even though declassified documents appeared on the Internet and Congress conducted an initial investigation. But a European Parliament report also confirmed Echelon’s activities, and encouraged Internet users and governments to adopt stronger privacy measures in response.
In March 2001, several ranking British politicians discussed Echelon’s potential impacts on civil liberties, and a European Parliament committee considered its legal, human rights, and privacy implications. The Dutch held similar hearings, and a French National Assembly inquiry urged the European Union to embrace new privacy enhancing technologies to protect against Echelon’s eavesdropping. France launched a formal investigation into possible abuses for industrial espionage.
When Allies Compete
A prime reason for Europe’s discontent was the growing suspicion that the NSA had used intercepted conversations to help US companies win contracts heading for European firms. The alleged losers included Airbus, a consortium including interests in France, Germany, Spain, and Britain, and Thomson CSF, a French electronics company. The French claimed they had lost a $1.4 billion deal to supply Brazil with a radar system because the NSA shared details of the negotiations with Raytheon. Airbus may have lost a contract worth $2 billion to Boeing and McDonnell Douglas because of information intercepted and passed on by the agency.
According to former NSA agent Wayne Madsen, the US used information gathered from its bases in Australia to win a half share in a significant Indonesian trade contract for AT&T. Communication intercepts showed the contract was initially going to a Japanese firm. A bit later a lawsuit against the US and Britain was launched in France, judicial and parliamentary investigations began in Italy, and German parliamentarians demanded an inquiry.
The rationale for turning the NSA loose on commercial activities, even those involving allies, was provided in the mid-90s by Sen. Frank DeConcini, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I don’t think we should have a policy where we’re going to invade the Airbus inner sanctum and find out their secrets for the purpose of turning it over to Boeing or McDonnell Douglas,” he opined. “But if we find something, not to share it with our people seems to me to be not smart.”
President Bill Clinton and other US officials buttressed this view by charging that European countries were unfairly subsidizing Airbus. In other words, competition with significant US interests can be a matter of national security, and private capitalism must be protected from state-run enterprises.
The US-Europe row about Airbus subsidies was also used as a “test case” for scientists developing new intelligence tools. At US Defense Department conferences on “text retrieval,” competitions were staged to find the best methods. A standard test featured extracting protected data about “Airbus subsidies.”
In the end, influencing the outcome of commercial transactions is but the tip of this iceberg. The NSA’s ability to intercept to virtually any transmitted communication has enhanced the power of unelected officials and private interests to set covert foreign policy in motion. In some cases, the objective is clear and arguably defensible: taking effective action against terrorism, for example. But in others, the grand plans of the intelligence community have led it to undermine democracies.
The 1975 removal of Australian Prime Minister Edward Whitlam is an instructive case. At the time of Whitlam’s election in 1972, Australian intelligence was working with the CIA against the Allende government in Chile. The new PM didn’t simply order a halt to Australia’s involvement, explained William Blum in Killing Hope, a masterful study of US interventions since World War II. Whitlam seized intelligence information withheld from him by the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization (ASIO), and disclosed the existence of a joint CIA-ASIO directorate that monitored radio traffic in Asia. He also openly disapproved of US plans to build up the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia as a military-intelligence-nuclear outpost.
Both the CIA and NSA became concerned about the security and future of crucial intelligence facilities in and near Australia. The country was already key member of UKUSA. After launching its first space-based listening post-a microwave receiver with an antenna pointed at earth-NSA had picked an isolated desert area in central Australia as a ground station. Once completed, the base at Alice Springs was named Pine Gap, the first of many listening posts to be installed around the world. For the NSA and CIA, Whitlam posed a threat to the secrecy and security of such operations.
An early step was covert funding for the political opposition, in hopes of defeating Whitlam’s Labor Party in 1974. When that failed, meetings were held with the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, a figurehead representing the Queen of England who had worked for CIA front organizations since the 50s. Defense officials warned that intelligence links would be cut off unless someone stopped Whitlam. On November 11, 1975, Kerr responded, dismissing the prime minister, dissolving both houses of Parliament, and appointing an interim government until new elections were held.
According to Christopher Boyce (subject of The Falcon and the Snowman, a fictionalized account), who watched the process while working for TRW in a CIA-linked cryptographic communications center, the spooks also infiltrated Australian labor unions and contrived to suppress transportation strikes that were holding up deliveries to US intelligence installations. Not coincidentally, some unions were leading the opposition to development of those same facilities.
How often, and to what effect, such covert ops have succeeded is another of the mysteries that comprise an unwritten history of the last half century. Beyond that, systems like Echelon violate the human right to individual privacy, and give those who control the information the ability to act with impunity, sometimes destroying lives and negating the popular will in the process.
Hiding the Agenda in Peru
In May 1960, when a U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet territory, President Dwight Eisenhower took great pains to deny direct knowledge or authorization of the provocative mission. In reality, he personally oversaw every U-2 mission, and had even riskier and more provocative bomber overflights in mind.
It’s a basic rule of thumb for covert ops: When exposed, keep denying and deflect the blame. More important, never, never let on that the mission itself may be a pretext, or a diversion from some other, larger agenda.
Considering that, the April 20, 2001, shoot down of a plane carrying missionaries across the Brazilian border into Peru becomes highly suspicious. At first, the official story fed to the press was that Peruvian authorities ordered the attack on their own, over the pleas of the CIA “contract pilots” who initially spotted the plane. But Peruvian pilots involved in that program, supposedly designed to intercept drug flights, insist that nothing was shot down without US approval.
Innocent planes were sometimes attacked, but most were small, low flying aircraft that didn’t file flight plans and had no radios. This plane maintained regular contact and did file a plan. Still, even after it crash-landed, the Peruvians continued to strafe it, perhaps in an attempt to ignite the plane’s fuel and eliminate the evidence.
”I think it has to do with Plan Colombia and the coming war,” said Celerino Castillo, who had previously worked in Peru for Drug Enforcement Agency. “The CIA was sending a clear message to all non-combatants to clear out of the area, and to get favorable press.” The flight was heading to Iquitos, which “is at the heart of everything the CIA is doing right now,” he added. “They don’t want any witnesses.”
Timing also may have played a part. The shoot down occurred on the opening day of the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Uruguay’s President Jorge Ibanez, who had proposed the worldwide legalization of drugs just weeks before, was expected to make a high-profile speech on his proposal at the gathering. The downing of a drug smuggling plane at this moment, near territory held by Colombia’s FARC rebels, would help to defuse Uruguay’s message and reinforce the image of the insurgents as drug smugglers.
If you doubt that the US would condone such an operation or cover it up, consider this: In 1967, Israel torpedoed the USS Liberty, a large floating listening post, as it was eavesdropping on the Arab-Israeli war off the Sinai Peninsula. Hundreds of US sailors were wounded and killed, probably because Israel feared that its massacre of Egyptian prisoners at El Arish might be overheard. How did the Pentagon respond? By imposing a total news ban, and covering up the facts for decades.
Will we ever find out what really happened in Peru, specifically why a missionary and her daughter were killed? Not likely, since it involves a private military contractor that is basically beyond the reach of congressional accountability.
In 2009, when the Peru shoot down became one of five cases of intelligence operation cover up being investigated by the US House Intelligence Committee, the CIA inspector general concluded that the CIA had improperly concealed information about the incident. Intelligence Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky, who led the investigation, didn’t rule out referrals to the Justice Department for criminal prosecutions if evidence surfaced that intelligence officials broke the law. But she couldn’t guarantee that the facts would ever come to light, since the Committee’s report of its investigation would be classified.
The most crucial wrinkle in the Peruvian incident is the involvement of DynCorp, which was active in Colombia and Bolivia under large contracts with various US agencies. The day after the incident, ABC news reported that, according to “senior administration officials,” the crew of the surveillance plane that first identified the doomed aircraft “was hired by the CIA from DynCorp.” Within two days, however, all references to DynCorp were scrubbed from ABC’s Website. A week later, the New York Post claimed the crew actually worked for Aviation Development Corp., allegedly a CIA proprietary company.
Whatever the truth, State Department officials refused to talk on the record about DynCorp’s activities in South America. Yet, according to DynCorp’s State Department contract, the firm had received at least $600 million over the previous few years for training, drug interdiction, search and rescue (which included combat), air transport of equipment and people, and reconnaissance in the region. And that was only what they put on paper. It also operated government aircraft and provided all manner of personnel, particularly for Plan Colombia.
DynCorp began in 1946 as the employee-owned air cargo business California Eastern Airways, flying in supplies for the Korean War. This and later government work led to charges that it was a CIA front company. Whatever the truth, it ultimately became a leading PMC, hiring former soldiers and police officers to implement US foreign policy without having to report to Congress.
The push to privatize war gained traction during the first Bush administration. After the first Gulf War, the Pentagon, then headed by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, paid a Halliburton subsidiary nearly $9 million to study how PMCs could support US soldiers in combat zones, according to a Mother Jones investigation. Cheney subsequently became CEO of Halliburton, and Brown & Root, later known as Halliburton KBR, won billions to construct and run military bases, some in secret locations.
One of DynCorp’s earliest “police” contracts involved the protection of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and, after he was ousted, providing the “technical advice” that brought military officers involved in that coup into Haiti’s National Police. Despite this dodgy record, in 2002 it won the contract to protect another new president, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai. By then, it was a top IT federal contractor specializing in computer systems development, and also providing the government with aviation services, general military management, and security expertise.
Like other private military outfits, the main danger it has faced is the risk of public exposure. Under one contract, for example, DynCorp sprayed vast quantities of herbicides over Colombia to kill the cocaine crop. In September 2001, Ecuadorian Indians filed a class action lawsuit, charging that DynCorp recklessly sprayed their homes and farms, causing illnesses and deaths and destroying crops. In Bosnia, private police provided by DynCorp for the UN were accused of buying and selling prostitutes, including a 12-year-old girl. Others were charged with videotaping a rape.
In the first years of the 21st century, DynCorp’s day-to-day operations in South America were overseen by State Department officials, including the Narcotic Affairs Section and the Air Wing, the latter a clique of unreformed cold warriors and leftovers from 80s operations in Central America. It was essentially the State Department’s private air force in the Andes, with access to satellite-based recording and mapping systems.
In the 1960s, a similar role was played by the Vinnell Corp., which the CIA called “our own private mercenary army in Vietnam.” Vinnell later became a subsidiary of TRW, a major NSA contractor, and employed US Special Forces vets to train Saudi Arabia’s National Guard. In the late 1990s, TRW hired former NSA director William Studeman to help with its intelligence program.
DynCorp avoided the kind of public scandal that surrounded the activities of Blackwater. In Ecuador, where it developed military logistics centers and coordinated “anti-terror” police training, the exposure of a secret covenant signed with the Aeronautics Industries Directorate of the Ecuadorian Air Force briefly threatened to make waves. According to a November 2003 exposé in Quito’s El Comercio, the arrangement, hidden from the National Defense Council, made DynCorp’s people part of the US diplomatic mission.
In Colombia, DynCorp’s coca eradication and search-and-rescue missions led to controversial pitched battles with rebels. US contract pilots flew Black Hawk helicopters carrying Colombian police officers who raked the countryside with machine gun fire to protect the missions against attacks. According to investigative reporter Jason Vest, DynCorp employees were also implicated in narcotics trafficking. But such stories didn’t get far, and, in any case, DynCorp’s “trainers” simply ignored congressional rules, including those that restrict the US from aiding military units linked to human rights abuses.
In 2003, DynCorp won a multimillion-dollar contract to build a private police force in post-Saddam Iraq, with some of the funding diverted from an anti-drug program for Afghanistan. In 2004, the State Department further expanded DynCorp’s role as a global US surrogate with a $1.75 billion, five year contract to provide law enforcement personnel for civilian policing operations in “post-conflict areas” around the world. That March, the company also got an Army contract to support helicopters sold to foreign countries. The work, described as “turnkey” services, includes program management, logistics support, maintenance and aircrew training, aircraft maintenance and refurbishment, repair and overhaul of aircraft components and engines, airframe and engine upgrades, and the production of technical publications.
In short, DynCorp was a trusted partner in the military-intelligence-industrial complex. “Are we outsourcing order to avoid public scrutiny, controversy or embarrassment?” asked Rep. Schakowsky upon submitting legislation to prohibit US funding for private military firms in the Andean region. “If there is a potential for a privatized Gulf of Tonkin incident, then the American people deserve to have a full and open debate before this policy goes any further.”
If and when that ever happens, the discussion will have to cover a lot of ground. Private firms, working in concert with various intelligence agencies, constitute a vast foreign policy apparatus that is largely invisible, rarely covered by the corporate press, and not currently subject to congressional oversight. The Freedom of Information Act simply doesn’t apply. Any information on whom they arm or how they operate is private, proprietary information.
The US government downplays its use of mercenaries, a state of affairs that could undermine any efforts to find out about CIA activities that are concealed from Congress. Yet private contractors perform almost every function essential to military operations, a situation that has been called the “creeping privatization of the business of war.” By 2004, the Pentagon was employing more than 700 000 private contractors.
The companies are staffed by former generals, admirals, and highly trained officers. Name a hot spot and some PMC has people there. DynCorp has worked on the Defense Message System Transition Hub and done long-range planning for the Air Force. MPRI had a similar contract with the Army, and for a time coordinated the Pentagon’s military and leadership training in at least seven African nations.
How did this outsourcing of defense evolve? In 1969, the US Army had about 1.5 million active duty soldiers. By 1992, the figure had been cut by half. Since the mid-1990s, however, the US has mobilized militarily to intervene in several significant conflicts, and a corporate “foreign legion” has filled the gap between foreign policy imperatives and what a downsized, increasingly over-stretched military can provide.
Use of high technology equipment feeds the process. Private companies have technical capabilities that the military needs, but doesn’t always possess. Contractors have maintained stealth bombers and Predator unmanned drones used in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some military equipment is specifically designed to be operated and maintained by private companies.
In Britain, the debate over military privatization has been public, since the activities of the UK company Sandline in Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea embarrassed the government in the late 1990s. But no country has clear policies to regulate PMCs, and the limited oversight that does exist rarely works. In the US, they have largely escaped notice, except when US contract workers in conflict zones are killed or go way over the line, as in the case of Blackwater.
According to Guy Copeland, who began developing public-private IT policy in the Reagan years, “The private sector must play an integral role in improving our national cybersecurity.” After all, he has noted, private interests own and operate 85 percent of the nation’s critical IT infrastructure. He should know. After all, Copeland drafted much of the language in the Bush Administration’s 2002 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace as co-chair of the Information Security Committee of the Information Technology Association of America.
Nevertheless, when the federal government becomes dependent on unaccountable, private companies like DynCorp and Blackwater (later renamed Xe Services) for so many key security services, as well as for military logistics, management, strategy, expertise and “training,” fundamental elements of US defense have been outsourced. And the details of that relationship are matters that the intelligence community will fight long and hard to keep out of public view.
Corporate Connections and “Soft Landings”
Although the various departments and private contractors within the military-intelligence-industrial complex occasionally have turf battles and don’t always share information or coordinate strategy as effectively as they might, close and ongoing contact has long been considered essential. And it has expanded as a result of the information revolution. The entire intelligence community has its own secret Intranet, which pulls together FBI reports, NSA intercepts, analysis from the DIA and CIA, and other deeply covert sources.
Private firms are connected to this information web through staff, location, shared technology, and assorted contracts. Working primarily for the Pentagon, for example, L-3 Communications, a spinoff from major defense contractor Lockheed Martin, has manufactured hardware like control systems for satellites and flight recorders. MPRI, which was bought by L-3, provided services like its operations in Macedonia. L-3 also built the NSA’s Secure Terminal Equipment, which instantly encrypts phone conversations.
Another private contractor active in the Balkans was Science Applications, staffed by former NSA and CIA personnel, and specializing in police training. When Janice Stromsem, a Justice Department employee, complained that its program gave the CIA unfettered access to recruiting agents in foreign police forces, she was relieved of her duties. Her concern was that the sovereignty of nations receiving aid from the US was being compromised.
In 1999, faced with personnel cuts, the NSA offered over 4000 employees “soft landing” buy outs to help them secure jobs with defense firms that have major NSA contracts. NSA offered to pay the first year’s salary, in hopes the contractor would then pick up the tab. Sometimes the employee didn’t even have to move away from Crypto City. Companies taking part in the program included TRW and MPRI’s parent company, Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed was also a winner in the long-term effort to privatize government services. In 2000, it won a $43.8 million contract to run the Defense Civilian Personnel Data System, one of the largest human resources systems in the world. As a result, a major defense contractor took charge of consolidating all Department of Defense personnel systems, covering hiring and firing for about 750 000 civilian employees. This put the contractor at the cutting edge of Defense Department planning, and made it a key gatekeeper at the revolving door between the US military and private interests.
Shortly after his appointment as NSA director in 1999, Michael Hayden went to see the film Enemy of the State, in which Will Smith is pursued by an all-seeing, all hearing NSA and former operative Gene Hackman decries the agency’s dangerous power. In Body of Secrets, author Bamford says Hayden found the film entertaining, yet offensive and highly inaccurate. Still, the NSA chief was comforted by “a society that makes its bogeymen secrecy and power. That’s really what the movie’s about.”
Unlike Hayden, most people don’t know where the fiction ends and NSA reality begins. Supposedly, the agency rarely “spies” on US citizens at home. On the other hand, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows a secret federal court to waive that limitation. The rest of the world doesn’t have that protection. Designating thousands of keywords, names, phrases, and phone numbers, NSA computers can pick them out of millions of messages, passing anything of interest on to analysts. One can only speculate about what happens next.
After 9/11 the plan was to go further with a project code named Tempest. The goal was to capture computer signals such as keystrokes or monitor images through walls or from other buildings, even if the computers weren’t linked to a network. One NSA document, “Compromising Emanations Laboratory Test Requirements, Electromagnetics,” described procedures for capturing the radiation emitted from a computer-through radio waves and the telephone, serial, network, or power cables attached to it.
Other NSA programs have included Oasis, designed to reduce audiovisual images into machine-readable text for easier filtering, and Fluent, which expanded Echelon’s multilingual capabilities. And let’s not forget the government’s Carnivore Internet surveillance program, which can collect all communications over any segment of the network being watched.
Put such elements together, combine them with business imperatives and covert foreign policy objectives, then throw PMCS into the mix, and you get a glimpse of the extent to which information can be translated into raw power and secretly used to shape events. Although most pieces of the puzzle remain obscure, enough is visible to justify suspicion, outrage, and a campaign to pull away the curtain on this Wizard of Oz. But fighting a force that is largely invisible and unaccountable – and able to eavesdrop on the most private exchanges, that is a daunting task, perhaps even more difficult than confronting the mechanisms of corporate globalization that it protects and promotes.
- ECHELON - the global eavesdropping scheme
- Private spies - the secret world of intelligence outsourcing
- 'Fusion centers' part of US domestic intelligence and surveillance apparatus
- Cover-up on CSEC's spying and the police-state apparatus
The evolution of an NSA black program
2013 07 12
People are shocked by the scope of secret state spying on their private communications, especially in light of documentary evidence leaked to media outlets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
While the public is rightly angered by the illegal, unconstitutional nature of NSA programs which seize and store data for retrospective harvesting by intelligence and law enforcement officials, including the content of phone calls, emails, geolocational information, bank records, credit card purchases, travel itineraries, even medical records–in secret, and with little in the way of effective oversight–the historical context of how, and why, this vast spying apparatus came to be is often given short shrift.
Revelations about NSA spying didn’t begin June 5, 2013 however, the day when The Guardian published a top secret FISA Court Order to Verizon, ordering the firm turn over the telephone records on millions of its customers “on an ongoing daily basis.”
Before PRISM there was ECHELON: the top secret surveillance program whose all-encompassing “dictionaries” (high-speed computers powered by complex algorithms) ingest and sort key words and text scooped-up by a global network of satellites, from undersea cables and land-based microwave towers.
Past as Prologue
Confronted by a dizzying array of code-named programs, the casual observer will assume the spymasters running these intrusive operations are all-knowing mandarins with their fingers on the pulse of global events.
Yet, if disastrous US policies from Afghanistan and Iraq to the ongoing capitalist economic meltdown tell us anything, it is that the American superpower, in President Nixon’s immortal words, really is “a pitiful, helpless giant.”
In fact, the same programs used to surveil the population at large have also been turned inward by the National Security State against itself and targets military and political elites who long thought themselves immune from such close attention.
Coupled with Snowden’s disclosures, those of former NSA officer Russell Tice (first reported here and here), revealed that the agency–far in excess of the dirt collected by FBI spymaster J. Edgar Hoover in his “secret and confidential” black files–has compiled dossiers on their alleged controllers, for political leverage and probably for blackmail purposes to boot.
While Tice’s allegations certainly raised eyebrows and posed fundamental questions about who is really in charge of American policy–elected officials or unaccountable securocrats with deep ties to private security corporations–despite being deep-sixed by US media, they confirm previous reporting about the agency.
When investigative journalist Duncan Campbell first blew the lid off NSA’s ECHELON program, his 1988 piece for New Statesman revealed that a whistleblower, Margaret Newsham, a software designer employed by Lockheed at the giant agency listening post at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, England, stepped forward and told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in closed session, that NSA was using its formidable intercept capabilities “to locate the telephone or other messages of target individuals.”
Campbell’s reporting was followed in 1996 by New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s groundbreaking book, Secret Power, the first detailed account of NSA’s global surveillance system. A summary of Hager’s findings can be found in the 1997 piece that appeared in CovertAction Quarterly.
As Campbell was preparing that 1988 article, a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer alleged that arch-conservative US Senator Strom Thurman was one target of agency phone intercepts, raising fears in political circles that “NSA has restored domestic, electronic, surveillance programmes,” said to have been dialed-back in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
Ironically enough, congressional efforts to mitigate abuses by the intelligence agencies exposed by the Church and Pike Committees in the 1970s, resulted in the 1978 creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. However, as The New York Times reported July 7, that court “in more than a dozen classified rulings... has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans,” a “parallel Supreme Court” whose rulings are beyond legal challenge.
In an 88-page report on ECHELON published in 2000 by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Newsham said that when she worked on the development of SILKWORTH at the secret US base, described as “a system for processing information relayed from signals intelligence satellites,” she told Campbell and other reporters, including CBS News’ 60 Minutes, that “she witnessed and overheard” one of Thurman’s intercepted phone calls.
Like Thomas Drake, the senior NSA official prosecuted by the Obama administration under the 1917 Espionage Act, for information he provided The Baltimore Sun over widespread waste, fraud and abuse in the agency’s failed Trailblazer program, Newsham had testified before Congress and filed a lawsuit against Lockheed over charges of sexual harassment, “corruption and mis-spending on other US government ‘black’ projects.”
A year earlier, in a 1999 on the record interview with the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, Newsham spoke to journalists Bo Elkjaer and Kenan Seeberg, telling them of her “constant fear” that “certain elements” within the US secret state would “try to silence her”; a point not lost on Edward Snowden today.
“As a result,” the newspaper reported, “she sleeps with a loaded pistol under her mattress, and her best friend is Mr. Gunther–a 120-pound German shepherd that was trained to be a guard and attack dog by a good friend in the Nevada State Police.”
“To me,” the whistleblower said, “there are only two issues at stake here: right or wrong. And the longer I worked on the clandestine surveillance projects, the more I could see that they were not only illegal, but also unconstitutional.”
“Even then,” between 1974 and 1984 when she worked on ECHELON, it “was very big and sophisticated.”
“As early as 1979 we could track a specific person and zoom in on his phone conversation while he was communicating,” Newsham averred. “Since our satellites could in 1984 film a postage stamp lying on the ground, it is almost impossible to imagine how all-encompassing the system must be today.”
When queried about “which part of the system is named Echelon,” Newsham told the reporters: “The computer network itself. The software programs are known as SILKWORTH and SIRE, and one of the most important surveillance satellites is named VORTEX. It intercepts things like phone conversations.”
Despite evidence presented in her congressional testimony about these illegal operations, “no substantive investigation took place, and no report was made to Congress,” Campbell later wrote.
“Since then,” the British journalist averred, “investigators have subpoenaed other witnesses and asked them to provide the complete plans and manuals of the ECHELON system and related projects. The plans and blueprints are said to show that targeting of US political figures would not occur by accident, but was designed into the system from the start.”
This would explain why members of Congress, the federal Judiciary and the Executive Branch itself, as Tice alleges, tread lightly when it comes to crossing NSA. However, as information continues to emerge about these privacy-killing programs it should also be clear that the agency’s prime targets are not “terrorists,” judges or politicians, but the American people themselves.
In fact, as Snowden stated in a powerful message published by WikiLeaks: “In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised–and it should be.”
How did we get here? Is there a direct line from Cold War-era programs which targeted the Soviet Union and their allies, and which now, in the age of capitalist globalization, the epoch of planet-wide theft and plunder, now targets the entire world’s population?
ECHELON’s Roots: The UKUSA Agreement
Lost in the historical mists surrounding the origins of the Cold War, the close collaboration amongst Britain and the United States as they waged war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, by war’s end had morphed into a permanent intelligence-military alliance which predated the founding of NATO. With the defeat of the Axis powers, a new global division of labor was in the offing led by the undisputed superpower which emerged from the conflagration, the United States.
Self-appointed administrator over Europe’s old colonial holdings across Africa, Asia and the Middle East (the US already viewed Latin America as its private export dumping ground and source for raw materials), the US used its unparalleled position to benefit the giant multinational American firms grown larger and more profitable than ever as a result of wartime economic mobilization managed by the state.
By 1946, the permanent war economy which later came to be known as the Military-Industrial Complex, a semi-command economy directed by corporate executives, based on military, but also on emerging high-tech industries bolstered by taxpayer-based government investments, was already firmly entrenched and formed the political-economic base on which the so-called “American Century” was constructed.
While resource extraction and export market domination remained the primary goal of successive US administrations (best summarized by the slogan, “the business of government is business”), advances in technology in general and telecommunications in particular, meant that the system’s overlords required an intelligence apparatus that was always “on” as it “captured” the flood of electronic signals coursing across the planet.
The secret British and US agencies responsible for cracking German, Japanese and Russian codes during the war found themselves in a quandary. Should they declare victory and go home or train their sights on the new (old) adversary–their former ally, the Soviet Union–but also on home grown and indigenous communist and socialist movements more generally?
In opting for the latter, the UK-US wartime partnership evolved into a broad agreement to share signals and communications intelligence (SIGINT and COMINT), a set-up which persists today.
In 1946, Britain and the United States signed the United Kingdom-United States of America Agreement (UKUSA), a multilateral treaty to share signals intelligence amongst the two nations and Britain’s Commonwealth partners, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Known as the “Five Eyes” agreement, the treaty was such a closely-guarded secret that Australia’s Prime Minister was kept in the dark until 1973!
In 2010, the British National Archives released previously classified Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) files that provide an important historical overview of the agreement. Also in 2010, the National Security Agency followed suit and published formerly classified files from their archives. Accompanying NSA’s release was a 1955 amended version of the treaty.
It’s secretive nature is clearly spelled out: “It will be contrary to this Agreement to reveal its existence to any third party unless otherwise agreed by the two parties.”
In 2005, 2009 and 2013, The National Security Archive published a series of previously classified documents obtained from NSA under the Freedom of Information Act that revealed agency thinking on a range of subjects, from global surveillance to cyberwar.
What we have learned from these sources and reporting by Duncan Campbell and Nicky Hager, are that the five agencies feeding the surveillance behemoth, America’s NSA, Britain’s GCHQ, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), are subdivided into first and second tier partners, with the US, as befitting a hyperpower, forming the “1st party” and the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand forming “2nd party” partners.
Under terms of UKUSA, intelligence “products” are defined as “01. Collection of traffic. 02. Acquisition of communications documents and equipment. 03. Traffic analysis. 04. Cryptanalysis. 05. Decryption and translation. 06. Acquisition of information regarding communications organizations, procedures, practices and equipment.”
“Such exchange,” NSA informed us, “will be unrestricted on all work undertaken except when specifically excluded from the agreement at the request of either party and with the agreement of the other.”
“It is the intention of each party,” we’re told, “to limit such exceptions to the absolute minimum and to exercise no restrictions other than those reported and mutually agreed upon.”
This certainly leaves wide latitude for mischief as we learned with the Snowden disclosures.
Amid serious charges that “Five Eyes” were illegally seizing industrial and trade secrets from “3rd party” European partners such as France and Germany, detailed in the European Parliament’s 2001 ECHELON report, it should be clear by now that since its launch in 1968 when satellite communications became a practical reality, ECHELON has evolved into a global surveillance complex under US control.
The Global Surveillance System Today
The echoes of those earlier secret programs reverberate in today’s headlines.
Last month, The Guardian reported that the “collection of traffic” cited in UKUSA has been expanded to GCHQ’s “ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.”
Then on July 6, The Washington Post disclosed that NSA has tapped directly into those fiber optic cables, as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein described to Wired Magazine in 2006, and now scoops-up petabyte scale communications flowing through the US internet backbone. The agency was able to accomplish this due to the existence of “an internal corporate cell of American citizens with government clearances.”
“Among their jobs documents show, was ensuring that surveillance requests got fulfilled quickly and confidentially.”
Following up on July 10, the Post published a new PRISM slide from the 41-slide deck provided to the paper by Edward Snowden.
The slide revealed that “two types of collection” now occur. One is the PRISM program that collects information from technology firms such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. The second source is “a separate category labeled ‘Upstream,’ described as accessing ‘communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past’.”
Recently, Der Spiegel reported that NSA averred the agency “does NOT target its 2nd party partners, nor request that 2nd parties do anything that is inherently illegal for NSA to do.” This is an outright falsehood exposed by former Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE) officer Mike Frost.
In a 1997 CovertAction Quarterly exposé, Frost recounted how “CSE operated alone or joined with NSA or GCHQ to: intercept communications in other countries from the confines of Canadian embassies around the world with the knowledge of the ambassador; aid politicians, political parties, or factions in an allied country to gain partisan advantage; spy on its allies; spy on its own citizens; and perform ‘favors’ that helped its allies evade domestic laws against spying.”
“Throughout it all,” Frost insisted, “I was trained and controlled by US intelligence which told us what to do and how to do it.”
Everyone else, Der Spiegel reports, is fair game. “For all other countries, including the group of around 30 nations that are considered to be 3rd party partners, however, this protection does not apply. ‘We can, and often do, target the signals of most 3rd party foreign partners,’ the NSA boasts in an internal presentation.”
It should also be clear that targeting isn’t strictly limited to the governments and economic institutions of “3rd party foreign partners,” but extends to the private communications of their citizens. Der Spiegel, citing documents supplied by Snowden, reported that the agency “gathered metadata from some 15 million telephone conversations and 10 million Internet datasets.” The newsmagazine noted that “the Americans are collecting from up to half a billion communications a month in Germany,” describing the surveillance as “a complete structural acquisition of data.”
Despite hypocritical protests by European governments, on the contrary, Snowden disclosed that those “3rd party” partners are joined at the hip with their “Five Eyes” cousins.
In a recent interview with Der Spiegel Snowden was asked if “German authorities or German politicians [are] involved in the NSA surveillance system?”
“Yes, of course. We’re in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries. For example, we tip them off when someone we want is flying through their airports (that we for example, have learned from the cell phone of a suspected hacker’s girlfriend in a totally unrelated third country–and they hand them over to us. They don’t ask to justify how we know something, and vice versa, to insulate their political leaders from the backlash of knowing how grievously they’re violating global privacy.”
Disclosing new information on how UKUSA functions today, Snowden told the German newsmagazine: “In some cases, the so-called Five Eye Partners go beyond what NSA itself does. For instance, the UK’s General [sic] Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has a system called TEMPORA.”
“TEMPORA,” the whistleblower averred, “is the signals intelligence community’s first ‘full-take’ Internet buffer that doesn’t care about content type and pays only marginal attention to the Human Rights Act. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit.”
“Right now,” Snowden said, “the buffer can hold three days of traffic, but that’s being improved. Three days may not sound like much, but remember that that’s not metadata. ‘Full-take’ means it doesn’t miss anything, and ingests the entirety of each circuit’s capacity. If you send a single ICMP packet and it routes through the UK, we get it. If you download something and the CDN (Content Delivery Network) happens to serve from the UK, we get it. If your sick daughter’s medical records get processed at a London call center... well, you get the idea.”
We do; and thanks to Edward Snowden we now know that everyone is a target.
- World Wide War - [V] - doc - 45m
Exposing the Global Surveillance System
2012 04 25 
In the late 1980's, in a decision it probably regrets, the U.S. prompted New Zealand to join a new and highly secret global intelligence system. Hager’s investigation into it and his discovery of the Echelon dictionary has revealed one of the world’s biggest, most closely held intelligence projects. The system allows spy agencies to monitor most of the world’s telephone, e-mail, and telex communications.
For 40 years, New Zealand’s largest intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) the nation’s equivalent of the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been helping its Western allies to spy on countries throughout the Pacific region, without the knowledge of the New Zealand public or many of its highest elected officials. What the NSA did not know is that by the late 1980s, various intelligence staff had decided these activities had been too secret for too long, and were providing me with interviews and documents exposing New Zealand’s intelligence activities. Eventually, more than 50 people who work or have worked in intelligence and related fields agreed to be interviewed.
The activities they described made it possible to document, from the South Pacific, some alliance-wide systems and projects which have been kept secret elsewhere. Of these, by far the most important is ECHELON.
Designed and coordinated by NSA, the ECHELON system is used to intercept ordinary e-mail, fax, telex, and telephone communications carried over the world’s telecommunications networks. Unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON is designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations, businesses, and individuals in virtually every country. It potentially affects every person communicating between (and sometimes within) countries anywhere in the world.
It is, of course, not a new idea that intelligence organizations tap into e-mail and other public telecommunications networks. What was new in the material leaked by the New Zealand intelligence staff was precise information on where the spying is done, how the system works, its capabilities and shortcomings, and many details such as the codenames.
The ECHELON system is not designed to eavesdrop on a particular individual’s e-mail or fax link. Rather, the system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and using computers to identify and extract messages of interest from the mass of unwanted ones. A chain of secret interception facilities has been established around the world to tap into all the major components of the international telecommunications networks. Some monitor communications satellites, others land-based communications networks, and others radio communications. ECHELON links together all these facilities, providing the US and its allies with the ability to intercept a large proportion of the communications on the planet.
The computers at each station in the ECHELON network automatically search through the millions of messages intercepted for ones containing pre-programmed keywords. Keywords include all the names, localities, subjects, and so on that might be mentioned. Every word of every message intercepted at each station gets automatically searched whether or not a specific telephone number or e-mail address is on the list. The thousands of simultaneous messages are read in “real time” as they pour into the station, hour after hour, day after day, as the computer finds intelligence needles in telecommunications haystacks.
Someone is listening
The computers in stations around the globe are known, within the network, as the ECHELON Dictionaries. Computers that can automatically search through traffic for keywords have existed since at least the 1970s, but the ECHELON system was designed by NSA to interconnect all these computers and allow the stations to function as components of an integrated whole. The NSA and GCSB are bound together under the five-nation UKUSA signals intelligence agreement. The other three partners all with equally obscure names are the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) in Canada, and the Defense Signals Directorate (DSD) in Australia.
The alliance, which grew from cooperative efforts during World War II to intercept radio transmissions, was formalized into the UKUSA agreement in 1948 and aimed primarily against the USSR. The five UKUSA agencies are today the largest intelligence organizations in their respective countries. With much of the world’s business occurring by fax, e-mail, and phone, spying on these communications receives the bulk of intelligence resources. For decades before the introduction of the ECHELON system, the UKUSA allies did intelligence collection operations for each other, but each agency usually processed and analyzed the intercept from its own stations.
Under ECHELON, a particular station’s Dictionary computer contains not only its parent agency’s chosen keywords, but also has lists entered in for other agencies. In New Zealand’s satellite interception station at Waihopai (in the South Island), for example, the computer has separate search lists for the NSA, GCHQ, DSD, and CSE in addition to its own. Whenever the Dictionary encounters a message containing one of the agencies’ keywords, it automatically picks it and sends it directly to the headquarters of the agency concerned. No one in New Zealand screens, or even sees, the intelligence collected by the New Zealand station for the foreign agencies. Thus, the stations of the junior UKUSA allies function for the NSA no differently than if they were overtly NSA-run bases located on their soil.
The first component of the ECHELON network are stations specifically targeted on the international telecommunications satellites (Intelsats) used by the telephone companies of most countries. A ring of Intelsats is positioned around the world, stationary above the equator, each serving as a relay station for tens of thousands of simultaneous phone calls, fax, and e-mail. Five UKUSA stations have been established to intercept the communications carried by the Intelsats.
The British GCHQ station is located at the top of high cliffs above the sea at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Satellite dishes beside sprawling operations buildings point toward Intelsats above the Atlantic, Europe, and, inclined almost to the horizon, the Indian Ocean. An NSA station at Sugar Grove, located 250 kilometers southwest of Washington, DC, in the mountains of West Virginia, covers Atlantic Intelsats transmitting down toward North and South America. Another NSA station is in Washington State, 200 kilometers southwest of Seattle, inside the Army’s Yakima Firing Center. Its satellite dishes point out toward the Pacific Intelsats and to the east.
The job of intercepting Pacific Intelsat communications that cannot be intercepted at Yakima went to New Zealand and Australia. Their South Pacific location helps to ensure global interception. New Zealand provides the station at Waihopai and Australia supplies the Geraldton station in West Australia (which targets both Pacific and Indian Ocean Intelsats).
Each of the five stations’ Dictionary computers has a codename to distinguish it from others in the network. The Yakima station, for instance, located in desert country between the Saddle Mountains and Rattlesnake Hills, has the COWBOY Dictionary, while the Waihopai station has the FLINTLOCK Dictionary. These codenames are recorded at the beginning of every intercepted message, before it is transmitted around the ECHELON network, allowing analysts to recognize at which station the interception occurred.
New Zealand intelligence staff has been closely involved with the NSA’s Yakima station since 1981, when NSA pushed the GCSB to contribute to a project targeting Japanese embassy communications. Since then, all five UKUSA agencies have been responsible for monitoring diplomatic cables from all Japanese posts within the same segments of the globe they are assigned for general UKUSA monitoring. Until New Zealand’s integration into ECHELON with the opening of the Waihopai station in 1989, its share of the Japanese communications was intercepted at Yakima and sent unprocessed to the GCSB headquarters in Wellington for decryption, translation, and writing into UKUSA-format intelligence reports (the NSA provides the codebreaking programs).
'Communication' through satellites
The next component of the ECHELON system intercepts a range of satellite communications not carried by Intelsat. In addition to the UKUSA stations targeting Intelsat satellites, there are another five or more stations homing in on Russian and other regional communications satellites. These stations are Menwith Hill in northern England; Shoal Bay, outside Darwin in northern Australia (which targets Indonesian satellites); Leitrim, just south of Ottawa in Canada (which appears to intercept Latin American satellites); Bad Aibling in Germany; and Misawa in northern Japan.
A group of facilities that tap directly into land-based telecommunications systems is the final element of the ECHELON system. Besides satellite and radio, the other main method of transmitting large quantities of public, business, and government communications is a combination of water cables under the oceans and microwave networks over land. Heavy cables, laid across seabeds between countries, account for much of the world’s international communications. After they come out of the water and join land-based microwave networks they are very vulnerable to interception. The microwave networks are made up of chains of microwave towers relaying messages from hilltop to hilltop (always in line of sight) across the countryside. These networks shunt large quantities of communications across a country. Interception of them gives access to international undersea communications (once they surface) and to international communication trunk lines across continents. They are also an obvious target for large-scale interception of domestic communications.
Because the facilities required to intercept radio and satellite communications use large aerials and dishes that are difficult to hide for too long, that network is reasonably well documented. But all that is required to intercept land-based communication networks is a building situated along the microwave route or a hidden cable running underground from the legitimate network into some anonymous building, possibly far removed. Although it sounds technically very difficult, microwave interception from space by United States spy satellites also occurs.4 The worldwide network of facilities to intercept these communications is largely undocumented, and because New Zealand’s GCSB does not participate in this type of interception, my inside sources could not help either.
No one is safe from a microwave
A 1994 expos of the Canadian UKUSA agency, Spyworld, co-authored by one of its former staff, Mike Frost, gave the first insights into how a lot of foreign microwave interception is done (see p. 18). It described UKUSA “embassy collection” operations, where sophisticated receivers and processors are secretly transported to their countries’ overseas embassies in diplomatic bags and used to monitor various communications in foreign capitals.
Since most countries’ microwave networks converge on the capital city, embassy buildings can be an ideal site. Protected by diplomatic privilege, they allow interception in the heart of the target country. *6 The Canadian embassy collection was requested by the NSA to fill gaps in the American and British embassy collection operations, which were still occurring in many capitals around the world when Frost left the CSE in 1990. Separate sources in Australia have revealed that the DSD also engages in embassy collection. On the territory of UKUSA nations, the interception of land-based telecommunications appears to be done at special secret intelligence facilities. The US, UK, and Canada are geographically well placed to intercept the large amounts of the world’s communications that cross their territories.
The only public reference to the Dictionary system anywhere in the world was in relation to one of these facilities, run by the GCHQ in central London. In 1991, a former British GCHQ official spoke anonymously to Granada Television’s World in Action about the agency’s abuses of power. He told the program about an anonymous red brick building at 8 Palmer Street where GCHQ secretly intercepts every telex which passes into, out of, or through London, feeding them into powerful computers with a program known as “Dictionary.” The operation, he explained, is staffed by carefully vetted British Telecom people: “It’s nothing to do with national security. It’s because it’s not legal to take every single telex. And they take everything: the embassies, all the business deals, even the birthday greetings, they take everything. They feed it into the Dictionary.” What the documentary did not reveal is that Dictionary is not just a British system; it is UKUSA-wide.
Similarly, British researcher Duncan Campbell has described how the US Menwith Hill station in Britain taps directly into the British Telecom microwave network, which has actually been designed with several major microwave links converging on an isolated tower connected underground into the station.
The NSA Menwith Hill station, with 22 satellite terminals and more than 4.9 acres of buildings, is undoubtedly the largest and most powerful in the UKUSA network. Located in northern England, several thousand kilometers from the Persian Gulf, it was awarded the NSA’s “Station of the Year” prize for 1991 after its role in the Gulf War. Menwith Hill assists in the interception of microwave communications in another way as well, by serving as a ground station for US electronic spy satellites. These intercept microwave trunk lines and short range communications such as military radios and walkie talkies. Other ground stations where the satellites’ information is fed into the global network are Pine Gap, run by the CIA near Alice Springs in central Australia and the Bad Aibling station in Germany. Among them, the various stations and operations making up the ECHELON network tap into all the main components of the world’s telecommunications networks. All of them, including a separate network of stations that intercepts long distance radio communications, have their own Dictionary computers connected into ECHELON.
In the early 1990s, opponents of the Menwith Hill station obtained large quantities of internal documents from the facility. Among the papers was a reference to an NSA computer system called Platform. The integration of all the UKUSA station computers into ECHELON probably occurred with the introduction of this system in the early 1980s. James Bamford wrote at that time about a new worldwide NSA computer network codenamed Platform “which will tie together 52 separate computer systems used throughout the world. Focal point, or `host environment,’ for the massive network will be the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. Among those included in Platform will be the British SIGINT organization, GCHQ.”
Looking in the dictionary
The Dictionary computers are connected via highly encrypted UKUSA communications that link back to computer data bases in the five agency headquarters. This is where all the intercepted messages selected by the Dictionaries end up. Each morning the specially “indoctrinated” signals intelligence analysts in Washington, Ottawa, Cheltenham, Canberra, and Wellington log on at their computer terminals and enter the Dictionary system. After keying in their security passwords, they reach a directory that lists the different categories of intercept available in the data bases, each with a four-digit code. For instance, 1911 might be Japanese diplomatic cables from Latin America (handled by the Canadian CSE), 3848 might be political communications from and about Nigeria, and 8182 might be any messages about distribution of encryption technology.
They select their subject category, get a “search result” showing how many messages have been caught in the ECHELON net on that subject, and then the day’s work begins. Analysts scroll through screen after screen of intercepted faxes, e-mail messages, etc. and, whenever a message appears worth reporting on, they select it from the rest to work on. If it is not in English, it is translated and then written into the standard format of intelligence reports produced anywhere within the UKUSA network either in entirety as a “report,” or as a summary or “gist.”
A highly organized system has been developed to control what is being searched for by each station and who can have access to it. This is at the heart of ECHELON operations and works as follows.
The individual station’s Dictionary computers do not simply have a long list of keywords to search for. And they do not send all the information into some huge database that participating agencies can dip into as they wish. It is much more controlled.
The search lists are organized into the same categories, referred to by the four digit numbers. Each agency decides its own categories according to its responsibilities for producing intelligence for the network. For GCSB, this means South Pacific governments, Japanese diplomatic, Russian Antarctic activities, and so on.
The agency then works out about 10 to 50 keywords for selection in each category. The keywords include such things as names of people, ships, organizations, country names, and subject names. They also include the known telex and fax numbers and Internet addresses of any individuals, businesses, organizations, and government offices that are targets. These are generally written as part of the message text and so are easily recognized by the Dictionary computers.
The agencies also specify combinations of keywords to help sift out communications of interest. For example, they might search for diplomatic cables containing both the words “Santiago” and “aid,” or cables containing the word “Santiago” but not “consul” (to avoid the masses of routine consular communications). It is these sets of words and numbers (and combinations), under a particular category, that get placed in the Dictionary computers. (Staff in the five agencies called Dictionary Managers enter and update the keyword search lists for each agency.)
The whole system, devised by the NSA, has been adopted completely by the other agencies. The Dictionary computers search through all the incoming messages and, whenever they encounter one with any of the agencies’ keywords, they select it. At the same time, the computer automatically notes technical details such as the time and place of interception on the piece of intercept so that analysts reading it, in whichever agency it is going to, know where it came from, and what it is. Finally, the computer writes the four-digit code (for the category with the keywords in that message) at the bottom of the message’s text. This is important. It means that when all the intercepted messages end up together in the database at one of the agency headquarters, the messages on a particular subject can be located again. Later, when the analyst using the Dictionary system selects the four- digit code for the category he or she wants, the computer simply searches through all the messages in the database for the ones which have been tagged with that number.
This system is very effective for controlling which agencies can get what from the global network because each agency only gets the intelligence out of the ECHELON system from its own numbers. It does not have any access to the raw intelligence coming out of the system to the other agencies. For example, although most of the GCSB’s intelligence production is primarily to serve the UKUSA alliance, New Zealand does not have access to the whole ECHELON network. The access it does have is strictly controlled. A New Zealand intelligence officer explained: “The agencies can all apply for numbers on each other’s Dictionaries. The hardest to deal with are the Americans. … [There are] more hoops to jump through, unless it is in their interest, in which case they’ll do it for you.”
There is only one agency which, by virtue of its size and role within the alliance, will have access to the full potential of the ECHELON system the agency that set it up. What is the system used for? Anyone listening to official “discussion” of intelligence could be forgiven for thinking that, since the end of the Cold War, the key targets of the massive UKUSA intelligence machine are terrorism, weapons proliferation, and economic intelligence. The idea that economic intelligence has become very important, in particular, has been carefully cultivated by intelligence agencies intent on preserving their post-Cold War budgets. It has become an article of faith in much discussion of intelligence. However, I have found no evidence that these are now the primary concerns of organizations such as NSA.
Quicker intelligence, same mission
A different story emerges after examining very detailed information I have been given about the intelligence New Zealand collects for the UKUSA allies and detailed descriptions of what is in the yards-deep intelligence reports New Zealand receives from its four allies each week. There is quite a lot of intelligence collected about potential terrorists, and there is quite a lot of economic intelligence, notably intensive monitoring of all the countries participating in GATT negotiations. But by far, the main priorities of the intelligence alliance continue to be political and military intelligence to assist the larger allies to pursue their interests around the world. Anyone and anything the particular governments are concerned about can become a target.
With capabilities so secret and so powerful, almost anything goes. For example, in June 1992, a group of current “highly placed intelligence operatives” from the British GCHQ spoke to the London Observer: “We feel we can no longer remain silent regarding that which we regard to be gross malpractice and negligence within the establishment in which we operate.” They gave as examples GCHQ interception of three charitable organizations, including Amnesty International and Christian Aid. As the Observer reported: “At any time GCHQ is able to home in on their communications for a routine target request,” the GCHQ source said. In the case of phone taps the procedure is known as Mantis. With telexes it is called Mayfly. By keying in a code relating to Third World aid, the source was able to demonstrate telex “fixes” on the three organizations. “It is then possible to key in a trigger word which enables us to home in on the telex communications whenever that word appears,” he said. “And we can read a pre-determined number of characters either side of the keyword.” Without actually naming it, this was a fairly precise description of how the ECHELON Dictionary system works. Again, what was not revealed in the publicity was that this is a UKUSA-wide system. The design of ECHELON means that the interception of these organizations could have occurred anywhere in the network, at any station where the GCHQ had requested that the four-digit code covering Third World aid be placed.
Note that these GCHQ officers mentioned that the system was being used for telephone calls. In New Zealand, ECHELON is used only to intercept written communications: fax, e-mail, and telex. The reason, according to intelligence staff, is that the agency does not have the staff to analyze large quantities of telephone conversations.
Mike Frost’s expos of Canadian “embassy collection” operations described the NSA computers they used, called Oratory, that can “listen” to telephone calls and recognize when keywords are spoken. Just as we can recognize words spoken in all the different tones and accents we encounter, so too, according to Frost, can these computers. Telephone calls containing keywords are automatically extracted from the masses of other calls and recorded digitally on magnetic tapes for analysts back at agency headquarters. However, high volume voice recognition computers will be technically difficult to perfect, and my New Zealand-based sources could not confirm that this capability exists. But, if or when it is perfected, the implications would be immense. It would mean that the UKUSA agencies could use machines to search through all the international telephone calls in the world, in the same way that they do written messages. If this equipment exists for use in embassy collection, it will presumably be used in all the stations throughout the ECHELON network. It is yet to be confirmed how extensively telephone communications are being targeted by the ECHELON stations for the other agencies.
The easiest pickings for the ECHELON system are the individuals, organizations, and governments that do not use encryption. In New Zealand’s area, for example, it has proved especially useful against already vulnerable South Pacific nations which do not use any coding, even for government communications (all these communications of New Zealand’s neighbors are supplied, unscreened, to its UKUSA allies). As a result of the revelations in my book, there is currently a project under way in the Pacific to promote and supply publicly available encryption software to vulnerable organizations such as democracy movements in countries with repressive governments. This is one practical way of curbing illegitimate uses of the ECHELON capabilities.
One final comment. All the newspapers, commentators, and “well placed sources” told the public that New Zealand was cut off from US intelligence in the mid-1980s. That was entirely untrue. The intelligence supply to New Zealand did not stop, and instead, the decade since has been a period of increased integration of New Zealand into the US system. Virtually everything the equipment, manuals, ways of operating, jargon, codes, and so on, used in the GCSB continues to be imported entirely from the larger allies (in practice, usually the NSA). As with the Australian and Canadian agencies, most of the priorities continue to come from the US, too.
The main thing that protects these agencies from change is their secrecy. On the day my book arrived in the book shops, without prior publicity, there was an all-day meeting of the intelligence bureaucrats in the prime minister’s department trying to decide if they could prevent it from being distributed. They eventually concluded, sensibly, that the political costs were too high. It is understandable that they were so agitated.
Throughout my research, I have faced official denials or governments refusing to comment on publicity about intelligence activities. Given the pervasive atmosphere of secrecy and stonewalling, it is always hard for the public to judge what is fact, what is speculation, and what is paranoia. Thus, in uncovering New Zealand’s role in the NSA-led alliance, my aim was to provide so much detail about the operations the technical systems, the daily work of individual staff members, and even the rooms in which they work inside intelligence facilities that readers could feel confident that they were getting close to the truth. I hope the information leaked by intelligence staff in New Zealand about UKUSA and its systems such as ECHELON will help lead to change.
This important article was published more than 15 years ago (February 1997) in Covert Action Quarterly.
Washington's 'weaponized data' system
2012 04 23
From driftnet surveillance to data mining and link analysis, the secret state has weaponized our data, "criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial," as Cryptohippie famously warned.
No longer the exclusive domain of intelligence agencies, a highly-profitable Surveillance-Industrial Complex emerged in the 1980s with the deployment of the NSA-GCHQ ECHELON intercept system. As investigate journalist Nicky Hager revealed in CovertAction Quarterly back in 1996:
The ECHELON system is not designed to eavesdrop on a particular individual's e-mail or fax link. Rather, the system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and using computers to identify and extract messages of interest from the mass of unwanted ones. A chain of secret interception facilities has been established around the world to tap into all the major components of the international telecommunications networks. Some monitor communications satellites, others land-based communications networks, and others radio communications. ECHELON links together all these facilities, providing the US and its allies with the ability to intercept a large proportion of the communications on the planet.
With the exponential growth of fiber optic and wireless networks, the mass of data which can be "mined" for "actionable intelligence," covering everything from eavesdropping on official enemies to blanket surveillance of dissidents is now part of the landscape: no more visible to the average citizen than ornamental shrubbery surrounding a strip mall.
That process will become even more ubiquitous. As James Bamford pointed out in Wired Magazine, "the Pentagon is attempting to expand its worldwide communications network, known as the Global Information Grid, to handle yottabytes (10 to the 24th bytes) of data. (A yottabyte is a septillion bytes--so large that no one has yet coined a term for the next higher magnitude.)"
"It needs that capacity because, according to a recent report by Cisco, global Internet traffic will quadruple from 2010 to 2015," Bamford reported, "reaching 966 exabytes per year. (A million exabytes equal a yottabyte.) ... Thus, the NSA's need for a 1-million-square-foot data storehouse. Should the agency ever fill the Utah center with a yottabyte of information, it would be equal to about 500 quintillion (500 000 000 000 000 000 000) pages of text".
A former top NSA official turned whistleblower, William Binney, who resigned in 2001 shortly after the agency stood-up the Bush regime's warrantless wiretapping programs (now greatly expanded under Hope and Change™ huckster Barack Obama), "held his thumb and forefinger close together" and told Bamford, "We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state".
Last week, Binney said on Democracy Now when queried whether there were any differences between the Bush and Obama administrations, "Actually, I think the surveillance has increased. In fact, I would suggest that they've assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens".
Add to that the Transportation Security Administration's invasion of "travel by other means," as Jennifer Abel pointed out in The Guardian, through the agency's usurpation of "jurisdiction over all forms of mass transit," and it should be clear to Americans (though it isn't) that there is no way of escaping the secret state's callous trampling of our rights.
Commenting, Salon's Glenn Greenwald pointed out that the "domestic NSA-led Surveillance State which Frank Church so stridently warned about has obviously come to fruition"."The way to avoid its grip is simply to acquiesce to the nation's most powerful factions, to obediently remain within the permitted boundaries of political discourse and activism".But in a militarized Empire such as ours the only "choice" is to shut up, keep your head down--or else.
"Accepting that bargain," Greenwald noted, "enables one to maintain the delusion of freedom--'he who does not move does not notice his chains,' observed Rosa Luxemburg--but the true measure of political liberty is whether one is free to make a different choice".
'Lower Your Shields and Surrender Your Ships'
Militarist solutions to intractable social contradictions, the oft-maligned class struggle, do not appear out of the blue. Indeed, NSA's ECHELON system, the template for STELLAR WIND and the agency's associated email and web search database known as PINWALE, were technological responses by Western elites to challenges posed by the "excess of democracy" decried by Samuel Huntington and his cohorts in The Crisis of Democracy, published by the Rockefeller-funded Trilateral Commission.
Social critic Andrew Gavin Marshall observed that for Huntington and the right-wing ideologues who mounted an intellectual counterattack against the democratic "excesses" of the 1960s, the "massive wave of resistance, rebellion, protest, activism and direct action by entire sectors of the general population which had for decades, if not centuries, been largely oppressed and ignored by the institutional power structure of society," were "terrifying".
Fast forward to today. As the global economic crisis deepens and hundreds of millions of people worldwide reject the "austerity" boondoggles of the financial sharks who brought on the crisis through massive frauds disguised as "investment opportunities," our corporatist masters are fighting back and have turned to police state methods to prop-up their illegitimate rule.
Nor should it surprise us, as George Ciccariello-Maher pointed out in CounterPunchCounterPunch in the wake of last summer's London "riots," a mass response to police murder (coming soon to an "urban exclusion zone" near you!): "Irrational, uncontrollable, impermeable to logic and unpredictable in its movements, these undesirables have once again ruined the party for everyone, as they have done from Paris 1789 to Caracas 1989. In Fanon's inimitable words: 'the masses, without waiting for the chairs to be placed around the negotiating table, take matters into their own hands and start burning...'"
Call it the great fear of those lording it over the slaves down on the global plantation!
Combining attributes of Jeremy Bentham's "Panopticon" and George Orwell's ubiquitous "Big Brother," the National Security State, as it works to stave-off its own well-deserved collapse, seeks to root out and marginalize "dangerous" individuals and ideologies thereby "inoculating" the body politic from what were euphemistically called in the halcyon days of J. Edgar's COINTELPRO operations, "subversive elements".
It matters little whether today's "usual suspects" are landless peasants, displaced workers, investigative journalists, civil libertarians or innocent citizens mistakenly caught in one dragnet or another: "threats" will be "neutralized" or more pointedly, in the evocative language employed by spooks: "Terminated with extreme prejudice".
Operating alongside tried and methods--police repression and violence--contemporary crackdowns are guided by "robust situational awareness" gleaned from the wealth of personal data stored on multiple digital devices (the spies in our pockets) and in huge databases. As Cryptohippie averred: "An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are supported by abundant evidence. It looks pristine".
"When we produced our first Electronic Police State report," the privacy professionals wrote, "the top ten nations were of two types:
1. Those that had the will to spy on every citizen, but lacked ability.
2. Those who had the ability, but were restrained in will.
But as they revealed in their 2010 National Rankings, "This is changing: The able have become willing and their traditional restraints have failed". The key developments driving the global panopticon forward are the following:
- The USA has negated their Constitution's fourth amendment in the name of protection and in the name of "wars" against terror, drugs and cyber attacks.
- The UK is aggressively building the world of 1984 in the name of stopping "anti-social" activities. Their populace seems unable or unwilling to restrain the government.
- France and the EU have given themselves over to central bureaucratic control.
As Marxist critic and Situationist troublemaker Guy Debord pointed out decades ago in The Society of the Spectacle, "the spectacle is not the inevitable consequence of some supposedly natural technological development. On the contrary, the society of the spectacle is a form that chooses its own technological content".
Mark that well.
Rejecting the orthodoxies and received wisdom of his day, Debord argued that "The reigning economic system is a vicious circle of isolation. Its technologies are based on isolation, and they contribute to that same isolation. From automobiles to television, the goods that the spectacular system chooses to produce also serve it as weapons for constantly reinforcing the conditions that engender 'lonely crowds.' With ever-increasing concreteness the spectacle recreates its own presuppositions".
It is again worth noting that the much-vaunted "global village" which sprung to life with the widespread deployment of the internet in the 1990s, as a profit-center for the giant telecoms and a spy machine for the secret state, was, after all, a casual by-product of the Pentagon's quest for a wartime digital communications system.
But now that every facet of daily life has become a war theater, what are we to make of the electronic walled gardens offered for sale by Apple, Facebook and Google, replete with their multitude of proprietary apps which, like Bentham's "panopticon," have become prisons of our own choosing?
Ponder Debord's rigorous theorems in this light; substitute "cell phone" or "GPS" for "automobile," and "internet" for "television" and it becomes clear pretty quickly that unbeknownst to the militarist inventors of the "digital highway" they had stumbled upon the perfect means for enabling a global control grid.
As Debord averred: "If the spectacle, considered in the limited sense of the 'mass media' that are its most glaring superficial manifestation, seems to be invading society in the form of a mere technical apparatus, it should be understood that this apparatus is in no way neutral and that it has been developed in accordance with the spectacle's internal dynamics".
"Internal dynamics" geared only towards its own survival and reproduction come hell or high water. Endless wars on "terror," "drugs," "crime," take your pick. Prison-Industrial Complexes? Genetically-engineered plagues? Ecological collapse? Step right this way! There's an app for that and much, much more!
Indeed, "if the social needs of the age in which such technologies are developed can be met only through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact between people has become totally dependent on these means of instantaneous communication, it is because this 'communication' is essentially unilateral," that is, "the product of the social division of labor that is both the chief instrument of class rule and the concentrated expression of all social divisions".
Keep in mind that Debord's seminal text was penned in 1967, long before the wet dreams of securocrats had been brought to life like Frankenstein's monster. Once a disquieting and uncanny shape looming on some far-off, dystopian horizon, the world of smart phones and dumbed-down people is, simply put, an Americanized Borg cube where "resistance" is always "futile".
The question is, in our fallen Republic does anyone even notice?
Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research, he is a Contributing Editor with Cyrano's Journal Today. His articles can be read on Dissident Voice, Pacific Free Press, Uncommon Thought Journal, and the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press and has contributed to the new book from Global Research, The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.
The global eavesdropping scheme
2011 07 20
As eavesdroppers go, next to Uncle Sam and John Bull, Rupert Murdoch, the moral force behind Fox News, is an amateur.
That's because a global eavesdropping scheme being run today by the United States and Great Britain dwarfs anything that Rupert Murdoch's editors at The News of The World (NOTW) ever dared attempt.
British Prime Minister David Cameron may well deny he knew TNTW was tapping the phones of members of UK's Royal household or those of American 9/11 victims. But he can't claim he doesn't know his country is a partner in ECHELON, which, according to Washington journalist Bill Blum, is a "network of massive, highly automated interception stations" that is eavesdropping on the entire world.
"Like a mammoth vacuum cleaner in the sky, the National Security Agency (NSA) sucks it all up: home phone, office phone, cellular phone, email, fax, telex...satellite transmissions, fiber-optic communications traffic, microwave links, voice, text images (that are) captured by satellites continuously orbiting the earth and then processed by high-powered computers," Blum writes in his book "Rogue State" (Common Courage Press).
Calling it the greatest invasion of privacy ever, Blum says the ceaseless, illegal spy system sucks up perhaps billions of messages daily, including those of prime ministers, the Secretary-General of the UN, the pope, embassies, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, and transnational corporations and that "if God has a phone, it's being monitored".
Blum also said that during the countdown to its invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. listened in on the conversations of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, "and all the members of the UN Security Council...when they were deliberating about what action to take in Iraq".
Launched in the 1970s to spy on Soviet satellite communications, the NSA and its junior partners in Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand operate ECHELON, which is a network of massive, highly automated interception stations covering the globe at the expense of American taxpayers.
Today, Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour opposition, is blasting PM Cameron on grounds that, according to The New York Times of July 19, "the recent scandals in British life were caused by a lack of accountability among those in high places". Across Britain, Miliband said, "there is a yearning for a more decent, responsible, principled country".
What makes the British public recoil is the sort of conduct by former TNTW reporter Clive Goodman, who pleaded guilty in Jan., 2007, to hacking the voice mails of aides to the royal family.
Pardon me, but how does that crime begin to compare with ECHELON, an organ of the U.S. Government, spying on the Secretary-General of the United Nations or the Pope? Or stealing, as it has, confidential business information and passing it along to favored firms?
I'll say this for Mr. Murdoch: he's closed down his biggest newspaper; he's fired top editors and reporters for their part in the scandals. He's gone before the public and begged forgiveness. By contrast, what have high U.S. officials done about the crimes committed via ECHELON? Zip, and they have no announced plans to do so. They continue to operate ECHELON unashamedly.
Rupert Murdoch's TNTW was only attempting to do in a small way what the governments of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are doing big time every day. ECHELON is a criminal operation in violation of international law and terminating it might make America, too, "a more decent, responsible, principled country".
The most secret spy system
2007 12 14
The United States, England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all have laws that prevent them from spying on their own citizens. But that doesn't mean that other nations can't do this work instead...
'Echelon - The most secret spy system' reveals the details of the information sharing system developed by these five nations to get around the prohibitions on internal surveillance. Highly placed insiders, including National Security Agency Director Gen. Mike Hayden, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Representative Peter Gross, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, talk about how the system works, why it was put in place and the results it has generated, while a different perspective is offered by people like Jim Bamford, the author of Body of Secrets and Wayne Madsen of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
- Video [43 min]
Congress critters lament NSA snoop agenda
2006 05 11
Naturally, it is the job of the corporate media to paper over the real reasons for the NSA snoop database, described as "the largest database ever assembled in the world," according to a source quoted by USA Today. Leslie Cauley of the daily newspaper tells us "the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity," and attributes this excuse to shadowy sources, as usual, and yet not a single nine eleven terrorist, with the exception of the nut job Zacarias Moussaoui, has faced a jury or suffered a conviction.
Instead of alleged terrorists, the NSA is running its super-sophisticated algorithms on the telephone, email, and web traffic data of average Americans with the help of multinational telecoms such as AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth. "The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said".
Actually, this is not only misleading, it is completely disingenuous. Back in May of 1999, well before "everything changed" on September 11, 2001, the NSA was using Echelon to poke through the private communications of Americans.
According to the New York Times, at the time "the House Committee on Intelligence requested that the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency provide a detailed report to Congress explaining what legal standards they use to monitor the conversations, transmissions and activities of American citizens". In fact, there are no "legal standards" and all such activity is strictly a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. "Although Echelon was originally set up as an international spy network, lawmakers are concerned that it could be used to eavesdrop on American citizens," Niall McKay wrote for the Times. So threatening was Echelon, the European Parliament in May 2001 urged its citizens to use cryptography in their communications to protect their privacy, thus revealing the network was not intended to ferret out spies and terrorists but rather underwear drawer snoop average citizens, who are, of course, the real threat to government. It can be accurately stated that "signals intelligence" (snooping private communications) has posed a threat since the creation of the UKUSA Community, a snoop and subvert alliance of English-speaking nations led by the United States and United Kingdom and formalized in 1947 or 1948 with the signing of the secret UKUSA SIGINT.
If not for the director of Australia's Defense Signals Directorate spilling the beans in 1999, we would know little about the UKUSA Agreement. No "government or intelligence agency from the member states had openly admitted to the existence of the UKUSA Agreement or Echelon. However, on a television program broadcast … in Australia, the director of Australia's Defense Signals Directorate acknowledged the existence of the agreement" and thus massive and Constitutional-busting snooping. According to a report issued by the European Parliament (Development of Surveillance Technology and Risk of Abuse of Economic Information, an appraisal of snoop technologies).Echelon is just one of the many code names for the monitoring system, which consists of satellite interception stations in participating countries. The stations collectively monitor millions of voice and data messages each day. These messages are then scanned and checked against certain key criteria held in a computer system called the "Dictionary". In the case of voice communications, the criteria could include a suspected criminal's telephone number; with respect to data communications, the messages might be scanned for certain keywords, like "bomb" or "drugs". The report also alleges that Echelon is capable of monitoring terrestrial Internet traffic through interception nodes placed on deep-sea communications cables.In the current context, it is more likely words such as "impeach Bush" or "Bill of Rights" are searched and pegged for inclusion in this dictionary than "bomb," "drugs," or even "Osama bin Laden". Again, for a government responsible for war crimes and massive financial corruption, the enemy is naturally the people, not mythical and illusory terrorists, the latter usually conceived to scare the short pants off a semi-somnolent public.
In a futile effort—as worthless as the 1999 "investigation" into Echelon—to get to the bottom of all this snooping, "Arlen [Magic Bullet] Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel 'to find out exactly what is going on,'" reports the Associated Press. "Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al Qaida? These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything … Where does it stop?" asked a clueless or disingenuous Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
It doesn't stop, Mr. Leahy. In fact, it has gone on for more than fifty years, unopposed and unchecked. As Christopher Pyle revealed in January 1970, the U.S. Army has long spied on the American public. Pyle's revelations resulted in the empanelling of the Church Committee (the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church) in 1975. Church summarized that government snooping and subversion, most notoriously COINTELPRO, "exceeded the restraints on the exercise of governmental power which are imposed by our country's Constitution, laws, and traditions…. The Constitutional system of checks and balances has not adequately controlled intelligence activities. Until recently the Executive branch has neither delineated the scope of permissible activities nor established procedures for supervising intelligence agencies. Congress has failed to exercise sufficient oversight, seldom questioning the use to which its appropriations were being put. Most domestic intelligence issues have not reached the courts, and in those cases when they have reached the courts, the judiciary has been reluctant to grapple with them".
Over the last three decades, not only has the judiciary been "reluctant to grapple" with the ongoing destruction of the Constitution, they have facilitated this process. It is not the job of Congress—the lamentations of Patrick Leahy not withstanding—to "exercise sufficient oversight, seldom questioning the use to which its appropriations were being put," but rather to stay out of the way of a bellicose executive, bent on tracking down domestic enemies and destroying them or at minimum rendering them impotent to exercise their rights, as granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As the nomination of Michael Hayden to head up the CIA (or oversee its dismemberment) reveals, the executive branch, essentially an autocratic office operating under a state of exception, as delineated by the orchestrated events of nine eleven and amplified by the Patriot Act. Carl Schmitt and the Nazis would approve.
The limits of global eavesdropping
2005 04 14
They passed an American electronics base, a circular grid a quarter of a mile wide floating in the haze and known locally as the elephant cage.
Giant bodkins marked the perimeter, and at the middle, surrounded by webs of strung wire, burned a single infernal light like the promise of a future war.
- John le Carré, "The Honorable School Boy"
When John le Carré wrote those words it was 1974 and the Vietnam War was still on. But today that promise of a "future war" has been fulfilled, and installations such as he described, part of a vast electronic eavesdropping system, are much more sophisticated than they were 30 years ago. But then the value of "sigint," spy-speak for intelligence gathered from electronic signals, is far more problematical in the war on terror than it was during the cold war.
Elephant cages are Wullenweber antennas, which are constantly engaged in plucking signals out of the sky. They are part of the National Security Agency's worldwide signals intelligence web, which can listen in on telephone conversations half a world away.
The National Security Agency was born in secrecy in 1952. As James Bamford wrote in his seminal 1982 book "The Puzzle Palace," there was "no news coverage, no congressional debate, no press announcement, not even the whisper of a rumor". It was so hush-hush that wags said NSA stood for "no such agency".
In World War II the British had shared some of their code-breaking secrets against the Germans with the Americans, who in turn shared their information garnered from breaking Japanese codes. In 1947, a secret agreement was signed, closely linking the signals intelligence efforts of Britain and the United States, which was expanded to include Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The earth was divided into "spheres of cryptologic influence, each country assigned specific targets," as Bamford described it.
This cozy intelligence club still exists. And although the NSA has come somewhat into the light since its cloaked inception, this old boy net, linked by a computer system code-named Echelon, is still entombed in the darkest secrecy. Even the code name is secret. When Porter Goss, now head of the CIA but then a congressman with intelligence oversight responsibilities, was asked by worried Europeans about it, Goss replied: "If you are asking me does Echelon exist, I will not answer you. If you are asking me do we have the capacity for considerable interception of global communications, the answer is yes".
This is described in a new book on the secret signals intelligence world by a Yale University law student, Patrick Keefe, called "Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping". Chatter is the word used for electronic intercepts that indicate that terrorists may be up to something. But, as Keefe points out, it is often "fickle, misleading, most often inconsequential". Unlike during the cold war, when America was listening in on Politburo conversations or Communist troop deployments, too often terrorists are "shucking and jiving" in their communications, using slang, obscure references and code words, and sometimes speaking in languages such as Baluchi, a language shared by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers. One of Keefe's sources tells him that he doesn't think anyone at NSA speaks Baluchi.
Even if Echelon can target an enormous number of communications from all over the world's surface, so has the world's chatter grown to swamp the capabilities of the eavesdroppers. Keefe says that the number of cellphones worldwide increased from 16 million to 741 million in the 1990s. Internet users went from about four million to 361 million. And when word got out that America could pick up what Osama bin Laden was saying on his cellphone, he simply stopped using telephones.
It is not to downgrade the importance of signals intelligence to point out that what is woefully lacking in this new war is, of course, "humint" - human intelligence coming from old-fashioned spies and informers - which America so clearly lacked inside Iraq before it went to war and which it still lacks within Al Qaeda and the world of Islamic extremism today.
How Britain and the US listen to the rest of the world
2004 02 27
The reach of the US and British intelligence agencies encompasses not only those still working for the United Nations like its secretary-general, Kofi Annan, but even those who have retired. Take Hans von Sponek, the former UN diplomat, for example.
Speaking from his home in Geneva last night, Mr Von Sponek said he had strong reasons for believing his phone is being bugged by the US. "I am a small fish in all this," he said. "But I feel uncomfortable at times, without being paranoid".
Mr Von Sponek, a strait-laced Prussian who was based in Baghdad for the UN, is not the kind given to paranoia. But, as a leading campaigner against Iraq sanctions, he has been troublesome to America and Britain and a natural target for the biggest joint intelligence operation in the world.
James Bamford, a specialist in intelligence, said that every 60 minutes the US and British intelligence agencies intercept millions of telephone calls, emails and faxes.
He described the National Security Agency, the US eavesdropping organisation, and its British counterpart, GCHQ, as "the largest espionage organisation the world has ever known, one capable of eavesdropping on conversations virtually anywhere on the planet". Their joint operation is called Echelon.
Mr Bamford, author of Body of Secrets, about how the NSA and GCHQ eavesdrop on the world, and who was given access to both organisations and their officials, said last night of the alleged bugging of Mr Annan: "I am sure they did it".
He added: "They could do it in a number of different ways. They would find out where it [Annan's phone] goes in the New York exchange and do a wire tap. They would want to go into his office if he had an encrypted phone. You would want a receiver for that".
While the CIA and its British partner, MI6, tend to be the better known parts of the intelligence community, it is the NSA and GCHQ that produce the greatest amount of intelligence. The NSA budget and staff levels far exceed those of the CIA.
There is plenty of evidence showing that in recent years the NSA and GCHQ have listened to enemies, European allies and neutral countries. A leaked NSA memo shows they targeted six swing countries on the UN security council in the run up to the Iraq war last year. At least two of those countries have confirmed they were bugged. At the same time, according to the former cabinet minster, Clare Short, the office of Mr Annan was also bugged.
The bulk of the intercepts by the NSA and GCHQ are pulled down from the ether by powerful listening posts round the world. A British listening post in Cyprus is capable of hearing a plane land at the airport in Beijing, according to a visitor to the Mediterranean site.
But the old ways are just as effective. Bugs are planted in the offices and homes of targets by agents posing as cleaners, photocopy engineers and other near invisible staff. They are often placed behind light fittings or plugs.
The UN believes this is possible at its offices. Mr Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, told a press conference yesterday that there were regular sweeps of the secretary-general's office to check for any bugs. An electronic machine, not much bigger than a briefcase, can be set up in a room to detect any electronic covert devices.
Mr Bamford said that the US has form on bugging the UN. When the US hosted negotiations on the setting up of the UN in San Francisco in 1945, the US listened in on all the delegations, especially the French who had a complex six-wheel cipher machine but one that the US codebreakers were able to read.
Mr Bamford claims part of the reason the US wanted the UN on its soil was to accommodate the eavesdroppers of the NSA.
He said that normally the US has responsibility for the UN while Britain has responsibility for western Europe. He added that they were one and the same organisation. Listening posts were once spread round Europe but Mr Bamford said the bulk of the European operations had been transferred to GCHQ in England.
International law prohibits operations such as those allegedly mounted against the UN - whether the six members of the security council or the possible bugging of Mr Annan's office or the suspicious Mr Von Sponek - but it is frequently flouted. In theory, the 1961 Vienna convention on diplomatic relations states that the premises of a diplomatic mission "shall be inviolable", and agents of the host state cannot enter without permission.
There is general assumption within the diplomatic world that there is a strong risk of being bugged. During construction or refurbishment, whether the British embassy in Moscow or the Pakistan high commission in London, attempts will be made to infiltrate listening devices.
Thousands of bugging devices are sold in Britain each year. They can be bought for as little as £100 by husbands or wives suspicious of their partners, or more expensive devices by businesses seeking competitive advantages over rivals. But these pale into insignificance compared to the sophistication and cost of the operations mounted by the US and British governments.
On the other end of such operations are people like Mr Annan and Mr Von Sponek. The latter was the UN humanitarian coordinator of Iraq for 18 months, leaving Baghdad in 2000. He witnessed the suffering of the Iraqis and blamed much of it on the sanctions regime, which made him unpopular with the US and British governments.
He said last night: "The phone has a strange echo but that may not prove much. The Swiss authorities say it is not them".
He said he received a warning from a friend that his phone was being bugged. Asked how he could prove this, the friend told him of a call he had made to Amman in Jordan and what he had said. That convinced Mr Von Sponek. He said the same friend informed him that he was being monitored from a US base in Stuttgart.
Mr Von Sponek said: "It is too bad but it is upsetting".
How Britain and the US keep watch on the world
2004 02 27
From the National Security Agency's imposing headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, ringed by a double-chain fence topped by barbed wire with strands of electrified wire between them, America "bugs" the world.
Nothing politically or militarily significant, whether mentioned in a telephone call, in a conversation in the office of the secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, or in a company fax or e-mail, escapes its attention.
Its computers - measured in acres occupied by them rather than simple figures - "vacuum the entire electromagnetic spectrum", homing in on "key words" which may suggest something of interest to NSA customers is being conveyed.
The NSA costs at least $3.5bn a year to run. It employs at least 20,000 officers (not counting the 100,000 servicemen and civilians around the world over whom it has control). Its shredders process 40 tons of paper a day.
Its junior partner is Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the eavesdropping organisation for which Katharine Gun worked. Like NSA, GCHQ is a highly secret operation. Until 1983, when one of its officers, Geoffrey Prime, was charged with spying for the Russians, the Government had refused to reveal what GCHQ's real role was, no doubt because its operations in peacetime were without a legal basis. Its security is maintained by massive and deliberately intimidating security.
Newspapers have been discouraged from mentioning it; a book by a former GCHQ officer, Jock Kane, was seized by Special Branch police officers and a still photograph of its headquarters was banned by the Independent Broadcasting Authority, leaving a blank screen during a World in Action programme. As with NSA, the size of GCHQ's staff at Cheltenham, about 6,500, gives no real indication of its strength. It has monitoring stations in Cyprus, West Germany, and Australia and smaller ones elsewhere. Much of its overseas work is done by service personnel.
Its budget is thought to be more than £300m a year. A large part of this is funded by the United States in return for the right to run NSA listening stations in Britain - Chicksands, Bedfordshire; Edzell, Scotland; Mentworth Hill, Harrogate; Brawdy, Wales - and on British territory around the world.
The collaboration between the two agencies offers many advantages to both. Not only does it make monitoring the globe easier, it solves tricky legal problems and is the basis of the Prime Minister's statement yesterday that all Britain's bugging is lawful. The two agencies simply swap each other's dirty work.
GCHQ eavesdrops on calls made by American citizens and the NSA monitors calls made by British citizens, thus allowing each government plausibly to deny it has tapped its own citizens' calls, as they do. The NSA station at Menwith Hill intercepts all international telephone calls made from Britain and GCHQ has a list of American citizens whose phone conversations interest the NSA.
The NSA request to GCHQ for help in bugging the diplomats from those nations who were holding out for a second Security Council resolution to authorise an attack on Iraq is unsurprising. Nor is it surprising that both organisations wanted to provide their political masters with recordings of private conversations of high-ranking international diplomats.
It is not difficult. Listening "bugs" can be planted in phones, electrical plugs, desk lamps and book spines. Given a clear line of sight, one device enables someone to detect and and interpret sound waves vibrating against the glass window panes of an office.
Bugging the world is not the problem. The problem is avoiding drowning in a sea of information. We should not be surprised that GCHQ and NSA eavesdrop on us. We pay them to do it. We should be asking: "Do they earn their keep?" And, unless we get a few more whistle-blowers like Ms Gun, we will not know, because both agencies surround themselves with a wall of secrecy.
Who do we bug??
Although under domestic law GCHQ needs a warrant from the Home Secretary to tap telephones in Britain, it can do so abroad without such authorisation.
But the United Nations headquarters in New York is considered sovereign territory, and placing a bug there would be illegal under international law.
Intelligence services spy on hostile and friendly countries, the latter mainly for commercial reasons, but also to gain an edge in diplomatic negotiations. Nato allies are not always immune from intelligence operations by Britain.
Staff working for the UN inspection teams in Iraq were convinced they were under surveillance.
France, Germany and Russia complained of a rise in espionage against them. There was intense activity directed at Jordan and Syria, as well as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt.
Officials say the only shock about Katharine Gun's discovery of an e-mail from the National Security Agency is that she was surprised by it.
Western powers redefine 'democracy'
Linda S. Heard
2003 11 25
Those halcyon days when "democracy" really meant "for the people, by the people" are tragically over in countries which purport to expound this ancient method of governance. In its place comes a system which spies on, categorises, labels and restricts "the people" for the benefit of governments. It's clever though.
The metamorphosis didn't happen overnight -- far from it. Indeed, the change is surreptitious; an erosion of civil liberties here; an attack on human rights there with the individual being reduced to the contents of a know-all, tell-all chip just about everywhere.
So insidious are the changes that most of us don't realise they are even taking place. It began with video cameras on street corners -- some five million in the U.K. alone. Then there is the secretive global surveillance body Echelon, the most powerful intelligence-gathering organisation in the world used by the United States Security Agency, NSA, to secretly monitor satellite, microwave, cellular, and fiber-optic traffic.
There's little doubt "we the people" have long been under scrutiny in both audio and visual terms by governments elected by us to serve us. Yes... serve us. It's worth repeating lest we forget this concept.
However, as we saw prior to the invasion of Iraq in Britain, this is no longer the case. Although more than 80 per cent of Britons were anti-war with over a million protestors clogging London's streets last February 15, the government went ahead anyway on the basis that Saddam Hussain posed an imminent threat, a charge later found to be false. In this case, "the people" have been proved right. No proscribed weapons have been found; Iraqi scientists, who now have little to fear, insist they were destroyed in 1991, and pre-war Iraq had no links to Al Quida or international terrorism.
Donkeys towing missiles, recently responsible for devastating Baghdad hotels, perhaps sum up the irony of this. Iraq's illicit armoury now incorporates "weapons of ass destruction".
Undeterred by the almost daily killings of their nations' finest, the leaders of nations in occupation insist that Iraq will be a "democracy" whether it likes it or not and just to make sure of this fledgling "democracy's" longevity, the occupiers will indefinitely station their troops in and around Iraq. You must admit it's a novel idea -- a democracy in a country which cannot throw out foreign armies.
One also wonders whether the new Iraqi Democratic Republic, or whatever it will be called, will be able to change from petro-Dollars to Euros or to invite French oil companies to assist it with exploration. And what if in this new 'free' nation, its citizens decide en masse that they don't want a democracy after all? Perhaps they would prefer a theocracy or some other system. Will they get the right to choose? Alright...alright... enough of the stupid speculations already!
After all, those who hate "freedom" must be sought and destroyed. Isn't it worth considering that Iraq's insurgents, far from hating 'freedom', want metal-clad foreign armies off their country's soil?
While the self-described leaders of the 'free world' are bent on enforcing their much-vaunted shared values and democratic principles throughout the Middle East, we "the people" can be forgiven for wishing they would first start at home.
The War on Terror, which many now believe is a recipe for terrorists of mass production -- since there are far more murderers of innocents around nowadays than ever before -- triggered the so-called Patriot Act in the US This rushed through piece of legislation is responsible for the detention of hundreds of non-citizens and the denial of legal representation or access to loved ones. At the same time the FBI received new powers of search and surveillance, and according to an article in the New York Times dated November 23 is now collecting "extensive information on the tactics, training and organisation of antiwar demonstrators".
Further, the report states local law enforcement officials have been advised by the FBI to report any suspicious activity at protests to its counter-terrorism squads. So much for free speech and the right to peaceful protest enshrined in any democratic constitution. No wonder civil rights advocates and legal scholars are concerned that the "monitoring programme could signal a return to the abuses of the 1960s and 1970s when J. Edgar Hoover was the FBI director and agents routinely spied on political protestors like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior".
Determined not to be left behind in the control stakes, Britain is poised to introduce new anti-terrorist measures, which, according to Andy McSmith, the Independent's political editor, will give the government "power to over-ride civil liberties in times of crisis, and evacuate threatened areas, restrict people's movement and confiscate property".
Under these draconian measures, once a state of emergency -- due to war, flood, breakdown of power supplies, outbreaks of disease or any situation that "causes or may cause disruption of the activities of Her Majesty's Government"- has been declared "we the people" can be banned from travelling and prohibited from assembling.
The way things are going the Bush-Blair "enemies of freedom" are having a field day. The concept of freedom for the individual, in both the US and Britain, is being relegated to the trash heap. Sure we still have the illusion of being free. We can still watch our soaps, take out a mortgage, shop 'til we drop and leap semi-clothed into fountains if such is our wont, but isn't real freedom being able to take part in the decision process, one which shapes not only our own futures but those of our descendants?
It seems to me that the War on Terror has not, and is not likely to, reduce terrorism but it will reduce the quality of life for the citizens of those countries it was constructed to protect. While "we the people" see our own powers eroded, the powers of individuals in government, driven by ideology, ego or material gain, are being dangerously ramped up.
Under the spotlight
It's time that Western "democracies" and "shared values" were put under the spotlight. At a time when Iraq's occupiers are demolishing homes a la Sharon, detainees languish in Guantanamo Bay in contravention of international law and Britain contemplates separating children of asylum seekers from their families in the hopes they will voluntarily ship out, then not only democracy is under threat, but so are traditional humanitarian values.
Terrorism didn't just appear in a vacuum. It is a phenomenon born from inequality and injustice. Unless its root causes are understood and seriously tackled, then our one beautiful world is likely to be irreparably scarred with "we the people" reduced to fearful, impotent, indoctrinated and gagged nonentities.
We might do well to return to the root of all Western laws: Iraq's Babylonian Code of Hammurabi protecting "we the people" from those who seek to divest us of our God-given rights, whether they be criminals, terrorists or those elected to serve ... yes... "we the often gullible, pliable, propaganda-besieged people".
Australia's top spy agency rocked
2002 09 27
Sydney - Australia's top intelligence agency is being undermined by sex scandals, nepotism and corruption, according to a dossier of complaints leaked by a group of disgruntled spies.
The dossier claims that the conduct of senior staff at the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), the equivalent of Britain's GCHQ, poses a grave risk to national security. One source said yesterday: "We are afraid that if an 11 September incident was planned in the region, then DSD is not well placed to find out what it is".
The disaffected spies allege that extramarital affairs are rife within the secretive agency, which intercepts telephone and radio communications across the Asia-Pacific region and is linked to espionage networks in Britain, the United States, New Zealand and Canada.
In one case, officers from the US National Security Agency (NSA) were severely embarrassed by a senior DSD employee who insisted on sharing a hotel room with a female colleague during an intelligence conference in America last year.
"The man's wife had accompanied him to the US on previous occasions and was well known to a number of very senior staff at the NSA," said the six-page dossier, which was leaked to several Australian newspapers including The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney tabloid. The incident prompted a formal complaint by the Americans and led to the woman being rejected by GCHQ as the nominated liaison officer for DSD.
"GCHQ pointed out that as he and his wife were well known to the senior leadership group at GCHQ, it would be too embarrassing to have him accompany her [the colleague] to official functions," the dossier said.
The same woman allegedly had an affair with another married DSD officer, who is now a high-ranking Defence Department official. He was said to be notorious for sending lurid personal e-mails to a female subordinate, 20 years his junior, under the name of "Raptor".
One DSD insider said yesterday: "How come the security vetting people never pick up this behaviour when everybody in DSD knows about it?"
In another incident, a married DSD officer, who is now occupying a sensitive overseas espionage liaison post, had an affair with a female colleague. "Due to his sexual behaviour, there is a real risk of him being compromised by a foreign government," one source claimed.
According to the document, staff feel unable to raise the complaints through official channels and morale is so low that people are leaving the agency in record numbers. The organisation, which employs substantial numbers of Britons, has 80 vacancies in its operations centre.
Some DSD managers are described as "flawed and corrupt", and there is said to be an influential group of managers nicknamed the "royal family". They socialise together, playing tennis, going out drinking and frequently visiting each other's homes, and some have allegedly had affairs with one another.
The authors of the dossier express concerns about conditions within DSD as Australia prepares to support US action against Iraq.
They say: "DSD is now an organisation in considerable decline due to the improper sexual behaviour by some of its managers, managerial incompetence, nepotism, illegal management procedures and a lack of clear direction and oversight".
The Defence Minister, Robert Hill, ordered a review of security procedures at the agency yesterday but rejected calls for an independent inquiry. Mr Hill dismissed the dossier as "a gossip sheet by some who are disappointed by failing to achieve promotions and the like". He said: "I don't really want to give it more credit than what it deserves".
But the Defence spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, Chris Evans, called for action. "DSD is one of the most critical agencies we have got," he said. "Its reputation has been besmirched and that needs to be dealt with".
DSD has two listening stations, in Darwin and in Geraldton, Western Australia. Information picked up there is processed in a high-security building at defence headquarters in Canberra.
EU's Internet plan takes liberties with personal rights
2002 06 10
Paris - Since experiencing the horrors of World War II, Europeans have been extremely vigilant in protecting personal privacy and resisting state intrusions into private life.
They were so concerned about protecting a zone of privacy against the power of the state that they enshrined it as a fundamental principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, in the European Convention of Human Rights in 1950 and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in 2000.
Those ideals have been repeatedly backed by tough legislation, including the Data Protection Directive of 1995, which drew a curtain around personal data, its retention and the uses to which it could be put.
But since Sept. 11, civil liberties, including privacy, have clashed with the goal of security, and security has consistently won. "The principle of protecting the people's personal data must not stand in the way of fighting crime and terrorism," Otto Schily, the German interior minister, said a week after the attacks.
The European Parliament agrees with him. Under a directive it adopted at the end of last month, Parliament reversed itself and gave European law enforcement agencies sweeping powers to monitor Internet use and telephone and e-mail communication and to require Internet service providers and phone companies to indefinitely retain logs of what their customers say and do. Under the 1995 rules, those records could be kept only for a short time for billing purposes and then had to be discarded.
Once the new rules are adopted by the 15 countries in the European Union - which typically takes from two to five years - everyone in Europe who uses the Internet or a telephone will be subject to surveillance. In their commendable desire to watch what a few people do, the authorities will be able to watch what everyone does.
To protect society as a whole from terrorists, Parliament has undone more than a half-century of individual protection. Personal privacy is becoming a casualty of the war on terrorism.
Ironically, the new data protection rules were slipped in as an amendment to a bill that was intended to give Internet users more protection online: from spam (junk e-mail) and from cookies (the little bits of computer code that many Web sites put on your hard drive to identify you and keep track of your interests and behavior).
Those measures on spam and cookies were also adopted, though it is an open question of how effective they will or can be. The main, and seemingly insurmountable, problem is that the regulations clamping down on spam and cookies are enforceable only against spam and cookies that are sent from within the EU. Brightmail Inc., which makes spam-filtering software, estimates that that accounts for about 10 percent of the avalanche of spam that clogs our mailboxes. Another group, the Mail Abuse Prevention System, says more than half of spam is sent through Asia.
The Internet is everywhere, and messages that blanket the globe can be sent from anywhere. The Web knows no political boundaries, which strains the ability of law and legal institutions to regulate it. It's not even clear who could enact global legislation and how it could be enforced.
"These regulations will only apply to companies that are based in the European Union," said Robin Jezek of the Interactive Advertising Bureau/Europe in Brussels. "You can't do anything about what's coming in from outside the EU".
But the European parliamentarians at least took action, which puts these rules out there as a statement of what people must and must not do on the Internet and as a model for other jurisdictions to enact.
With regard to spam, Parliament adopted the "soft-in" approach, which means that companies that already send you junk e-mail can continue doing so until you tell them to stop. But new companies must get your permission first. That's the "opt-in" approach.
The Japanese Parliament tackled spam this year by enacting a law requiring senders of junk e-mail to show their real e-mail address and to tell recipients how they could stop receiving the unsolicited messages. That's "opt-out".
With regard to cookies, the European Parliament had similarly intended to require companies to get your permission before depositing a cookie on your computer. But under heavy lobbying from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, representing online advertisers, it dropped that plan.
Instead, Web sites that send cookies must give you "clear and comprehensive information" about what cookies are and what they're being used for, and it must offer you the opportunity to opt out.
The provisions on cookies and spam were put forward by Marco Cappato, an independent member of Parliament from Italy. But after the amendment on data retention was adopted on May 30, Cappato opposed the full bill and voted against it. "This amounts to a large amount of restriction of privacy and increases the powers of the state," Cappato said after the vote.
Parliament's rules go beyond what the US Congress enacted in the USA. Patriot Act in October. Congress considered requiring full data retention, but there was so much opposition that it did not.
On cookies and spam, Parliament gets a B for trying. They can't really do anything about spam, and on cookies, they gave up too much.
But what they did on data retention is much more troubling and dangerous. The law has the potential of creating massive electronic data banks of information about everyone's communications - whom you called, whom you e-mailed, what Web sites you visited and perhaps the full texts of messages that you sent and received. As surely as night follows day, law enforcement will use that database to investigate things other than terrorism. This is a system for universal surveillance.
Police to spy on all emails
Fury over Europe's secret plan to access computer and phone data
2002 06 09
Millions of personal emails, other internet information and telephone records are to be made accessible to the police and intelligence services in a move that has been denounced by critics as one of the most wide-ranging extensions of state power over private information.
Plans being drawn up by Europol, the police and intelligence arm of the European Union, propose that telephone and internet firms retain millions of pieces of data - including details of visits to internet chat rooms, and of calls made on mobile phones and text messages.
In a move that has been condemned by privacy campaigners, a draft document passed to The Observer reveals that the EU is now drawing up a 'common code' on data retention which will be applicable in all member states.
Security and police sources said new powers on accessing personal data will come into force in Britain towards the end of the year.
'It is typical that such a significant change in the control over private information is being worked out in secret,' said Dr Ian Brown, a leading expert on data privacy and director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research.
'It does seem to have been Britain that has put pressure on other member states to put in place this type of legislation. In 99 per cent of cases it will be used properly, but what about the other one per cent? There is not enough scrutiny of what is going on.'
The Europol document was drawn up at a private meeting of police, intelligence services and customs and excise officials from across Europe in The Hague last April. It lists 10 areas where companies will be required to keep information to help in the fight against international terrorism, domestic crime and drug running.
Companies that run internet sites will be required to retain passwords used by individuals, record which website addresses are visited, and keep details of webpages looked at and any credit card or bank details used for subscriptions.
The information retained about emails will include who sent the message, where the email went, its contents and the time and date it was sent.
It is believed that Britain will push for the data to be kept for up to five years. At the moment much of it is only kept for one or two months, for billing purposes, by the companies that run internet and email services.
Sources at the National High-tech Crime Unit, which is overseeing implementation of plans for data retention in Britain, point out that the growth of so-called 'cyber crime' means that they need new powers to keep ahead of the criminals.
One official also said that investigations into crimes such as the murders carried out by the GP Harold Shipman relied on the retention of old telephone records.
'We need to codify how this happens, so all countries in Europe are dealing with the same set of rules,' the source said.
'The internet does not recognise national boundaries and international companies don't need the confusion of dealing with separate codes in different countries.' The Europol document says the use of telephones - land lines and mobiles - will be monitored. Numbers dialled, when and where they were dialled from and personal details such as the address, date of birth and bank details of the subscriber who paid for the call will also be kept.
The document, headed 'Expert Meeting on Cyber Crime: Data Retention', suggests mobile phones records could be used by police and the intelligence services to track the geographical location of people making calls.
Mobiles use a network of masts to convey the calls, placing the user in a geographically distinct 'cell' at the time of the call. Records using such geographical locations were used to acquit the teenagers accused of murdering Damilola Taylor.
The Association of Chief Police Officers is also drawing up a manual of standards so that police forces across the country use similar methods when accessing the data.
US to close Echelon spy station
2001 06 02
Nearly 12 years after the end of the Cold War, the US Army is shutting down its third largest monitoring post in the world.
The Bad Aibling station in the Bavarian Alps, which for years has been alleged to be a part of a US-led super-secret global eavesdropping network dubbed Echelon, is scheduled to close in September 2002, according to US officials.
German politicians and media reports for years after the Cold War have accused the United States of using the station for industrial espionage.
However, the Pentagon said the Bad Aibling station, located about 80km (50 miles) from Munich, was has been to help US forces keep tabs on the Balkans.
A European Parliament report about Echelon, released this week after seven months of research, concludes that the network does exist despite US denials.
The report names Bad Aibling as one of about 20 stations believed to make up the network.
Echelon was allegedly set up at the beginning of the Cold War for intelligence gathering. According to the report, it has since grown into a network of stations meant to intercept private and commercial communications, not military intelligence.
However, the parliament's vice president, Gerhard Schmid, admitted the group could not prove that Americans were passing on European trade secrets to give US business an advantage.
The report also backed off an earlier study by the parliament that said the spy network listens in on "billions of messages per hour," including telephone calls, fax transmissions and private e-mails.
The station will be handed back to Germany, without the spying equipment, said Shirley Startzman, a spokeswoman for the US Army Intelligence and Security Command.
"Nearly 12 years after the end of the Cold War, this is an overdue step," said Wolfgang Gerhardt, leader of a small pro-business party in the German parliament.
An US National Security Agency spokeswoman at the secretive agency's headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Bad Aibling's tasks would be performed by "other technologies" once it shuts down.
Britain torn between US and Europe over spying
2001 05 30
Brussels - Britain may have to abandon its special relationship with the United States if it wants to take part in the development of a European intelligence-gathering arm, according to a long-awaited report on the Echelon electronic eavesdropping network.
The European Parliament's draft report, published yesterday, said that the forging of a common security policy for the European Union has made it "necessary and inevitable" that the intelligence services of the 15 member states must deepen their co-operation, even though that may put Britain on the spot.
The document says that the move towards an independent intelligence-gathering operation may "be a serious test of the European ambitions of the United Kingdom and of the EU's capacity for integration". It adds: "Intelligence gathering may be the issue which forces the United Kingdom to decide whether its destiny is European or transatlantic".
The Parliament predicts that the plan for a rapid reaction force of 60,000 troops by the end of 2003, as well as closer economic integration, will make an autonomous intelligence capacity inevitable. "Further political and economic integration in the EU demands that intelligence should be available at European level," the report says. "Britain's intimate links with the US... may make it more difficult for other EU states to share intelligence among themselves because Britain may be less interested in intra-European sharing and because its partners may trust Britain less".
The report offers no evidence that Echelon, shared by Britain, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, is involved in industrial espionage.
Secrecy, spy satellites and a conspiracy of silence
The disturbing truth about Echelon
Kim Sengupta, Stephen Castle
2001 05 30
One after the other the shutters in Washington came down on the European Union delegation, as soon as they mentioned Echelon. No one in the US Government would even admit that the electronic spying system, the most powerful in the world, even existed. And if it did, they made clear, they would rather not go into it.
The National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and even the Department of Commerce refused to talk to the committee of MEPs on a fact-finding trip this month. Stonewalled wherever they turned, they left, angry and frustrated, cutting short their trip.
Yesterday, as the European Parliament's groundbreaking report into the global spy network was published in Brussels, the MEPs who had been left out in the cold knew who to blame. Not just the US authorities but the British government, they are convinced, which had colluded in the obstruction.
The 108-page report, the fruit of seven months of investigation by the parliament, did nothing to dampen the controversy and acrimony long associated with the clandestine network, and raised fresh, disturbing questions.
Echelon was set up during the Cold War by the US, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to collate electronic intelligence. The network has grown to keep pace with the explosion in information technology. Today the spy system gives 55,000 British and American operatives access to data gathered by 120 spy satellites worldwide. Every minute of every day, the system can process three million electronic communications.
The spy network is very much an Anglo-American show, with the Americans as senior partners, run from Fort Meade in Maryland, Menwith Hill, North Yorkshire and GCHQ at Cheltenham, although 750 Americans operate an intercept station in Germany near Bad Aibling, taken over by the US Army in 1952.
One of Echelon's primary roles has been to gather industrial espionage from European companies for US ones, say some intelligence experts. The French were said to have lost a $6bn contract for Airbus with the Saudi government to Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, thanks to Echelon intercepts of faxes and telephone calls. There has also been scathing criticism of Britain and its obsession with secrecy from European partners for having its allegiance over the spy system with the "Anglo-Saxon" club rather than with Europe.
The MEPs who began their investigation were alarmed at learning their mobile phones be used to track their movements and could be transformed into bugging devices; the technology had been invented to shut off the ringer and download conversations.
But in yesterday's revealing report, the MEPs did not prove all the claims made about the spy system. They failed to prove conclusively that Echelon had been used by the US, or indeed Britain, for commercial spying on European competitors. And its scope is not as extensive as had been feared.
But the report warned businesses and ordinary individuals that they are being spied on and that users should encrypt their e-mails. It said: "That a global system for intercepting communications exists ... is no longer in doubt. They do tap into private, civilian and corporate communications".
Impotent to do anything much about America, the MEPs pointed out that Britain could be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. And, as the report was being debated in Brussels, they voiced their suspicion of a British hand in ensuring their investigation in Washington DC went nowhere.
Gerhard Schmid, the vice-president of the European parliament, who drafted the report for the MEP Echelon committee, said: " We think perhaps it was one half of this famous Anglo-American partnership telling the people in Washington not to be too open with us".
Elly Plooij-Van Gorsel, vice-chairwoman of the committee, added: "The way we were treated in Washington was very insulting to a senior mission. We were very surprised when all these meetings began to be cancelled by officials using exactly the same language. The visit had been arranged by the EU mission in the US and we had been told it was all right. We are very concerned about the role we think the British Government has played in this. There is a lot of concern it was they who had told the Americans not to speak to us.
"But we must also question the behaviour of the British. When Britain held the [EU] presidency in 1997 I asked about Echelon and I was told it did not exist. Britain will have to decide where it wants to stand. How can we have a common European Union security policy if they (Britain) continue with this attitude towards other member states".
The committee members did meet the oversight committee of Congress and former intelligence officials and civil liberties groups. " Not one government official would even admit even the name Echelon," said Ms Plooij-Van Gorsel. "The only person who did was James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA. He said it was just a codename for a search engine". Mr Woolsey had conceded that the US did spy on European companies "but only because they bribe" to get lucrative contracts. Although European states criticise Britain and the US they have been busy building their own electronic eavesdropping networks. France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Denmark all have similar systems in place. But Echelon and the British connection is a difficult field for UK MEPs.
Neil MacCormick, an SNP MEP, said: "Obviously, national security should be protected, but the UK government must be aware of its obligation not just towards human rights but member states of the European Union".
The four-year search for the truth about Echelon began in one of the more obscure outposts of the European Parliament, the Scientific and Technological Options Assessments unit, which keeps MEPs abreast of complicated areas of new technology.
In the Seventies, the Labour MEP Glyn Ford had read a book called The Technologies of Political Control. He wondered whether the parliament's researchers could lift the lid on the murky world on electronic surveillance? Mr Ford pulled out of the race for an official position on the committee, after eyebrows were raised in the Labour hierarchy.
Yesterday Mr Ford said he did not want to pursue past agendas but was looking forward. "Maybe you cannot prove that Echelon exists but you can make a reasonable judgement," he said. "There are good reasons to believe it exists and it has been abused. There may not be hard evidence that it has been abused but we want a system to guarantee that it isn't".
Mr Ford and his colleagues say the work raises fundamental issues about the respect for individual rights. But Echelon is not always the all-pervasive, powerful monster sometimes portrayed.
"Often", he says, " it just takes them so long to analyse this stuff that it is useless. Maybe, in three weeks, they will find out that The Independent is planning to write an article on Echelon today".
Industrial spying is alive and well, says EU Parliament Echelon committee
2001 05 30
There is no hard evidence that US companies are spying on their European Union counterparts via the US Echelon globe-girding spy network, but that should not stop EU companies from protecting themselves, a European Parliament committee said Wednesday.
"We cannot prove that the US is carrying out industrial espionage," German Socialist deputy Gerhard Schmid, rapporteur of a committee probing the network, told a press conference.
"Such espionage is very difficult to detect, it leaves no trace," he said, adding that evidence of the existence of such a system came from collected data on the size and type of antennae and other technical input.
"So my message to European industry is that the risk of having information intercepted, particularly in the award of contracts, is high," he said. "Companies should protect their own communications.
Schmid, whose committee has been investigating Echelon for some nine months, said not a single European country had come forward to complain about being spied upon by the Americans.
"One explanation for this is that companies, when they find they are being spied upon by the competition, don't want to talk about it. It's a question of prestige...of embarrassment".
"Industrial espionage has existed for a long time," Schmid told AFP. "It's not new. My talks with heads of security of big companies show me it happens, either from other companies or other states.
"Russian secret services, for example, are committed to stealing technology because there is a gap between development in the West and in Russia and they want to close it without investing money in research and development," he said. "This is known".
Schmid declined to characterize industrial spying as "business as usual".
"It's not...," he said. "It's a crime in many states. But it happens. Murder is not business as usual. But it happens".
However, Schmid said the question of whether a country, or company, was violating any laws in capturing satellite-transmitted data from free airspace was a "very complicated" one, and not within the committee's remit.
His committee's report will be put to the full parliament probably next September. He declined to say what recommendations would accompany it.
Working largely unnoticed for some six months, the Echelon committee got sudden attention last March after a European Commission official told it that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had tested the encryption system that Brussels uses to communication with its foreign missions.
The EU's executive branch said afterwards that the 10-year-old system's supplier -- the German engineering group Siemens -- had claimed in its sales pitch that the NSA had tried but failed to crack its codes.
But it insisted that the commission's security had never been compromised.
Europeans warned over Echelon
2001 05 30
Brussels - Europeans should make more use of encryption software for sensitive communications to protect themselves against the Echelon spy network, a European parliament report confirmed yesterday.
The 108-page findings concluded that the worldwide network does exist, despite official US denials. But the parliament's vice-president, Gerhard Schmid, conceded that the committee had no solid evidence that Americans were passing on European trade secrets to give US businesses a competitive advantage.
"What we cannot deny or prove is that information is passed on to companies," Mr Schmid said. "The problem is there are no tracks or traces of interception".
But he added that the committee's investigation did come up with evidence that Echelon, run by the US in cooperation with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is operating.
According to the report and testimony, Echelon was set up at the beginning of the cold war for intelligence-gathering, and has grown into a network of intercept stations across the globe. Its primary purpose, the report said, is to intercept private and commercial communications, not military intelligence.
"That a global system for intercepting communications exists is no longer in doubt," the report concluded.
"They do tap into private, civilian and corporate telecommunications," Mr Schmid said. The report collected testimony from Australia, Canada and New Zealand which verifies the existence of a "very close alliance," he added.
US officials have refused to acknowledge the existence of such a system, but have denied that American agencies engage in industrial espionage.
In one of its last investigative trips, the committee went to Washington earlier this month to meet US officials and agencies responsible for intelligence. However, both the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) - believed to be responsible for Echelon - refused to meet them.
E-mail users warned over spy network
Echelon eavesdrops on international communications
2001 05 29
Computer users across Europe should encrypt all their e-mails, to avoid being spied on by a UK-US eavesdropping network, say Euro-MPs.
The tentacles of the Echelon network stretch so far that the UK's involvement could constitute a breach of human rights, they say.
The Euro-MPs have been studying Echelon for almost a year, after allegations that it has been used by the US to commit industrial espionage against European firms.
They conclude that Echelon - whose existence is not officially acknowledged - is reading millions of e-mails and faxes sent every day by ordinary people.
The system, which also eavesdrops on telephone calls, was set up after World War II and was used to glean vital information in the Cold War.
But the committee says ordinary inviduals and companies are now being spied on, and they should routinely encode their e-mails and faxes if they want them to remain private.
Sending an unencrypted e-mail, they say, is like posting a letter without an envelope.
The report says the UK could fall foul of the European Human Rights Convention, which guarantees privacy to all individuals.
The European Commission is now expected to study the MEPs' report, to decide whether to take action against the UK over the alleged breach.
However, the Echelon investigation did not prove all the claims made about the spy system.
The network's scope was rather less extensive than had been claimed, the MEPs found, as it was limited largely to communications transmitted by satellite rather than cable.
The committee also failed to prove that the US had used it to damage European commercial interests.
But the network certainly existed, the MEPs said, and its primary purpose is to intercept private and commercial communications, not military intelligence.
Out of the shadows
The US has denied the system even exists, and the UK refuses to give details, except to say that communications interception is a vital tool in the fight against "dangers to society".
The Echelon operation is based at Fort Meade in Maryland, America, and at the UK's spy centre, GCHQ in Cheltenham.
It remained a shadowy system until an ex-director of the American CIA told French newspaper Le Figaro that it was being used to track electronic messages sent by European companies.
He insisted that the intelligence services' motivation was to check for corruption and sanctions-busting, rather than set about industrial espionage.
Britain on the spot in EU report on spy net
2001 05 28
Brussels - The European Union will inevitably have to develop its own intelligence arm to back up the planned rapid reaction force, and to defend the singe currency, according to a leaked report by the European Parliament.
The document puts Britain on notice that it cannot continue to operate a joint intelligence system with America now that the EU is acquiring military ambitions. It predicts that "intelligence gathering may be precisely the issue that forces the United Kingdom to decide whether its destiny is European or transatlantic".
The report concludes a year-long investigation by a committee of the European Parliament into "Echelon", the American eavesdropping network which intercepts fax, email, telephone and satellite transmissions across Europe from listening posts in England.
Contradicting repeated assurances by Downing Street that Nato will not be harmed, the report made clear that the creation of a 60,000-man force would fundamentally change the nature of relations between the EU and the alliance.
The report said: "The existence of such a multinational force will make the development of an autonomous intelligence capacity inevitable". The draft text also said EU economic integration would "necessitate" an intelligence capability. In a sign that the EU is developing a fortress mentality, it argued that "a united European economic policy implies a united perception of economic reality in the world outside the European Union".
The investigation, carried out at the insistence of the French, said there was no longer any doubt about the existence of the "Echelon" network, which is run by the US National Security Agency in collaboration with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The report concluded that the "Big Brother" system had been greatly overestimated. It is not able to trawl through every fax, internet and telephone message by using search-engine dictionaries and voice recognition devices to hone in on hot topics, as suggested in books and press accounts.
Even so, the study suggested that Britain is in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the privacy of family life and private correspondence of every citizen in signatory states. Britain falls foul of the convention for allowing Washington to carry out surveillance of citizens from listening posts such as Menwith Hill in Yorkshire.
The report concludes that EU states "must carry out checks to ensure that the activities of intelligence services on their territory do not represent a violation of human rights". The inquiry was unable to find proof that the American government had used "Echelon" to spy on European companies for commercial advantage.
However, a former CIA chief, James Woolsey, has admitted that the system is used to expose attempts by European firms to win contracts through bribery. The Bush administration gave short shrift to a fact-finding team of Euro-MPs in Washington last month, and even refused to let a French Trotskyist delegate enter the country.
Should clear evidence of commercial espionage come to light, Britain would find itself in violation of several European Union laws involving data protection and distortions of the single market. Above all, "perfidious Albion" would be in breach of Article 10 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which commits every member state to uphold the common interest of the EU.
EU investigators 'snubbed' in US
2001 05 11
Brussels - Members of a European parliamentary committee investigating allegations of commercial espionage by the United States have cut short a fact-finding trip to Washington after failing to secure meetings with relevant American officials.
The MEPs are finalising a report on Echelon - a global intelligence network said to be operated by the United States with the co-operation of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
It is alleged that commercial secrets gleaned by the network, which can intercept billions of telephone calls, faxes and e-mails all around the globe, have been passed to American companies enabling them to win contracts ahead of European rivals.
The Americans deny the very existence of the network and, not surprisingly, cold-shouldered the EU delegation when it went to Washington.
The European parliamentarians are finalising their report and hoped to have some imput from all the relevant US departments - but meetings at the CIA, the State and Commerce departments and the National Security Agency all failed to happen.
The delegation only met some members of Congress and officials at the Justice Department.
The head of the EU parliamentary delegation, Carlos Coelho, said members were concerned and dismayed by the snub and were cutting short their visit.
They will continue work on their report, however, which they hope to publish by early next month.
Euro-MPs in spy hunt 'snubbed by Bush'
2001 05 11
Washington - EURO-MPs investigating economic espionage charges against America angrily abandoned a visit to Washington yesterday after claiming that the Bush administration had refused to see them.
The latest blow to relations between the United States and the outside world came as furious congressmen vowed to hit back at the United Nations following the nation's ejection from the body's human rights and drugs control commissions.
"There's an injustice there that ought to be addressed," said Denis Hastert, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The House was expected to vote yesterday to withhold UN dues until America is reinstated. Mr Hastert noted that the country was voted off the human rights body while Sudan, China and Libya, "some of the greatest perpetrators of human rights abuses in the world", remained members.
The European group had been looking into allegations that the Echelon electronic eavesdropping network stole secrets that benefited American companies. Carlos Coelho, the Portuguese chairman, said his delegation was "concerned and dismayed" that meetings at the US State and Commerce departments "were cancelled at the last minute without a satisfactory explanation".
The dispute seemed certain to add to strains on relations between President Bush and America's European allies. Echelon is run by the National Security Agency and its equivalent agencies in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Set up at the beginning of the Cold War, it is capable of intercepting billions of telephone calls, faxes and e-mails.
European MPs cut short spy investigation visit to Washington
2001 05 11
Washington, May 10 (AFP) - Investigators from the European Parliament cut short a visit to Washington Thursday after hoped-for meetings with US officials over allegations of US electronic eavesdropping fell through.
Carlos Coelho, chairman of the European parliament's ad-hoc committee on Echelon, a system of global electronic surveillance operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA), said the Europeans were "concerned and dismayed" at their lack of access.
The Europeans want details about Echelon's operations amid allegations the vast US surveillance network is being used for industrial espionage purposes against Europe.
However, meetings at the State Department and the Commerce Department were cancelled without satisfactory explanation and efforts to arrange meetings with Central Intelligence Agency and NSA officials were rebuffed, Coelho said.
"We are very disappointed at the last-minute reluctance of the CIA and the NSA to meet our delegation in spite of the advance preparations that had been made," he said.
"As a result we are cutting short our visit to the United States and returning to Europe immediately".
There was no immediate reaction from the CIA or the NSA but the State Department denied a meeting had been cancelled.
"It is incorrect to say that we cancelled an appointment, we never scheduled an appointment," a State Department official said.
"We got a request for an appointment, which we considered seriously and then we turned it down".
"We don't consider it appropriate for us to be meeting to talk about intelligence matters; we are not an intelligence agency".
The Europeans arrived Monday and planned to leave late Friday but left around midday Thursday after meeting with members of Congress and former CIA director James Woolsey during their stay.
German Socialist deputy Gerhard Schmid, a vice president of the EU parliament and its rapporteur on Echelon, said the committee is probing allegations the global eavesdropping network carries out industrial espionage targetting European firms and also snoops on European private citizens.
Coelho, a Portuguese conservative, said there were growing charges the United States was using the global surveillance network for economic ends.
"We are aware of a growing number of allegations which have suggested that Echelon is not only used for legitimate purposes," he said. "It has been said by some that it has been used increasingly in the recent period for economic purposes beyond ensuring the well-being of a nation's economy".
He admitted, however, there was "no hard evidence" to support the charges.
The NSA, a top-secret agency with twice the CIA's budget, is based outside Washington and operates listening stations in North America, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.
Concern about Echelon among Euro MPs goes back many years, but the decision to set up a special parliamentary committee stems from a report last February claiming the top-secret network was used to target European exporters and had "tested" the European Commission's own encryption system. The State Department denied the allegations.
The ad-hoc committee was set up in July, 2000 with instructions to finish its investigation on capabilities of the intelligence gathering network and report back within one year.
Echelon evolved out of the Cold War espionage system set up by the UKUSA Alliance, formed in 1948 by the United States and Britain and later joined by London's Commonwealth partners.
Spying on us
Uncle Sam turns his multibillion-dollar espionage machine on John Public
2001 01 01
The secret is out. Two powerful intelligence gathering tools that the United States created to eavesdrop on Soviet leaders and to track KGB spies are now being used to monitor Americans. One system, known as Echelon, intercepts and analyzes telephone calls, faxes and e-mail sent to and from the United States. The other system, Tempest, can secretly read the displays on personal computers, cash registers and automatic teller machines, from as far as a half mile away. Although the inner workings of both systems remain classified, fueling exaggerated claims about their capabilities on Internet sites, credible detail has at last begun to emerge. It comes chiefly from foreign governments that began investigating American surveillance activities after discovering that the Echelon system had been used to spy on their defense contractors. From those documents it is possible to obtain the first accurate view of the threats high-tech spying poses to our right to privacy. We think you will agree it also creates a real and present threat to our freedom.
No Such Agency
Echelon is perhaps the best known and least understood spy tool. Although it is run by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and paid for almost entirely by American taxpayers, it is a multinational spying effort that involves the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, to a lesser degree, Italy and Turkey. It wasn't until 1957, five years after NSA was created, that the federal government would admit that it even existed.
Simply put, the agency's job is to eavesdrop and share its notes. On a day-to-day basis, this means intercepting radio signals, unscrambling encrypted messages, and distributing the resulting information to a host of espionage organizations. Its chief "customer" is the Central Intelligence Agency.
The intelligence gathering network that captures the electronic signals that NSA needs to do its work is popularly called Echelon. NSA does not use this term, and it is generally believed the word Echelon is part of a two-word code name for the space-based part of the system. Whatever the terminology, Echelon, like NSA itself, is the outgrowth of a World War II British-American intelligence sharing agreement. During the Cold War the United States and its allies began to eavesdrop on overseas phone calls in an effort to catch Soviet spies. This was done by intercepting the signals from the microwave relay stations that formed the backbone of long-distance telephone systems.
When the telecommunications satellite industry took off, NSA followed it into space by building ground-based and orbiting listening posts, hence the need for participation by Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Turkey. Based on what isknown about the location of Echelon bases and satellites, it is estimated that there is a 90 percent chance that NSA is listening when you pick up the phone to place or answer an overseas call. In theory, but obviously not in practice, Echelon's supercomputers are so fast, they can identify Saddam Hussein by the sound of his voice the moment he begins speaking on the phone.
The power to eavesdrop on specific individuals nearly proved to be NSA's undoing. A commission organized by President Gerald Ford discovered that Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were unable to resist the temptation of using NSA to amass files on more than 7000 US citizens and 1000 organizations, mostly those opposed to the Vietnam War. In 1975, Congress decided it had had enough, and created the Select Intelligence Committee to keep watch over NSA activities.
With the Cold War over, and fearful of being embarrassed by revelations about Echelon's espionage excesses, high-ranking officials in Australia and New Zealand began going public with details.
How Echelon Works
Slowly the pieces of the Echelon puzzle began to fall into place. The operation proved to be more extensive than anyone had thought. From foreign governments, Americans learned that NSA not only had listening posts in West Virginia, Colorado and the state of Washington, but that its headquarters in Fort George Meade, Md., was that state's largest employer. NSA won't say how many people it currently employs, but hints that if it were an industrial company it would be on the Fortune 500 list.
The electronic signals that Echelon satellites and listening posts capture are separated into two streams, depending upon whether the communications are sent with or without encryption. Scrambled signals are converted into their original language, and then, along with selected "clear" messages, are checked by a piece of software called Dictionary. There are actually several localized "dictionaries". The U.K. version, for example, is packed with names and slang used by the Irish Republican Army. Messages with trigger words are dispatched to their respective agencies.
As leaks about Echelon began to spout like water around the little Dutch boy, the European Parliament started a high-profile investigation. It found the US government had used Echelon to spy on two European companies, Airbus Industrie and Thomson-CSF. The US State Department, a longtime NSA "customer," threw in the towel. Last year, it authorized Washington lawyer and former CIA director James Woolsey to answer reporters' questions about the charges. Woolsey acknowledged the episodes, explaining they were aimed at discouraging bribery. A week later, in an opinion page article in The Wall Street Journal, he at long last identified Echelon by name.
In the past, the acknowledgement of an intelligence asset has usually meant it had become obsolete. Security experts tell POPULAR MECHANICS that the unanticipated growth of Internet traffic may be more than Echelon can handle. And, NSA has in fact confirmed its computers were shut down for three days last year.
Some believe the recent candor is because NSA is shifting to a new, more tightly focused espionage strategy, using a ground-based technology code-named Tempest. The underlying theory is that electronic circuits create "compromising emanations". Not to be confused with interference, these are subtle but measurable changes in surrounding systems -- comparable to the dip in line voltage that occurs when the light in your refrigerator goes on as you open the door.
Britain faces investigation into role in spying for US in Europe
European Parliament opens inquiry into Anglo-American electronic eavesdropping amid charges of industrial espionage against partners
2000 07 06
Brussels - The European Parliament launched an investigation yesterday into Britain's role in the global spy network Echelon, a development that threatens to bring new embarrassment to the Government.
Yesterday's decision by MEPs to begin an examination of the workings of Echelon will provide fresh impetus to complaints that the Anglo-American snooping system is being used to the commercial disadvantage of the UK's European allies.
Since the publication of areport on Echelon for the European Parliament last year, anger has grown on mainland Europe and, for the first time, a British home secretary was questioned about the system at a meeting of EU justice ministers in May.
A French prosecutor has been appointed to launch a preliminary judicial investigation into the workings of Echelon, and other inquiries have been initiated or are being discussed in Germany and Denmark.
Yesterday's decision by the Strasbourg parliament comes as a blow to the British Government, which hoped that any inquiry would cover all formsof European intelligencegathering, rather than concentrating on Echelon, which is dominated by the US and UK but also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The parliamentary committee will now have one year to confirm the existence of the Echelon system, and decide whether European industry has been damaged by global interception of communications. It may also consider "political and legislative initiatives" to protect individuals.
Carlos Coelho, the Portuguese MEP expected to lead the 36-strong committee, said: "In addition to wanting to distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy, the commission will also try to ascertain how European citizens can see their privacy safeguarded".
However, the MEPs backed away from the most confrontational option by deciding to appoint an ad hoc committee, with powers to invite witnesses, rather than a "temporary committee of inquiry" which would possess the power to issue subpoenas.
Dating from the Cold War, the Echelon system is thought to be able to intercept almost every modern form of communication, including satellites and the internet, as part of a multi-billion-pound global surveillance operation.
The British Government has never acknowledged the existence of Echelon but such reticence was undermined by the former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, who spoke about the network in an interview with the French daily newspaper Le Figaro.
While all EU governments engage in eavesdropping, the allegation is that Britain is participating in a system used to advance US commercial interests at the expense of European governments. In his report for the European Parliament, the researcher Duncan Campbell said that Echelon helped the US aviation firm McDonnell-Douglas win a contract in Saudi-Arabia, that the French company Airbus Industrie had expected to win. Airbus never lodged a formal complaint, making it impossible for the European Commission to investigate.
The British Government said last night that it was still studying the terms of reference of the inquiry, but Whitehall is unlikely to try to obstruct the committee's work. Witnesses are likely to attend hearings and to stress the British argument that surveillance is vital in the fight against crime.
The Government says that all interception is covered by Acts of Parliament and that, while monitoring is permitted in the defence of national economic interests, that does not include the interests of British companies. British witnesses are, however, unlikely to provide any detailed information about espionage work or the existence of Echelon.
'Vacuum in the sky sucks up everything'
Paul Lashmar, Duncan Campbell
2000 07 06
Echelon is the name for part of the British and American run global spying network that eavesdrops on phone calls, faxes or e-mails passing via communications satellites. Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also part of the Echelon system.
"I think of Echelon as a great vacuum cleaner in the sky which sucks everything up," says Mike Frost, a former Canadian intelligence officer. "We just get to look at the goodies".
Echelon is controlled by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Part of the system sits at Menwith Hill in the North Yorkshire moors. Other stations are at Bad Aibling in Bavaria, Denver in Colorado and Pine Gap in Australia.
Menwith Hill is linked directly to the headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade in Maryland, and it is also linked to a series of other listening posts scattered across the world, including GCHQ.
Although Britain stands accused by its European partners of aiding America's spying, the British do not necessarily know what the Americans use the network for. Each participating Echelon country can choose what it targets.
Documents obtained by The Independent reveal how Echelon has been used to spy on British and continental European companies.
Echelon cost Airbus Industrie an £8bn contract with Saudi Arabia in 1994, after the US government intercepted phone and fax messages between Riyadh and Airbus headquarters in Toulouse. British companies hold a 20 per cent stake in Airbus.
The French have led attacks on Echelon but British and American officials have accused them of hypocrisy because France runs its own global eavesdropping system nicknamed "Frenchelon".
Some 30 other nations across the world also have eavesdropping networks although none compares in size to the US and UK-run system.
Big brother without a cause?
No safeguards, no remedies - Its a totally lawless world
2000 07 06
Critics accuse the United States' intelligence community and its English-speaking partners of waging what is in effect a new Cold War.
At stake are international contracts worth billions of dollars, and at the disposal of the spymasters is an intelligence gathering system of immense power.
The Echelon spy system, whose existence has only recently been acknowledged by US officials, is capable of hoovering up millions of phone calls, faxes and emails a minute.
Its owners insist the system is dedicated to intercepting messages passed between terrorists and organised criminals.
But a report published by the European Parliament in February alleges that Echelon twice helped US companies gain a commercial advantage over European firms.
Duncan Campbell, the British intelligence expert and journalist who wrote the report, raises the prospect that hundreds of US Department of Commerce "success stories", when US companies beat off European and Japanese commercial opposition, could be attributed to the filtering powers of Echelon.
Echelon evolved out of Cold War espionage arrangements set up by the US and UK in 1948, and later bringing in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, in their capacity as Britain's Commonwealth partners.
The biggest of Echelon's global network of listening posts is at Menwith Hill, North Yorkshire, where about 30 "giant golf balls" called radomes litter the landscape. The system also boasts 120 American satellites in geostationary orbit.
Bases in the five countries are linked directly to the headquarters of the secretive US National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters at Fort Mead, Maryland.
The system's superpowerful voice recognition capability enables it to filter billions of international communications for whatever key words or word patterns are programmed in.
Mr Campbell believes that when the Cold War ended, this under-employed intelligence apparatus was put to use for economic gain.
"There's no safeguards, no remedies, " he said. "There's nowhere you can go to say that they've been snooping on your international communications. It is a totally lawless world".
The journalist, who has spent much of his life investigating Echelon, has offered two alleged instances of US snooping in the 1990s, which he says followed the newly-elected Clinton administration's policy of "aggressive advocacy" for US firms bidding for foreign contracts.
The first came from a Baltimore Sun report which said the European consortium Airbus lost a $6bn contract with Saudi Arabia after NSA found Airbus officials were offering kickbacks to a Saudi official.
The paper said the agency "lifted all the faxes and phone-calls between Airbus, the Saudi national airline and the Saudi Government" to gain this information.
Mr Campbell also alleges that the US firm Raytheon used information picked up from NSA snooping to secure a $1.4bn contract to supply a radar system to Brazil instead of France's Thomson-CSF.
The US strenuously denies passing on commercial information to individual US firms, saying that there are clear laws to prevent it.
But former CIA director James Woolsey, in an article in March for the Wall Street Journal, acknowledged that the US did conduct economic espionage against its European allies, though he did not specify if Echelon was involved.
However, he poured scorn on the Campbell allegations that the US was using its technological edge to gain unfair advantage in international business.
"We have spied on you because you bribe," the ex-CIA boss wrote.
"(European) products are often more costly, less technically advanced or both, than (their) American competitors'. As a result (they) bribe a lot".
But that is not an argument that will have much influence among concerned European countries, which are currently investigating the threat or otherwise posed by the world's most powerful intelligence-gathering machine.
GCHQ faces inquiry over US 'spying' on Europe
2000 07 06
The European Parliament voted yesterday to open an inquiry into alleged electronic espionage against the European Union by Britain and the United States - warning British intelligence officials that they could be called to submit evidence.
A 25-strong committee will start an eight-month investigation in September into claims that the Anglo-Saxon powers were eavesdropping on European targets through a secret network known as Echelon.
A European Parliament report said the US was systematically intercepting the telephone calls, faxes, telexes and e-mails of European firms - with the help of listening posts shared with the British Government's Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) - and was exploiting the information for commercial advantage.
The president of the new committee, Carlos Coelho, a Portuguese Christian Democrat, promised a "rigorous examination" that would not end in a "cover-up". But he also accepted that telecommunications could be a legitimate tool for fighting organised crime as long as it was "backed up by the judiciary and is under safe control".
One of the committee's chief investigators, Christian von Boetticher, said an attempt to call officials from GCHQ to explain how Echelon worked and what it was used for was most likely. The Tories reacted angrily to the creation of the committee, accusing the French and Germans of orchestrating a campaign to undermine Britain's special relationship with the US.
Francis Maude, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "This committee is nothing more than a political witch-hunt. European MEPs are trying to drive a wedge between Britain and America. [Robin Cook] should condemn the EU governments who are manipulating this issue".
An alliance of German conservatives and French socialists voted down an amendment by a British Euro-MP, Graham Watson, calling for the inquiry to have a broader mandate to investigate eavesdropping by all EU governments.
The European Parliament decided to take concrete action after a former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, confirmed that the joint Anglo-American eavesdropping capability had been used to intercept the communications of EU companies.
Mr Woolsey said the purpose of the espionage was to monitor firms that broke United Nations sanctions, to track transfers of military technology and to watch for commercial corruption. He said: "It is not a question of industrial espionage for the benefit of American companies. That is something the US absolutely doesn't do".
The European Parliament's Echelon report - written by Duncan Campbell, a journalist with New Statesman magazine - said the European Airbus consortium lost a £3.9 billion deal in Saudi Arabia after US officials told Riyadh that Airbus agents had offered bribes. The contract went to Boeing and McDonnell Douglas.
Tony Blair denied that Britain was "betraying allies" earlier this year. He said: "These things are governed by extremely strict rules, and those rules will always be applied properly". GCHQ was required by law to intercept foreign communications "in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom".
The Echelon network is run by the US National Security Agency. GCHQ is the junior partner and it was unclear whether Britain was fully informed about the data the Americans collected.
French security service opens inquiry into US spy system
2000 07 05
France and the United States could be on a diplomatic collision course because of the launch of a criminal investigation in Paris into the activities of Echelon, the American electronic espionage system.
The chief public prosecutor in Paris has asked the country's counter-espionage service to investigate the possibility that American interception of telephone calls and e-mails in France amounts to an "attack on the vital interests of the nation". The preliminary investigation, which could lead to a full-scale judicial and criminal inquiry, will also consider whether Echelon's electronic spying breaches the right to telephone privacy of French individuals and companies.
If the case proceeds, it might also cause embarrassment to the British Government, which shares in the information gathered by the Echelon system.
The investigation follows a formal complaint by a French Euro MP and former investigating magistrate, Thierry Jean-Pierre. A report presented to the European Parliament last year said that Echelon had been widely used, since the end of the Cold War, to spy on America's allies and to intercept commercial secrets.
The US, while still formally denying the existence of Echelon, has partly admitted the charge. Washington says that its espionage resources are used against businesses in friendly countries that offer unfair competition to US firms by bribing potential customers.
The European Parliament is expected to vote today to set up a committee of inquiry.
France investigates US global listening system
2000 07 05
PARIS, July 4 -- A French prosecutor has begun a preliminary investigation into whether an American global surveillance system that listens in on millions of telephone calls, faxes and e-mails each day is a threat to French well-being.
The prosecutor, Jean-Pierre Dintilhac, has ordered the French counterintelligence agency, called D.S.T., to appraise the actions of the system, named Echelon. The system links computers in at least seven sites around the world to receive, analyze and sort information captured from satellite communications.
If the French agency finds the system "harmful to the vital interests of the nation," legal proceedings could begin, though it is difficult to see how an American government agency could be sued in a French court.
Still, the issue is taken very seriously in Europe. Many fear that America's vast surveillance system, developed in the cold war, is being used to further America's economic interests.
American officials have repeatedly denied that. But the issue continues to arouse passions here. That is particularly true in France, where even Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou contended in February that cold war spy systems had been converted to "economic espionage".
This year, the European Parliament held hearings on the subject, leading to an emotional debate. A report commissioned by the Parliament and written by a British journalist said there was evidence that the Echelon system had twice helped American companies gain an advantage over Europeans, though few details were provided. Some members of the Parliament expressed skepticism over the 18-page report. But others did not.
Parliament is deciding whether to create a commission to continue its Echelon investigation.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Dintilhac, Marie-Annick Darmaillac, said the prosecutor had decided to begin his investigation after having received a letter from a member of the European Parliament who is a former French judge, Thierry Jean-Pierre. Ms. Darmaillac said the letter had enough information for the prosecutor to feel that an investigation was warranted. But she said she could not discuss what steps might be taken.
In Strasbourg, Mr. Jean-Pierre told Agence France-Press that he believed that the Echelon system should be dismantled or that Europe should have a hand in governing it.
"Echelon is used by the National Security Agency for strategic and economic gains," Mr. Jean-Pierre said. "You cannot make me believe that the information is not passed on to American companies".
This is not the first time that France has reacted to allegations of American spying. In 1995, France expelled five American diplomats and other officials, one of them the reported Paris station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, in connection with the spying case.
It is clear that many Europeans are particularly galled that the British are partners of the United States in the Echelon system.
Recently declassified information shows that Echelon is a network of surveillance stations stitched together in the 1970's by the United States with Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. The system listens and watches for key words on a topic requested by a country. Some experts have said the most extravagant claims against the Echelon system make little sense, because the N.S.A. is overwhelmed by the proliferation of information over the Internet.
It is widely believed that France operates its own surveillance system, one that some people have called "Frenchelon". It is believed to be much smaller than the American system. But it is thought to do much the same activity -- eavesdropping on private and public communications.
French investigation into spy network
Verena von Derschau
2000 07 05
PARIS - A French prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation into a US-led spy network that has aroused suspicion among many Europeans that their businesses are being monitored, judicial sources said Tuesday.
Paris prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dintilhac in May asked the DST, France's internal security service, to carry out the preliminary inquiry, according to a report in Tuesday's Le Figaro newspaper. The report was confirmed by judicial sources who spoke on condition they not be named.
The Echelon issue surfaced in February when a European Parliament report discussed the existence and activities of the network, whose members also include Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
It said Echelon has surveillance-interception stations across the globe that intercept "billions of messages per hour," including telephone calls, fax transmissions and private e-mails.
The report by British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell was presented to the EU assembly. It urged the EU to take action against unwanted interception of communications, insisting that this violated human rights and could be used for industrial espionage.
The United States and Britain have offered reassurances that Echelon is not involved in economic espionage.
But some Europeans remain concerned that the network may be compromising businesses, and many European parliament members have asked for a deeper probe. On Wednesday, EU lawmakers are expected to decide whether to create a temporary inquiry commission on Echelon, Le Figaro said.
Back channels: the intelligence community
2000 04 11
Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) said yesterday that the Central Intelligence Agency acted appropriately in firing the intelligence officer most responsible for the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade last year, but he questioned why other involved agencies haven't performed their own internal reviews.
"We're talking about a systemic breakdown here," said Goss, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "To pull one guy out of the system and say, 'This guy was the perpetrator,' was not the way it was".
CIA Director George J. Tenet fired the officer and reprimanded six managers, including a senior official, last week for errors that led them to mistakenly identify the Chinese embassy as their intended target, a Yugoslav arms agency, during NATO's 78-day aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia.
Goss said he believes the Pentagon should have also assessed its role in the tragedy, since officials at one defense intelligence agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), have already acknowledged failing to update databases listing the addresses of foreign embassies.
Goss also said the National Security Council should examine its role in the tragedy, having ruled out the use of ground troops and adopted a policy of nonstop bombing that clearly pushed targeting procedures beyond the breaking point.
IN PUBLIC: Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the supersecret National Security Agency, will make a rare public appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday to talk about a most sensitive subject -- the NSA's procedures for protecting the civil liberties of Americans whose communications are intercepted by the agency.
It's actually something Hayden likes to talk about in public.
At a recent appearance at American University's Kennedy Political Union, a student asked about the controversy swirling around Echelon, the code name for a worldwide surveillance network run by the NSA and its partners in Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
"I heard about it," Hayden deadpanned.
He then explained that the NSA doesn't spy on Americans, doesn't ask its foreign partners to spy on Americans, and doesn't channel intelligence information to US corporations.
"Let me emphasize this," Hayden said. "The Fourth Amendment... is supposed to protect unwarranted intrusions in your life all the time, especially when the government might still have the want or need to do it. We don't get close to the Fourth Amendment".
His public coming-out on the Echelon controversy was supposed to have been before the House Government Reform Committee, chaired by the pugnacious Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.).
Burton had agreed to investigate concerns of Rep. Robert L. Barr (R-Ga.) that Hayden and Co. may be routinely violating the civil rights of American citizens by intercepting everything from Internet traffic to cellular phone calls.
But Goss's committee ultimately became the venue for the Wednesday hearing, given its oversight jurisdiction over intelligence gathering programs. The panel promises to be a far less adversarial environment.
When Goss became embroiled with NSA lawyers last year over the agency's collection procedures, he was concerned they were being too restrictive in applying legal safeguards, not too loose.
Barr, a former CIA analyst, will be allowed to make a statement at the beginning of the session. He said he welcomes the committee's interest "in examining the serious problems now coming to light with 1970s laws regulating 21st century technology".
WHO'S LEAKING? At a closed committee hearing last week, CIA officials told Goss that they had referred more than 20 leaks of classified information to the Justice Department for investigation since last November, including one involving the agency's inspector general's report on former director John M. Deutch's home computer security violations.
More than a few at CIA headquarters believed the leak came from Capitol Hill, where the House and Senate intelligence committees had access to the review. Goss said he had looked into the matter and believes "the Hill may have been a little complicit" in offering expansive comments on the report. But he said he's satisfied no one on his staff was the leaker.
Spymasters change focus
2000 04 05
It is a decade since the end of the Cold War but the spymasters have not been forced to look for new employment.
Russia and the West may be hesitantly charting a new more constructive relationship, but both sides still need to build a complete intelligence picture of what the other is doing.
In fact the ending of the Cold War has brought only a very brief peace dividend to the world of espionage.
Economic intelligence - the demand for information about what is being developed in private companies and research establishments, both military and non-military - has boomed, often with apparent friends spying on each other.
In recent weeks there has been growing concern in a number of European countries at the US-led Echelon programme - a comprehensive system of intercepting electronic and telephone messages that many Europeans fear is being used by the US to gain commercial advantage.
But the end of the Cold war has given a renewed lease of life to more traditional forms of espionage as well.
The attention may be less on the capabilities of Russian nuclear missile forces and more on once largely-disregarded regions like the Caucasus or the Balkans.
The whole intelligence business is also facing the potential for a new democratisation as well.
Civilian satellites can now provide images of extraordinary clarity of the most sensitive spots on the Earth's surface.
And you can buy them too. All you need is a credit card and a good idea of where you want the satellite to look.
Brussels outrage at 'industrial spy ring'
2000 03 31
Britain is under pressure from its EU partners to explain its role in Echelon, the US-led spy network accused of using commercial intelligence against European rivals.
Portugal, which holds the EU presidency, will raise the issue at a meeting of justice ministers in May. EU governments "cannot accept a system of interception of telecommunications which doesn't respect legal standards in member states," said Fernando Gomez, Portugal's Interior Minister.
MEPs are to vote on whether to hold an investigation. The Commission has not had any complaints from European companies. The US State Department denies spying.
US denies stealing business secrets
Spies on phones, faxes, e-mails
2000 03 30
The United States has denied using a controversial spy network to steal commercial secrets from European governments and companies.
The State Department issued the guarantee ahead of the European Parliament's debate on Thursday into whether to hold an inquiry into the Echelon surveillance system.
European information commissioner Erkki Liikanen told MEPs that the department has said its intelligence community was not engaged in industrial espionage.
Earlier this week, Greens MEPs led the call for an inquiry following complaints that the US had been using the system for its own commercial gain.
MEPs decided to postpone making a decision about the proposed inquiry until next month, when the parliament will meet in Strasbourg.
Mr Liikanen said the United Kingdom, which helps Washington operate the system of satellites and listening posts along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had written with a similar assurance.
If any European companies suspected they had lost business to US rivals due to the spy network, none had complained to Brussels, he said: "No companies have contacted the commission on this issue - no companies".
Another statement from the Council of Ministers said there was no concrete evidence that Echelon existed.
In the debate, some MEPs complained that the network was a serious invasion of privacy.
A report last month to the European Parliament last month identified the Echelon system as a tool for industrial espionage.
There were allegations that the US had monitored billions of phone calls, faxes and e-mails.
A number of Euro MPs also complained about the UK's participation in Echelon.
The parliament is divided over the legal basis for the proposed inquiry.
Those in favour say that spying could be considered under the heading of data protection or competition, while others believe it is not within the competence of the parliament to act on security issues.
US offers EU reassurance that Echelon is not a spy network
2000 03 30
BRUSSELS, Belgium - The United States and Britain have offered reassurances that their giant eavesdropping network is not involved in economic espionage, testified a European Union commissioner Thursday.
European Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen testified during a special European Parliament debate that he received a letter from the US State Department and Britain. Both governments denied accusations that the American-led Echelon spy network is used to snoop on Europeans and European businesses.
"The US intelligence community is not engaged in industrial espionage ... The United States government and the intelligence community do not accept tasking from private firms and do not collect propriety commercial, technical or financial information for the benefit of private firms," the letter said, according to Liikanen.
The letter from Britain said that its intelligence services "work within a legal framework".
The Echelon issue surfaced last month when a European Parliament report discussed the existence and practice of the network. It said that Echelon comprises surveillance-interception stations across the globe that listen in and intercept "billions of messages per hour," including telephone calls, fax transmissions and private e-mails.
The report by British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell was presented to the EU assembly last month. It urged the EU to take action to protect against unwanted interception of communications, insisting the intercepts violated human rights and could be used for industrial espionage.
Portuguese Interior Minister Fernando Gomes said there was no evidence to confirm the parliamentary report or that there was any wrongdoing.
"There is no information to conclude whether there are companies which have either benefited or have been damaged by it," he said. "We have no evidence, otherwise we would have acted right away".
Liikanen similarly denied there was evidence of widespread electronic eavesdropping in Europe by the Echelon network, which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
But a majority of European Parliament members rejected Gomes' and Liikanen's and they will vote in April for a much wider probe.
"Unfortunately a great deal of questions have not been answered," Maria Berger, an Austrian socialist, said during the debate.
A 1998 report issued by the European Parliament said firms in EU nations lose several billion dollars per year as a result of corporate espionage, but made no mention of Echelon.
In an interview this week with the French daily Le Figaro, former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey admitted the United States secretly collects information on European companies. But he said the United States spied only on certain companies that violated United Nations sanctions or offered bribes to gain business.
EU spokesman Jonathan Faull, speaking to reporters at the European Commission, called Woolsey's comments an "outrageous slur".
In Copenhagen, Denmark, a left-wing political group on Thursday filed a legal complaint against the United States to force an investigation into Echelon.
The Socialist People's Party Youth branch took the step after Denmark's Justice Minister Frank Jensen on Wednesday promised a full investigation if a complaint was filed.
US embassy spokeswoman Lela Margiou said the case was "a Danish matter that will be processed through the Danish system". She declined to comment further.
EU to widen probe into US-led Echelon spy network
2000 03 29
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Many Europeans fear Big Brother has been watching them for decades. Now, they are starting to find out whether a vast US-led espionage network has indeed been snooping into their lives.
The European Parliament opens a probe Thursday into allegations of economic espionage by the US-led Echelon network, accused of snooping on European business communications in a controversial report last month.
The report sent shivers up the spines of many Europeans, especially in Brussels, where key economic and political decisions are made at European Union headquarters.
It painted the picture of an elaborate spy network, masterminded in Washington, eavesdropping on phone calls, faxes and e-mails in the pursuit of commercial gain.
Echelon, a vast global network of electronic monitoring stations, was created in the 1970s as part of an intelligence-gathering agreement between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to monitor the activities of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.
After the demise of the Soviet threat, Echelon's extensive surveillance operation did not evaporate but actually increased its monitoring capabilities worldwide, the report said.
It said new threats to national security like terrorism and organized crime continued to drive the thirst for information. But political, commercial and diplomatic intelligence were also intercepted, frequently via new communication technologies like the Internet and mobile phones.
"We have to ask ourselves what the security threats are," said Robert Evans, vice chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Citizen's Freedoms and Rights. "We are not in an era of massive secrecy any more," since the Cold War is over.
The US National Security Agency, which is believed to head Echelon, said last month in a letter to the US Congress that it could "neither confirm nor deny the existence of specific operations".
"However we can tell you that NSA operates in strict accordance with US laws and regulations," it said.
In an interview with the French daily Le Figaro on Tuesday, former CIA director James Woolsey admitted the United States secretly collects information on European companies, but denied giving it to their US competitors.
Woolsey said the operations were limited to companies that violate United Nations sanctions or use bribery or other unethical practices to gain more business.
However, even in the United States, some are not convinced. "More needs to be done to establish the scope and impact of unlawful monitoring," said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.
Yaman Akdeniz of the British Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties group likened the Echelon spy network to "something out of George Orwell's '1984".'
"This is happening in our democratic societies. The genie is now out of the bottle," he said, warning that "we cannot rely on governments anymore for protection".
"If you want to do business you must take security seriously," especially in the high-tech communications sector, Akdeniz said.
Heidi Hautala, a leader of the Green Party, which has spearheaded the investigation, urged European businesses to "rapidly develop their own technology and encryption systems to defend themselves against the attacks which are conducted in the name of the universal security interests of the United States".
"The big challenge is to get governments to talk on this ... it is all veiled in secrecy," Hautala said.
No monopolies on government eavesdropping
2000 02 28
Paris - The wave of concern in Europe about US intelligence services' intercepting commercial phone, fax and e-mail messages around the world has been surprising, diplomats say, mainly because it seems to demonstrate deepening international fears about the global reach of US power.
The only new element in the discussion, triggered by a European Parliament report last week, is that Washington has for the first time dropped its denials that US agencies routinely tap private conversations on a huge scale.
For more than a decade, after an earlier report first raised questions about worldwide US electronic intelligence capabilities, Washington has maintained officially that the National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office and other US listening agencies targeted only military and political antagonists.
Now the European Parliament report, filed in December and debated publicly last week, has taken a fresh and deeper look at Echelon, as the system is known.
While not entirely new, these disclosures - that the United States and its closest allies have developed a post-Cold War system that can record up to 2 billion telephone messages daily - fit a pattern of diffuse, persistent fears that Washington is ready to use any means, fair or foul, to advance toward US global hegemony in power and business.
In a bid to clear up some misapprehensions, US and European officials and specialists, some with links to intelligence services, were willing to disclose some aspects of current signal intelligence, as electronic eavesdropping is known, on the condition that they not be identified.
They all asserted that listening to private conversations was common practice among governments, including those of Britain, Australia and Canada, which are associated with the United States in a worldwide effort.
France, too, where the media and some officials have gone furthest in accusing the United States of commercial espionage, has its own worldwide network to listen to international telephone communications, the officials and specialists said.
A secret facility in French Guiana is targeted on the main commercial communications satellite frequencies over North America and also has antennas designed to pick up calls inside the United States, they said.
Declining to comment on current French practices - except to praise Paris for cooperation in this area against international terrorists - the sources said France had a record into the 1990s of turning over secrets to French industry, which until recently has been largely state-owned.
Similar charges have been leveled at the US-run worldwide program. In the European Parliament report, this complaint - that information gleaned by the National Security Agency and other US intelligence agencies is given to American companies to help them against foreign competition - cites two often-mentioned cases where US companies beat out French rivals at the last minute.
Providing fresh detail about these deals, which involved aircraft in Brazil and in Saudi Arabia, the sources disclosed that the US government did use intelligence information and phone intercepts to influence the outcome by proving that the French bids involved bribery.
"We just gave them the stuff, the tapes, and they were faced with the evidence," said a person with access to the secret records of both cases. Confronted with this proof, Brazil felt compelled to award the contract to Raytheon and Saudi Arabia to McDonnell-Douglas, the source said.
The United States, and more recently France and other European countries, have passed laws against corruption in sales to foreign governments. As a result, recent US administrations have felt entitled to use their secretly acquired information to prevent American companies from losing important deals because of bribes from competitors, presumably from American as well as international rivals.
But the sources vigorously denied, as US officials have consistently done, that intelligence information about rivals is ever passed on to individual American companies.
The clarifications were aimed at blunting suggestions in France and other European countries about the uses to which eavesdropping is put. In the widespread European rumor, US electronic intelligence, developed as a military arm in the Cold War, has been redirected at targets in allied countries for commercial advantage.
US officials have tried to dispel this suspicion, but their efforts seem to be hindered by the reluctance of the intelligence community, notably the branches involved in signal intelligence, to open up radically to allied services, even during joint operations in the Gulf and the Balkans, the sources said.
Governments in Europe have responded to the growing US electronic reach by emulating it, albeit on a smaller scale.
The secret facility in French Guiana scans across the Caribbean in hopes of capturing phone traffic within the United States. France has two other main installations, one in Dordogne, in southwestern France, and one in New Caledonia.
The distinctly muted official reactions in Europe to the controversy over Echelon has other explanations, too: Few of these countries have any substantial safeguards against official eavesdropping on their own citizens.
"If they go too far in denouncing us, they are liable to end up with questions at home about the fact that the French authorities, for example, can do almost whatever they want," said an official involved in bilateral intelligence.
Another hard-to-quantify factor is the changing European perception of Britain. Echelon, in which Britain is the technical linchpin and direct beneficiary in Europe, is being viewed by some Europeans as confirmation that London is a Trojan horse of US power in Europe.
But that image is blurring now that the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair is seriously exploring European military cooperation with Paris and other EU capitals.
US accused of spying on its allies
2000 02 25
Berlin - Australia is being sucked into a row between the US and its European allies over claims that an American-controlled Cold War electronic spying network is being used for commercial espionage against European governments and companies.
The French Government has claimed that the satellite-linked network, which includes a ground station in Australia, is being used by the US, Britain and their "Anglo-Saxon" partners to eavesdrop on European telephone, fax and e-mail communications to obtain commercially sensitive information to gain an unfair advantage in winning contracts and developing products.
European intelligence sources backed the French claim, saying that the Western Australian ground station near Geraldton was a vital part of the network and "sucked up" vast amounts of commercially valuable electronic communications from about one-third of the Earth's surface.
The ground station is connected to the US eavesdropping satellite network established during the Cold War to listen to the Soviet Union's communications.<
The Geraldton station monitors electronic communications throughout the region and is said to have played a vital role during the East Timor crisis, allowing Australia to monitor the Indonesian military.
But allegations were made in the French and European parliaments this week that the spy network, known as Echelon, has a leading role in commercial espionage. It was alleged that Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Canada all help the US in gathering commercial information.
The European Parliament has called for an inquiry into the charges of industrial espionage after receiving a report from the British journalist and writer on espionage issues, Duncan Campbell. He produced detailed allegations about the spy system and claims of specific business contracts lost because of illicitly obtained information.
A German conservative MP from the European Parliament said the spying activities had already cost European business more than $US20 billion in lost contracts.
Both the US and Britain have denied that the satellite system is being used for commercial spying. A US State Department statement reads: "US intelligence agencies are not tasked to engage in industrial espionage or obtain trade secrets for the benefit of any US company or companies".
But in his report, Campbell listed incidents in which he alleged the Echelon system was used to help US firms win commercial contracts. He said information gathered from eavesdropping had cost the French firm Thomson a radar contract in Brazil and had caused the European Airbus consortium to miss out on a $6 billion aircraft contract won by the Boeing Corporation of the US.
After presenting the report to the European Parliament's committee for justice and home affairs, Campbell urged the EU to protect against unwanted interception of communications, insisting eavesdropping violated human rights.
Mr Campbell alleged that national security agencies were using several major US corporations to aid their interception of data. He named Microsoft, IBM and a certain "large American microchip maker" as providing product features that allow the interception of information.
The French Justice Minister warned French businesses to be vigilant to the possibility of eavesdropping on sensitive commercial communications, saying they should never carry vital information.
A spokesman for the Australian Defence Minister, Mr John Moore, said the Government did not comment on intelligence matters.
An electronic spy scare is alarming Europe
2000 02 24
PARIS, Feb. 23 -- Fears that the United States, Britain and other English-speaking countries are using a cold-war eavesdropping network to gain a commercial edge roused passions across Europe today, even after Washington and London roundly denied the notion.
The subject kept the European Parliament in Brussels entranced for hours and drew banner headlines across the continent. One political cartoon showed Britain in bed with the United States, despite Britain's membership in the European Union.
The hubbub grew from a report prepared for the European Parliament that found that communications intercepted by a network called Echelon twice helped American companies gain an advantage over Europeans.
Whatever the merits of the latest allegations, suggestions of commercial spying have surfaced regularly in recent years. They have infuriated many Europeans who seem to have little trouble believing that military espionage systems developed in the cold war would now be used to help businesses in English-speaking nations.
Echelon is a network of surveillance stations stitched together in the 1970's by the United States National Security Agency with Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand to intercept select satellite communications, according to recently declassified information in Washington.
But Washington and Downing Street quickly rejected the idea that they might be using any secret information to bolster their own economies.
"No is the short answer," Prime Minister Tony Blair of England said in London. "These things are governed by extremely strict rules, and those rules will always be applied".
In Washington, a spokesman for the State Department, James P. Rubin, said, "US intelligence agencies are not tasked to engage in industrial espionage or obtain trade secrets for the benefit of any US company or companies. Although we cannot comment on the substance of the report, we can say that the N.S.A. is not authorized to provide intelligence information to private firms".
The denials did little to quell European fury, especially in France, where Justice Minister Élisabeth Guigou said French companies were being encouraged to encrypt sensitive information to avoid detection by American espionage operations.
She said that Echelon had been set up as a military system, dating originally from 1948, to eavesdrop on the Soviet Union and its allies in the cold war, but that it had been converted to "economic espionage".
"Today," Ms. Guigou said, "it appears that the network has been diverted to the purposes of economic espionage and for keeping a watch on competitors".
The flare-up was prompted by the publication today of a report commissioned by the European Parliament 18 months ago, after initial allegations of commercial espionage.
The 18-page report, which was written by a freelance journalist, Duncan Campbell, and based in large part on other newspaper accounts, said Echelon had been used by the United States to gain the advantage in at least two deals that involved major European companies.
Mr. Campbell described Echelon as a vast coordinated system that includes a system of satellites and at least 10 listening posts worldwide that can intercept telephone calls, e-mails and faxes.
The report drew skepticism from conservative parliamentarians, some of whom said it had failed to provide sufficient proof.
Citing "well informed" press reports from 1995, Mr. Duncan said information learned through Echelon had been given to Boeing and the old McDonnell Douglas when they were trying to win a $6 billion contract from Saudi Arabia. His report said the spy network had intercepted calls between Airbus, the European consortium, and the Saudi airline and government officials.
Mr. Campbell also said spy information had helped an American company, Raytheon, win a bid for a $1.3 billion surveillance system for the Amazon forest away from Thomson-CSF, a French company.
But few details were offered about how the information was of any use to the American corporations. Each example was described in just a short paragraph.
In recent years, Echelon has been criticized in the United States as an excessive intrusion into the private communications of Americans and their allies. Some critics said the system emerged from the cold war as a Big Brother without a cause.
R. James Woolsey Jr., who headed the C.I.A. from 1993 to 1995, said in Washington that "basically the United States does not conduct industrial espionage". But he said the government might look into some economic areas, like questions of bribery.
"You collect intelligence on bribery by some of our friends abroad . . . and then you tell the US government so they can try to get the other government not to award the contract," Mr. Woolsey said today at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"But you don't go to the American corporation and say 'Hey, you're about to lose,' " he said.
Europeans decry US electronic intercepts
2000 02 24
PARIS, Feb. 23 –– A report released today describing massive US-led eavesdropping on private telephone conversations, faxes and e-mail messages around the world prompted a wave of concern and indignation in Europe.
The report by a special European Parliament commission said that the electronic intelligence-gathering network had the potential to violate the privacy of millions of European citizens and suggested that it has been used to benefit US corporations in economic and industrial espionage.
The ground- and satellite-based intercept system, which is known as Echelon, was designed primarily for use against nonmilitary targets, such as terrorists, drug traffickers and money launderers, the report says.
But the system "enables the countries using it to obtain significant economic information and, hence, to secure a leading position on the commercial markets," according to the report.
The system, which is operated by the National Security Agency in partnership with the intelligence services of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, intercepts "billions of messages per hour," said Duncan Campbell, the report's principal author, in Brussels. "We are not talking about a trivial thing here".
The inquiry's findings precipitated a flurry of comment from European politicians.
"In effect, democratic states and a member of the European Union could have organized large-scale espionage operations in order to reinforce their economic interests to the detriment of Belgium and other European countries," said Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel.
"The Anglo-Saxon Echelon eavesdropping network constitutes a serious infringement on national security and on the freedoms of all French people," said Rene Galy-Dejean, a French legislator.
US officials routinely have dismissed European alarm over Echelon as unwarranted, saying the system is strictly for national security use.
Intelligence officials also dispute the economic espionage charge on practical grounds, claiming that the sheer volume of intercepts makes targeted industrial spying all but impossible.
"US intelligence agencies are not tasked to engage in industrial espionage, or obtain trade secrets for the benefit of any US company or companies," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said today. He declined to acknowledge the existence of the Echelon program.
The surveillance network dates to 1947 but has aroused deep concern among Washington's European allies in recent years as the scope of the surveillance of foreign telephone calls, faxes and e-mail became more apparent.
Echelon was created in the mid-1970s and grew in complexity and reach in the last years of the Cold War.
Using artificial intelligence methods and a global network of eavesdropping dishes and relays, Echelon sifts through voice and data communications in search of key words that its overseers suspect may represent security threats.
Many Europeans wary of US economic prowess are convinced that the system is being used to collect information on behalf of US companies bidding against European competitors for lucrative contracts.
The report cites two cases in which Echelon intercepts supposedly clinched deals for American companies locked in bidding wars with their European rivals. But the report cites only news accounts to buttress that claim.
The committee's inquiry was assisted by the declassification of NSA documents, through Freedom of Information Act requests and by scholars at the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
One of the archive's senior fellows, Jeffrey Richelson, said in a telephone interview that Echelon posed "a potential for abuse both in the areas of privacy and economic espionage".
But, he added, "the problem with the Echelon hysteria is that it doesn't look at what other countries are doing. The US and its allies are hardly the greatest offenders. The countries doing the most whining about [Echelon], like France, are into this major league".
Today's report is the latest and harshest in a recent series on the monitoring network by the European Parliament.
The report is critical of the enormous power wielded by the United States in the surveillance system, but it is equally critical of the role of the European Commission, the executive body of the 15-member European Union. The report insinuates that EU member countries have been weak in standing up to US initiatives that facilitate the network.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked today if Britain had betrayed its EU allies by participating in the surveillance program. " 'No' is the short answer," he told reporters in Brussels. "These things are governed by extremely strict rules, and those rules will always be applied".
Long history of intercepting key words
2000 02 24
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 -- The Echelon system was developed in the 1970's. It links computers in at least seven sites around the world to receive, analyze and sort information captured from satellite communications, newly declassified information shows.
The computers watch and listen for key words in telephone, fax and Internet communications and route intercepted messages on a topic requested by a country, the descendant of a decades-old electronic eavesdropping network set up by the United States with Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
Although an Echelon system exists, it is not controlled by the National Security Agency to provide American corporations with stolen industrial intelligence, according to Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archive. Mr. Richelson retrieved documents about Echelon through requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
This network is an outgrowth of an agreement between London and Washington in 1948 to gather and share communications intelligence. "Countries throughout the world -- not just these five -- engage in widespread satellite intercepts," Mr. Richelson said. "It is a legitimate question whether people minding their own business are having their conversations picked up by any of these systems".
But many of the most extravagant claims about Echelon make little sense, because the National Security Agency is overwhelmed by the proliferation of information over the Internet, Mr. Richelson said. "Its ability to collect and process information is not nearly as immense as some of these accounts make it out to be," he said. "This agency is not doing all that well against the new information technology".
The Clinton administration denied accusations today by the European Parliament that the security agency was involved in illegally collecting intelligence for commercial use through satellite interceptions.
"US intelligence agencies are not tasked to engage in industrial espionage or obtain trade secrets for the benefit of any US company or companies," said a spokesman for the State Department, James P. Rubin.
But those denials, along with the routine refusals of the security agency to discuss the issue, will most likely not halt Congressional hearings planned for the spring.
Representative Bob Barr, Republican of Georgia, who called for the hearings into the project, conceded that he was uncertain what Echelon actually does.
"The charges are serious that the government indiscriminately scoops up millions upon millions of conversations daily over the Internet and the telephone," Mr. Barr said in an interview. "But the first question I have is what is being collected on Echelon and how is it being used. I don't know".
Mr. Barr, who once worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, said he first heard of Echelon when he was researching privacy last year for a speech to the American Civil Liberties Union.
On the Internet, Echelon has achieved a mythical status as a spying arm of the American government. A "Jam Echelon Day" was declared in October, and people around the world sent a huge volume of communications over the Internet and on the telephone using words like "terrorism" that they presumed were key words and would overload the system.
Cold War spy system 'now snooping on French firms'
Patrick Bishop, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
2000 02 24
French businesses are being encouraged to encode sensitive communications to frustrate what Paris believes is an American-British eavesdropping system used for economic espionage.
The French justice minister, Elisabeth Guigou, told parliament yesterday that Echelon, the spy satellite network, had ceased to have a military function after the Cold War and was now used for commercial snooping. She said: "It seems that the network has been diverted to the ends of economic espionage and keeping a watch on the competition".
However, Tony Blair yesterday denied "betraying allies" by allowing America's National Security Agency (NSA), which runs Echelon, to spy on the European Union from listening posts in England. Speaking at the European Commission in Brussels, he said: "These things are governed by extremely strict rules".
His visit to Brussels coincided with hearings on Echelon in the European Parliament's committee on citizen's freedoms and rights. Duncan Campbell, a British intelligence expert and New Statesman journalist, alleged that Britain and the US systematically intercepted phone calls, faxes, telexes, emails, and cable and satellite communications.
Last night James Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said: "The NSA is not authorised to provide intelligence information to private firms".
US spy system under attack
2000 02 23
The European Parliament is to investigate allegations that the US uses electronic surveillance to spy on companies in the EU.
The Echelon system, originally set up during the Cold War, is known to be capable of intercepting private telephone conversations, faxes and e-mails worldwide.
A committee of the European Parliament on Wednesday heard allegations that it has been used to help American firms win commercial contracts at the expense of European rivals.
A report commissioned by the European Parliament also alleged the UK was helping the US to spy on its European partners.
Both the US and the UK have denied the allegations.
"US intelligence agencies are not tasked to engage in industrial espionage or obtain trade secrets for the benefit of any US company or companies," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair denied that Echelon had been used against Britain's partners in Europe.
He said there were strict rules governing such issues and they were always applied.
The French Justice Minister, Elisabeth Guigou, said Echelon had apparently been diverted to keep watch on commercial rivals, prompting French companies to encrypt sensitive information.
She said businesses now had to be particularly vigilant.
"Communications must never carry vital information, especially when the link is made via a satellite," the minister said.
She said that last year the government had enabled private firms and individuals to encode their communications to stop them from being intercepted.
German Christian Democratic Euro-MP Christian von Boetticher told reporters he estimated the economic cost of the spying to European business to be 20 billion euros ($20bn).
The Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said the alleged spying was unacceptable.
The report, compiled by independent Scottish investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, includes allegations that sensitive commercial information gathered through Echelon meant the French company Thomson lost a radar contract in Brazil, and the European Airbus consortium lost out to the US's Boeing in competition for a $6bn aircraft contract.
After presenting the report to the European Parliament's Committee for Justice and Home Affairs, Mr Campbell urged the EU to take action to protect against unwanted interception of communications, insisting that the eavesdropping violated human rights.
Mr Campbell alleged that national security agencies were using several major US corporations to aid their interception of data capabilities.
He named Microsoft, IBM and a certain "large American microchip maker" as providing product features which allowed for the interception of information.
Echelon's existence was only recently confirmed by the US Government through the declassification of secret documents of the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Most of installations are in the US and UK, but the report also states that Canada, Australia and New Zealand are partners in the operation.
Earlier on Wednesday, New Zealand denied that it was involved in commercial spying.
France accuses US of spying
2000 02 23
An American-run surveillance network set up during the Cold War is being used for economic espionage, prompting French companies to encrypt sensitive information, the French Government has said.
The French Justice Minister, Elisabeth Guigou, told parliament that the Echelon surveillance network - which can intercept private telephone conversations, faxes and e-mails worldwide - had apparently been diverted to keep watch on commercial rivals.
Her comments came as a report commissioned by the European Parliament alleged that the UK was helping the US to spy on its European partners.
Both the US and the UK have denied the allegations.
"US intelligence agencies are not tasked to engage in industrial espionage or obtain trade secrets for the benefit of any US company or companies," State Department spokesman James Rubin said.
The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, denied the allegations, saying there were strict rules governing such issues and they were always applied.
"There is absolutely no bulk espionage as the French and others are claiming," a senior Foreign Office official said.
European parliamentarians have demanded an inquiry into the report, which also states that Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also partners in the operation.
Echelon was originally set up to eavesdrop for security purposes on the communist states of eastern Europe in the Cold War.
But its existence was only recently confirmed by the US Government through the declassification of secret documents of the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Most of the Echelon installations are in the US and UK.
The report, compiled by independent Scottish investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, lists a number of incidents in which it is alleged Echelon was used to help US firms win commercial contracts at the expense of its European rivals.
Information gathered through Echelon is alleged to have caused French firm Thomson to lose a radar contract in Brazil and the European Airbus consortium to miss out to the Boeing Corporation of the US in competition for a $6bn aircraft contract.
Ms Guigou said businesses now had to be particularly vigilant.
"Communications must never carry vital information, especially when the link is made via a satellite," the minister said.
After presenting the report to the European Parliament's Committee for Justice and Home Affairs, Mr Campbell urged the European Union to take action to protect against unwanted interception of communications, insisting that the eavesdropping violated human rights.
Mr Campbell alleged that national security agencies were using several major US corporations to aid their interception of data capabilities.
He named Microsoft, IBM and a certain "large American microchip maker" as providing product features which allow for the interception of information.
Earlier on Wednesday, New Zealand denied that it was involved in commercial spying.
French accuse Gates of bugging software
2000 02 23
Paris - French anger over alleged electronic spying by the United States and Britain intensified yesterday with a Defence Ministry report that Microsoft may have collaborated with American intelligence services to bug its Windows software.
The claim, denied by Microsoft, became public as the European Parliament prepared to denounce the Americans and their "Anglo-Saxon" partners for using their huge satellite-based surveillance system to steal commercial secrets from their allies.
In a sign of French outrage over British participation in the eavesdropping system, known as Echelon, Le Monde attacked Britain yesterday for allegedly using the Government Communications Headquarters at Cheltenham to spy on its European partners.
The French Defence Ministry confirmed the existence of a report which its intelligence arm commissioned on the vulnerability of the country's communications and information technology. According to the Intelligence World newsletter, the report said there was reason to suspect that Microsoft had worked closely with the National Security Agency (NSA) to install a "back door" spyhole in the Windows software which is used by nine out of ten of the world's personal computers. The alleged back door could be used by spies to break encryption and trawl through communications.
NSA staff had worked with Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, and helped to finance the company's development, according to the French report. In a bout of honesty, the report, drafted by Admiral Jean Marguin, said: "After all, what would we do if we possessed such an effective group as Microsoft?"
The boss of the Paris branch of the American company ridiculed the report yesterday and said its experts were ready to work with the Government to prove the suspicions wrong.
The flurry over Microsoft echoed complaints from civil liberties groups and European governments over the past year about the determination of the US authorities to prevent the unbreakable encryption of electronic messages.
The focus of French and European wrath has been the Echelon system which uses 120 satellites to sift through the world's e-mail, telephone calls and computer communications. Civil liberties groups say it is being used to spy on citizens, friendly governments and corporate activities.
Brussels to check US-British 'trade spy network'
2000 02 22
The European Commission is examining allegations that Britain and America are engaged in economic espionage against EU targets from listening posts in England.
Romano Prodi, commission president, has risked a clash with Downing Street by instructing his staff to follow up a European Parliament report which claims that secret data is passed to the US Commerce Department for use by American firms. The study alleges that Britain and America intercept communications by a joint global network - Echelon. Ricardo Levi, Mr Prodi's spokesman, said: "It is a serious and thorough report and we have to look at it".
The allegations will be aired in public hearings this week in the European Parliament's Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights. Echelon is already under scrutiny in the French courts and in both the Italian and Danish parliaments. "A number of companies have told me that they are worried, especially in the defence sector," said Graham Watson, Liberal-Democrat committee chairman. "They're afraid it's affecting deals when they're bidding against US concerns".
The alleged espionage is said to be orchestrated by the US National Security Agency, a vast eavesdropping network at Fort Meade, Maryland. It operates jointly with Britain's GCHQ through an intelligence alliance dating back to 1947. The American agency's biggest global listening post is at Menwith Hill, Yorkshire, where it operates 250 classified projects. It uses a post at Morwenstow, Cornwall, to intercept satellite signals.
Britain's GCHQ is required by law to intercept foreign communications "in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom", according to the report. Commercial targets can be picked by the Treasury, the Bank of England, the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Economic Intelligence Committee.
The study for the European Parliament's Scientic and Technical Options Assessment Office was by Duncan Campbell, a Guardian journalist. His role has led to complaints that the allegations are being made to damage the US-British-link. "People are trying to drive a wedge between Britain and the United States," said Timothy Kirkhope, the Tory chief whip in Brussels. "The same is happening with the European defence force, which is undoubtedly going to undermine Nato".
Echelon allegedly blocked a £3.9 billion deal between the European Airbus consortium and the Saudi national airline by alerting the Saudi government that Airbus agents had offered bribes. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas won the contract. The US National Security Agency helped to secure a £840 million contract for Raytheon after alleging that Thomson-CSF of France was bribing Brazilian officials.
The report also claims that France and Germany co-operate to eavesdrop on North and South America.
US confirms electronic spy network
Philip Sherwell, David Wastell
2000 02 14
Newly declassified American documents last week provided the first official confirmation of a global electronic eavesdropping operation involving five English-speaking nations including Australia.
The Echelon surveillance system - run by the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - is reportedly capable of monitoring telephone, fax and e-mail communications relayed by satellite anywhere in the world.
The US-dominated network is a legacy of the Cold War. But there are allegations in West European nations that Echelon is being abused by US espionage chiefs to spy on individuals and to pass on commercial secrets to American businesses.
In Asia, the US allegedly used information gathered from its bases in Australia to win a half share of a significant Indonesian trade contract for AT
T that communication intercepts showed was initially going to NRC of Japan. This was revealed on Australian television last year by Wayne Madsen, a former agent working for America's National Security Agency.
Britain's role in the network has come under fierce fire as it is the only European member of the UK/USA alliance that operates the system. Canada, Australia and New Zealand subsequently joined the grouping that London formed with America in 1947 to pool security information.
The sprawling Menwith Hill listening station in North Yorkshire is the most important international site for the National Security Agency, the lead player in Echelon.
A new report on Echelon's electronic surveillance, commissioned by the European Parliament, will fuel the row when the Parliament debates its findings next week.
The document lists high-profile cases in which American companies allegedly won contracts heading for European firms after NSA intercepts. The Airbus consortium and Thomson CSF of France were among the reported losers.
A lawsuit against the US and Britain is being launched in France; judicial and parliamentary investigations have begun in Italy; and German parliamentarians have demanded an inquiry.
In the US, a Congressional investigation into the Echelon system starts this year amid concerns over possible privacy violations.
A spokesman for the government reform committee said: "American people not only have the right to privacy; they have the right to know about it if their privacy is infringed".
But there are plenty in Washington who believe NSA is simply doing its duty, and say that European secret services pursue the same policy. One congressional insider said: "The French are like whining babies. They always seem to find a reason for any of their failures".
Although a 1996 book by a New Zealand whistleblower and an earlier 1997 report to the European Parliament disclosed the existence of Echelon, there had been no official confirmation in Britain or America until declassified US Defence Department papers were posted on the Internet last week.
The first reference to Echelon came in a 1991 document relating to military Sigint (signals intelligence) units at Sugar Grove in West Virginia. Despite the release, the NSA continued to refuse to confirm or deny Echelon's existence.
The report is to be presented to the European Parliament's civil liberties committee on 22 February.
French to sue US and Britain over network of spies
2000 02 10
The British and US Governments are to be sued in France after claims that they have spied on French companies, diplomats and Cabinet ministers. Lawyers are planning a class action after confirmation last week that a global anglophone spy network exists.
Codenamed P-415 Echelon, the world's most powerful electronic spy system was revealed in declassified US National Security Agency documents published on the Internet, and is capable of intercepting telephone conversations, faxes and e-mails.
The system was established in the 1980s by the UKUSA alliance, which unites the British, American, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian secret services. In Europe, its listening devices are at Menwith Hill defence base in Yorkshire. French MPs claim to have evidence that the European Airbus consortium lost a Fr35 billion (£3.5 billion) contract in 1995 after its offer was overheard and passed to Boeing. Georges Sarre, a left-wing MP, said: "The participation of the United Kingdom in spying on its European partners for and with the US raises serious and legitimate concerns in that it creates a particularly acute conflict of interest within the European Union".
The European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee will study a report on the Echelon network on February 23. The debate is certain to fuel criticism of Britain's role.
Until this month, the network was an official secret recognised by none of the members of the UKUSA alliance. But the documents published by the George Washington University prove its existence and its capacity to intercept civilian satellite communications.
Jean-Pierre Millet, a Parisian lawyer, said that Echelon tracked every mobile and satellite call, but only decoded those involving a key figure. "You can bet that every time a French government minister makes a mobile phone call, it is recorded," he said.
M Millet said that Echelon's system leaves it open to legal challenge under French privacy laws. "The simple fact that an attempt has been made to intercept a communication is against the law in France, however the information is exploited". Yesterday he said that he would bring an action on behalf of French civil liberty groups.
Big Brother may be spying on you
CBN News investigates one US government agency that is secretly keeping tabs on American citizens
Erin Zimmerman, Dale Hurd
2000 02 10
A Russian spy made headlines last December after he was found listening in on conversations through a bug planted at the US State Department, and there are renewed concerns about Chinese spying.
But the government is using methods that are far more sophisticated -- and far more secret -- to capture everything from phone calls to e-mails to faxes. And there's growing evidence that they may be using it, not just on terrorists, but on you.
"I think that people need to understand that we're entering an age of a new America, and we're not going to like it," says privacy expert Lisa Dean of the Free Congress Foundation. "This is not a society where what we say, or what we do, or what we tell people is kept a secret".
"And people's conversations are being eavesdropped on in violation of the 4th amendment," says Greg Nojeim of the American Civil Liberties Union. "If Americans don't wake up to their diminishing window of privacy, as it were, pretty soon, there's not going to be any left".
In a high-tech world that now contains 40 million cell phones, 14 million fax machines, and 180 million computers, just how private is your communication? The answer may surprise you.
"I don't think we have a whole lot of privacy left in America," says Dean. "We think we do, but we really don't".
Big Brother may not be watching yet ... but he may be listening to your phone calls and reading your e-mail, all in the name of national security.
"Secretary of Defense William Cohen has said publicly, the American people need to decide how much privacy they're willing to give up in favor of more security," says Dean. "Well, the answer to that should be none".
And as Americans move further into the information age, Big Brother is rapidly becoming public enemy number one.
"The Wall Street Journal conducted a poll sometime in November of last year and asked Americans what they feared most in the next century. Terrorism? No. Crime? No. The thing that concerned most Americans was the loss of personal privacy".
At the center of the firestorm over electronic privacy is the National Security Agency, headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland. With a global staff of around 38,000 the NSA is larger than the FBI and the CIA combined.
"The NSA has two missions: one is foreign intelligence gathering, and the other one is creation of codes to protect US diplomatic and military secrets," says former NSA analyst Wayne Madsen. "Historically, that's been NSA's two major functions. Unfortunately, with the end of the Cold War, they're now looking into other areas".
These other areas may include your own home, through a global eavesdropping system known as ECHELON.
"What ECHELON basically is is a system that, based on key words in a conversation or key words in an e-mail -- it takes those key words of interest, which are basically pre-programmed in something called a dictionary".
According to Madsen, this dictionary may be searching your phone calls, faxes, and e-mails to sniff out terrorists, hackers, and other potential threats. Privacy experts charge that even accidental use of these so-called key words could put you under the sharp ears of the NSA.
"I think the NSA would say, 'I wonder what they're up to,' and I think there might be increased monitoring of their communications".
Most of the public information about ECHELON is based on a report commissioned by the European parliament.
Published last April, the report charges that the NSA's global spy bases, like the one at Menwith Hill in England, routinely intercept around two-million communications every hour.
"So basically, you can think of it as a giant drift net that captures everything," says Madsen.
The countries casting this global drift net are members of what's known as the UKUSA alliance: the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. According to the EU report, this five-pronged partnership also forms the legal loophole that allows the NSA to spy on its own citizens.
"The NSA has no jurisdiction here in this country," says Dean. "So it can't legally listen in on Americans' phone conversations or electronic communications. However, according to the European parliament, what it's doing is getting its British counterparts, or Australian counterparts, and so on, to do their dirty work".
For example, if you send an e-mail message from New York to Los Angeles, it may be routed through Canada or the UK before reaching its destination. And once a message travels outside US borders, it's fair game for ECHELON's web.
Most Americans got their first glimpse of the super-secret agency in the 1998 action film Enemy of the State. Former attorney and journalist James Bamford wrote The Puzzle Palace, considered to be the definitive work on the NSA. And although film producers relied heavily on his best-selling book to make Enemy of the State, Bamford says they used more than a little creative license.
"The NSA doesn't possibly have the ability to do that," says Bamford. "There are too many inaccuracies. NSA doesn't control imagery satellites, photo satellites -- you don't pick up the phone and say, 'I want a satellite on the corner of Wisconsin and M Street, and they don't go into hotel rooms -- they can't do hotel rooms, so there were a lot of problems I had with it".
Meanwhile, critics are asking, if the Cold War is over, then why has global intelligence continued to mushroom?
"Russia's defeated; we are still the superpower, the one and only superpower in the world," says Dean. "How do we justify all the systems that we have in place; how do we justify all of the activities of the people we've employed in the intelligence community to keep going?"
But Bamford, an NSA observer for over 20 years, argues that there are still too many global hotspots to consider downsizing at Fort Meade. For example, while much of the NSA's attention was focused on the growing missile threats in North Korea, it completely missed the budding nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan in 1998.
"This is an intelligence agency that some critics are giving enormous abilities to listen to everything everywhere at all times, but this was a major security issue, whether India and Pakistan were developing nuclear weapons, but they didn't hear it -- they didn't know about it," he says. "So this is an agency that is given far more credit for being able to listen to things than they are able to. They can't even listen to things they're supposed to be listening to, let alone things they're not supposed to be listening to".
Since its creation in 1952, the National Security Agency has remained America's biggest intelligence secret -- so secret, in fact, that Washington insiders often joke that the initials "NSA" stand for "No Such Agency". But for the first time in its history, the agency may be forced to reveal some of those secrets to Congress.
Georgia Republican Bob Barr is leading a congressional movement to force the NSA to answer for spying on US citizens.
"There seems to be very credible evidence that this operation is taking place, and has been taking place for quite some time," says Barr. "At this point, all we're asking for is the basic information telling us what do you at the NSA, the National Security Agency, believe is the legal basis for you to gather this information? That's the starting point: What's the basis that you believe you're authorized to do this?"
That question set off a battle royal between the NSA and the House Intelligence Committee earlier in 1999. When asked about the legality of their procedures, the agency refused to provide Congress with any information, citing attorney-client privilege.
"It's hard to say it with a straight face," says Barr. "They just make these things up in order to not disclose something they don't want to disclose".
"Even people on the inside at NSA realize that that was a terrible mistake they made by trying to invoke client-attorney privilege to try to avoid providing Congress answers to questions that Congress asked them," says Madsen.
In response, Barr proposed a measure that will require the NSA to report to Congress on the legal standards they use for spying. The measure was passed by the House and is now under consideration by the Senate. Congressional hearings on ECHELON are expected early this year.
Meanwhile the battle against Big Brother has forged some unusual alliances in Washington. At Barr's side in this investigation is the American Civil Liberties Union, which is working hard to make ECHELON a household name on Capitol Hill.
"The NSA is used to operating in a black box," says Nojeim. "When it comes to our rights, that box needs to be opened. The only people who can open that box for the American people are the members of Congress".
NSA officials declined an interview with CBN News, but sent a written statement saying, "The National Security Agency operates in strict accordance with US laws in protecting the privacy rights of US persons".
Congress is now faced with the challenge of finding hard evidence about how the program operates, a difficult task since the agency's official position is that it can neither "confirm or deny the existence of ECHELON".
And despite numerous outside allegations about the NSA's spying activities, no one on the inside has been willing to talk publicly about ECHELON ... until now.
Echelon spy network revealed
1999 11 03
Imagine a global spying network that can eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the planet.
It sounds like science fiction, but it's true.
Two of the chief protagonists - Britain and America - officially deny its existence. But the BBC has confirmation from the Australian Government that such a network really does exist and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are calling for an inquiry.
On the North Yorkshire moors above Harrogate they can be seen for miles, but still they are shrouded in secrecy. Around 30 giant golf balls, known as radomes, rise from the US military base at Menwith Hill.
Linked to the NSA
Inside is the world's most sophisticated eavesdropping technology, capable of listening-in to satellites high above the earth.
The base is linked directly to the headquarters of the US National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Mead in Maryland, and it is also linked to a series of other listening posts scattered across the world, like Britain's own GCHQ.
The power of the network, codenamed Echelon, is astounding.
Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism.
The network is so secret that the British and American Governments refuse to admit that Echelon even exists. But another ally, Australia, has decided not to be so coy.
The man who oversees Australia's security services, Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Bill Blick, has confirmed to the BBC that their Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) does form part of the network.
"As you would expect there are a large amount of radio communications floating around in the atmosphere, and agencies such as DSD collect those communications in the interests of their national security", he said.
Asked if they are then passed on to countries like Britain and America, he said: "They might be in certain circumstances".
But the system is so widespread all sorts of private communications, often of a sensitive commercial nature, are hoovered up and analysed.
Journalist Duncan Campbell has spent much of his life investigating Echelon. In a report commissioned by the European Parliament he produced evidence that the NSA snooped on phone calls from a French firm bidding for a contract in Brazil. They passed the information on to an American competitor, which won the contract.
"There's no safeguards, no remedies," he said, "There's nowhere you can go to say that they've been snooping on your international communications. Its a totally lawless world".
Breaking the silence
Both Britain and America deny allegations like this, though they refuse to comment further. But one former US army intelligence officer has broken the code of silence.
Colonel Dan Smith told the BBC that while this is feasible, it is not official policy: "Technically they can scoop all this information up, sort through it, and find what it is that might be asked for," he said. "But there is no policy to do this specifically in response to a particular company's interests".
Legislators on both sides of the Atlantic are beginning to sit up and take notice. Republican Congressman Bob Barr has persuaded congress to open hearings into these and other allegations.
In December he is coming to Britain to raise awareness of the issue. In an interview with the BBC he accused the NSA of conducting a broad "dragnet" of communications, and "invading the privacy of American citizens".
He is joined in his concerns by a small number of politicians in Britain. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker has tabled a series of questions about Menwith Hill, but has been met with a wall of silence.
"There's no doubt it's being used as a listening centre," he said, "There's no doubt it's being used for US interests, and I'm not convinced that Britain's interests are being best served by this".