Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
(FAQ) about Echelon
to: NSA listens to bin Laden
Spying Chain's Cover Blown
group denounces U.S. spying/E-mail, faxes being monitored Steve Kettmann,
Chronicle Foreign Service
Q - What is Project ECHELON?
ECHELON is a code word for an automated global
interception and relay system operated by the
intelligence agencies in five nations - the United
States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New
Zealand (it is rumored that different nations have
different code words for the project). While the United
States National Security Agency (NSA) takes the lead,
ECHELON works in conjunction with other intelligence
agencies, including the Australian Defence Signals
Directorate (DSD). It is believed that ECHELON also
works with Britain's Government Communications
Headquarters (GCHQ) and the agencies of other allies of
the United States, pursuant to various treaties. (1)
These countries coordinate their activities pursuant to
the UKUSA agreement, which dates back to 1947. The
original ECHELON dates back to 1971. However, its
capabilities and priorities have expanded greatly since
its formation. According to reports, it is capable of
intercepting and processing many types of
transmissions, throughout the globe. In fact, it has
been suggested that ECHELON may intercept as many as 3
billion communications everyday, including phone calls,
e-mail messages, Internet downloads, satellite
transmissions, and so on. (2) The ECHELON system
gathers all of these transmissions indiscriminately,
then distills the information that is most heavily
desired through artificial intelligence programs. Some
sources have claimed that ECHELON sifts through an
estimated 90 percent of all traffic that flows through
the Internet. (3)
However, the exact capabilities and goals of ECHELON
remain unclear. For example, it is unknown whether
ECHELON actually targets domestic communications. Also,
it is apparently very difficult for ECHELON to
intercept certain types of transmissions, particularly
Q - How does ECHELON work?
ECHELON apparently collects data in several ways.
Reports suggest it has massive ground based radio
antennae to intercept satellite transmissions. In
addition, some sites reputedly are tasked with tapping
surface traffic. These antennae reportedly are in the
United States, Italy, England, Turkey, New Zealand,
Canada, Australia, and several other places. (4)
Similarly, it is believed that ECHELON uses numerous
satellites to catch "spillover" data from transmissions
between cities. These satellites then beam the
information down to processing centers on the ground.
The main centers are in the United States (near
Denver), England (Menwith Hill), Australia, and
According to various sources, ECHELON also routinely
intercepts Internet transmissions. The organization
allegedly has installed numerous "sniffer" devices.
These "sniffers" collect information from data packets
as they traverse the Internet via several key
junctions. It also uses search software to scan for web
sites that may be of interest. (6)
Furthermore, it is believed that ECHELON has even used
special underwater devices which tap into cables that
carry phone calls across the seas. According to
published reports, American divers were able to install
surveillance devices on to the underwater cables. One
of these taps was discovered in 1982, but other devices
apparently continued to function undetected. (7)
It is not known at this point whether ECHELON has been
able to tap fiber optic phone cables.
Finally, if the aforementioned methods fail to garner
the desired information, there is another alternative.
Apparently, the nations that are involved with ECHELON
also train special agents to install a variety of
special data collection devices. One of these devices
is reputed to be an information processing kit that is
the size of a suitcase. Another such item is a
sophisticated radio receiver that is as small as a
credit card. (8)
After capturing this raw data, ECHELON sifts through
them using DICTIONARY. DICTIONARY is actually a special
system of computers which find pertinent information by
searching for key words, addresses, etc. These search
programs help pare down the voluminous quantity of
transmissions which pass through the ECHELON network
every day. These programs also seem to enable users to
focus on any specific subject upon which information is
Q - If ECHELON is so powerful, why
haven't I heard
about it before?
The United States government has gone to extreme
lengths to keep ECHELON a secret. To this day, U.S.
government refuses to admit that ECHELON even exists.
We know it exists because the Australian government
(through its Defence Signals Directorate) has admitted
to this fact. (10) However, even with this revelation,
U.S. officials have refused to comment.
This "wall of silence" is beginning to erode. The first
report on ECHELON was published in 1988. (11) In
addition, besides the revelations from Australia, the
Scientific and Technical Options Assessment program
office (STOA) of the European Parliament commissioned
two reports which describe ECHELON's activities. These
reports unearthed a startling amount of evidence, which
suggests that ECHELON's powers may have been
underestimated. The first report, entitled "An
Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control",
suggested that ECHELON primarily targeted civilians.
This report found that:
"The ECHELON system forms part of the UKUSA system but
unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed
during the cold war, ECHELON is designed for primarily
non-military targets: governments, organisations and
businesses in virtually every country. The ECHELON
system works by indiscriminately intercepting very
large quantities of communications and then siphoning
out what is valuable using artificial intelligence aids
like Memex to find key words. Five nations share the
results with the US as the senior partner under the
UKUSA agreement of 1948, Britain, Canada, New Zealand
and Australia are very much acting as subordinate
"Each of the five centres supply "dictionaries" to the
other four of keywords, phrases, people and places to
"tag" and the tagged intercept is forwarded straight to
the requesting country. Whilst there is much
information gathered about potential terrorists, there
is a lot of economic intelligence, notably intensive
monitoring of all the countries participating in the
GATT negotiations. But Hager found that by far the main
priorities of this system continued to be military and
political intelligence applicable to their wider
interests. Hager quotes from a "highly placed
intelligence operatives" who spoke to the Observer in
London. "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 charities, including Amnesty International and
Christian Aid. "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 its called
Mayfly. By keying in a code relating to third world
aid, the source was able to demonstrate telex "fixes"
on the three organisations. With no system of
accountability, it is difficult to discover what
criteria determine who is not a target." (12)
The most recent report, known as "Interception
Capabilities 2000", describes ECHELON capabilities in
even more elaborate detail. (13)
In addition, an Italian government official has begun
to investigate Echelon's intelligence-gathering
efforts, based on the belief that the organization may
be spying on European citizens in violation of Italian
or international law. (14)
The Danish Parliament also has begun an inquiry.
Events in the United States have also indicated that
the "wall of silence" might not last much longer.
Exercising their Constitutionally created oversight
authority, members of the House Select Committee on
Intelligence recently started asking questions about
the legal basis for NSA's ECHELON activities. In
particular, the Committee wanted to know if the
communications of Americans were being intercepted and
under what authority, since US law severely limits the
ability of the intelligence agencies to engage in
domestic surveillance. When asked about its legal
authority, NSA invoked the attorney-client privilege
and refused to disclose the legal standards by which
ECHELON might have conducted its activities. (15)
A funding bill is now making its way through the
Congress which would, at a minimum, require the NSA to
report on the legal basis for ECHELON and similar
In addition, Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who has taken the
lead in Congressional efforts to ferret out the truth
about ECHELON has arranged for the House Government
Reform and Oversight Committee to hold oversight
Q - What is being done with the
The original purpose of ECHELON was to protect national
security. That purpose continues today. For example, we
know that ECHELON is gathering information on North
Korea. Sources from Australia's DSD have disclosed this
much because Australian officials help operate the
facilities there which scan through transmissions,
looking for pertinent material. (18)
However, national security is not ECHELON's only
concern. Reports have indicated that industrial
espionage has become a part of ECHELON's activities.
While present information seems to suggest that only
high- ranking government officials have direct control
over ECHELON's tasks, the information that is gained
may be passed along at the discretion of these very
same officials. As a result, much of this information
has been given to American companies, in apparent
attempts to give these companies an edge over their
less knowledgeable counterparts. (19)
In addition, there are concerns that ECHELON's actions
may be used to stifle political dissent. Many of these
concerns were voiced in a report commissioned by the
European Parliament. What is more, there are no known
safeguards to prevent such abuses of power. (20)
Q - Is there any evidence that ECHELON
anything improper or illegal with the spying resources
at its disposal?
ECHELON is a highly classified operation, which is
conducted with little or not oversight by national
parliaments or court. Most of what is known comes from
whistleblowers and classified documents. The simple
truth is that there is no way to know precisely what
ECHELON is being used for.
But there is evidence, much of which is circumstantial,
that ECHELON (along with its British counterpart) has
been engaged in significant invasions of privacy. These
alleged violations include secret surveillance of
political organizations, such as Amnesty International.
(21) It has also been reported that ECHELON has engaged
in industrial espionage on various private companies
such as Airbus Industries and Panavia, then has passed
along the information to their American competitors.
(22) It is unclear just how far ECHELON's activities
have harmed private individuals.
However, the most sensational revelation was that
Diana, Princess of Wales may have come under ECHELON
surveillance before she died. As reported in the
Washington Post, the NSA admitted that they possessed
files on the Princess, partly composed of intercepted
phone conversations. While one official from the NSA
claimed that the Princess was never a direct target,
this disclosure seems to indicates the intrusive, yet
surreptitious manner by which ECHELON operates. (23)
What is even more disquieting about these allegations
is that if proven, may have circumvented countless laws
in numerous countries. Many nations have laws in place
to prevent such invasions of privacy. However, there
are suspicions that ECHELON has engaged in subterfuge
to avoid these legal restrictions. For example, it is
rumored that nations would not use their own agents to
spy on their own citizens, but assign the task to
agents from other countries. (24) In addition, as
mentioned earlier, it is unclear just what legal
standards ECHELON follows, if any actually exist. Thus,
it is difficult to say what could prevent ECHELON from
abusing its remarkable capabilities.
Q - Is everyone else doing what ECHELON
Maybe not everyone else, but there are plenty of other
countries that engage in the type of intelligence
gathering that ECHELON performs. These countries
apparently include Russia, France, Israel, India,
Pakistan and many others. (25) Indeed, the excesses of
these ECHELON-like operations are rumored to be similar
in form to their American equivalents, including
digging up information for private companies to give
them a commercial advantage.
However, it is also known that ECHELON system is the
largest of its kind. What is more, its considerable
powers are enhanced through the efforts of America's
allies, including the United Kingdom, Canada,
Australia, and New Zealand. Other countries don't have
the resources to engage in the massive garnering of
information that the United States is carrying out.
1. Development of Surveillance Technology and Risk of
Abuse of Economic Information (An appraisal of
technologies for political control), Part 4/4: The
state of the art in Communications Intelligence
(COMINT) of automated processing for intelligence
purposes of intercepted broadband multi-language leased
or common carrier systems, and its applicability to
COMINT targeting and selection, including speech
recognition, Ch. 1, para. 5, PE 168.184 / Part 4/4
(April 1999). See Duncan Campbell, Interception
Capabilities 2000 (April 1999)
2. Kevin Poulsen, Echelon Revealed, ZDTV (June 9, 1999)
3. Greg Lindsay, The Government Is Reading Your E-Mail,
TIME DIGITAL DAILY (June 24, 1999)
4. PE 168.184 / Part 4/4, supra note 1, Ch. 2, para. 32-34, 45-46.
5. Id. Ch. 2, para. 42.
6. Id. Ch. 2, para. 60.
7. Id. Ch. 2, para. 50.
8. Id. Ch. 2, para. 62-63.
9. An Appraisal of Technologies for Political Control,
at 20, PE 166.499 (January 6, 1998). See Steve Wright,
An Appraisal of Technologies for Political Control
(January 6, 1998) (http://cryptome.org/stoa-atpc.htm).
10. Letter from Martin Brady, Director, Defence Signals
Directorate, to Ross Coulhart, Reporter, Nine Network
Australia 2 (Mar. 16, 1999) (on file at
11. Duncan Campbell, Somebody's listening, NEW
STATESMAN, 12 August 1988, Cover, pages 10-12. See
Duncan Campbell, ECHELON: NSA's Global Electronic
Interception, (last visited October 12, 1999)
12. PE 166.499, supra note 9, at 19-20.
13. PE 168.184 / Part 4/4, supra note 1.
14. Nicholas Rufford, Spy Station F83, SUNDAY TIMES
(London), May 31, 1998. See Nicholas Rufford, Spy
Station F83 (May 31, 1998)
15. H. Rep. No. 106-130 (1999). See Intelligence
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, Additional
Views of Chairman Porter J. Goss, (last visited August
24, 1999) (http://www.echelonwatch.org/goss.htm).
16. H.R. 1555, 106th Cong., Section 312 (1999). See
H.R. 1555 Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2000 (Engrossed Senate Amendment), (last visited
Aug. 24, 1999)
17. House Committee to Hold Privacy Hearings, (August
16, 1999) (http://www.house.gov/barr/p_081699.html).
18. Ross Coulhart, Echelon System: FAQs and website
links, (May 23, 1999)
19. PE 168.184 / Part 4/4, supra note 1, Ch. 5, para. 101-103.
20. PE 166.499, supra note 9, at 20.
22. PE 168.184 / Part 4/4, supra note 1, Ch. 5, para. 101-102.
23. Vernon Loeb, NSA Admits to Spying on Princess
Diana, WASHINGTON POST, December 12, 1998, at A13. See
Vernon Loeb, NSA Admits to Spying on Princess Diana,
WASHINGTON POST, A13 (December 12, 1998)
24. Ross Coulhart, Big Brother is listening, (May 23, 1999)
25. PE 168.184 / Part 4/4, supra note 1, Ch. 1, para. 7.
Listens To Bin Laden
Tuesday, 13 February 2001
By RICHARD SALE, Terrorism Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- If you like to use your e-mail to
enticements to your sweetie or snuggle down and trade intimate long distance
calls at midnight, you may want to think again, especially if you are
connected with anything that the U.S. government regards as a threat to
Ask Saudi exile and terrorist Osama bin Laden.
The U.S. case unfolding against him in United States District
Manhattan is based mainly on National Security Agency intercepts of phone
calls between bin Laden and his operatives around the world -- Afghanistan
to London, from Kenya to the United States.
The 321-count indictment charges that bin Laden is chief of a
group called Al Qaeda, or "The Base," whose aim is to kill U.S.
anywhere in the world. Specifically mentioned in the indictment are the 1993
murder in Somalia of 18 U.S. Army Rangers and the 1998 bombing of two U.S.
Embassies in East Africa that killed 224 and injured more than 4,000.
It is perhaps ironic that a current defendant in the trial,
Fawwaz, waiting to be extradited from Britain and who allegedly ran bin
Laden's "media information office" in London, procured for Bin Laden
satellite phone. Fawwaz also provided satellite phones for other members of
the bin Laden's group, "to facilitate communications," the
Instead the phones facilitated his and the others' downfall.
The London Al Qaeda office served as a conduit for messages,
reports on military and security matters from various terrorist cells. For
example, bin Laden called Fawwaz in the London office many times to discuss
financial disbursements and other matters, according to the indictment.
Just before the Aug. 7 embassy bombings, a suicide bomber,
Daoud al-Owhali, contacted an Al Qaeda number in Yemen from a safe house in
Nairobi. Owhali called that same number the next day from a hospital clinic
and would make a series of phone calls from Nairobi to Yemen.
The indictment clearly links bin Laden's satellite telephone
calls to the
East Africa bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.
On Aug. 11, two days after the bombings were completed, bin
satellite number phone was used to contact network operatives in Yemen, at a
number frequently called by perpetrators of the bombing from their safe
house in Nairobi.
What pulled all this information together?
A system called ECHELON is said to be mainly responsible,
U.S. government officials who requested anonymity. They said that ECHELON is
designed by the National Security Agency based at Fort Meade, between
Washington and Baltimore, Md., and that the system is linked with special
collections stations around the world, which allow signals intelligence
agencies to increase surveillance over the Internet and of databases, faxes,
phone calls and e-mails connected with it.
The stations are run by the United States, Britain, Canada, New
and Australia, sources said.
The targets of ECHELON center on the penetration of the major
of most of the world's telephone and telecommunications systems. This could
cover conversations NSA targets. Also included are all telexes carried over
the world's telecommunications networks, along with financial dealings:
money transfers, airline destinations, stock information, data on
demonstrations or international conferences, and much more.
When United Press International wanted to send some information
former CIA official about Ayman al-Zawahiri, a senior bin Laden military
commander and organizer, the intelligence official exclaimed," My God,
put that in an e-mail," indicating that the worldwide listening system
light up. "NSA has huge watch lists" and he didn't want to be on
According to a half dozen specialists interviewed by UPI, ECHELON
listen in on a particular individual. Instead, the system vacuums up
tremendous amounts of communications and then uses dictionary computers to
sort and identify the messages that have any intelligence value. These are
sent immediately to the headquarters of the listening organization -- in the
NSA's case, the vast complex of buildings and computers at Fort Meade that
houses 20,000 employees.
The dictionary computers are supplied with key words -- names of
terrorists or political groups or crime organizations. The computers then
begin to intercept e-mails from such groups and make a record of all
contacts, and the contacts that those contacts make, adding them to a watch
list. The information is recorded digitally on magnetic tapes and then
turned over to analysts for scrutiny, U.S. sources said.
"It's a pretty awesome capability," said a former
According to him and others, the ECHELON system can intercept all
communications carried by a ring of stationary communications satellites
positioned above the equator, which each day daily process hundreds of
thousands of e-mails, phone calls and telexes. Also targeted are microwave
networks over land, and undersea cables systems. Once the undersea cables
emerge from the sea and join with the network of line-of-sight microwave
towers, they are "extremely vulnerable" to interception, in the
words of one
The NSA listening station at Sugar Grove, about 150 miles from
in the hills of West Virginia, covers Atlantic Intelsats transmitting to
North and South America. In one operation a few years ago, officials at the
European Union's offices in Luxembourg complained to U.S. officials that the
E.U. had evidence that NSA had used the Internet to penetrate the e-mails
that linked the 5,000 EU elected officials and bureaucrats. Such activity
has been used recently to monitor talk about the EU wanting to set up its
own defense force, a U.S. officials said on condition of not being named.
"It's a freebee," said a former senior U.S.
intelligence official. "It's a
tremendously rich source of material. We'd be fools not to use it."
Asked about its legality, he replied, "This isn't about
legality. This is
about trying to protect American lives."
Another NSA listening post at Yakima, Wash., inside a U.S. Army
range there, is used to listen in on the Pacific Intelsats. They are aided
by stations in New Zealand, which has stations at Waihopai, and a station at
Geraldton in Western Australia that pick up what Yakima is unable to hear.
Another series of stations at Menwith Hill in England; Shoal Bay
Darwin in northern Australia; Leitrim, just south of Ottawa, Canada; Misawa
in Japan; and Bad Aidblig in Germany, listen in on happenings in Russia,
these sources said.
The stations are formidable installations. The one at Menwith
consists of 4.9 acres of buildings with 22 or more satellite terminals, U.S.
government officials said.
The Menwith Hill station has played a key part in tracking bin
according to U.S. government sources. In 1991, it was given the NSA
of the Year" prize for its performance during the Gulf War. The station
serves as a ground station for real-time data transmissions from U.S.
electronic spy satellites like Vortex, which can intercept military
communications from walkie-talkies to military radios or any microwave
Since 1995, bin Laden has tried to protect his communications
with a "full
suite of tools," according to Ben Venzke, director of intelligence,
projects, for iDefense, a Virginia information warfare firm.
Coded letters, encryption of calls, verbal ciphers, messengers
technical collection, embedding messages in Internet porno films -- all are
Since Bin Laden started to encrypt certain calls in 1995, why
now be part of a court record? "Codes were broken," US officials
Venzke added that you don't use your highest level of secure communications
all the time. It's too burdensome, and it exposes it to other types of
During an insurgency in Cyprus in the 1950s, the British found
were using female motorcycle riders to carry messages back and forth. Bin
Laden is doing the same. But while messengers are fine, their use "is
dependent very much on the speed you require," Venzke said:
has to be safe, but it has to be efficient too."
The best way to augment signals intelligence is with HUMINT --
intelligence, placing a source "close to the target," said Venzke.
"HUMINT is essential. It's hard to place assets where they
are needed to
be, but they're essential for exact information," he said.
Spying Chain's Cover Blown
by Alan Perrott and Independent
One after another the shutters in Washington came down on the European
Union delegation as soon as they mentioned Echelon.
No one in the United
States Government would 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 members
of the European Parliament (MEPs) on a fact-finding trip last month.
The Waihopai Valley station in Marlborough is an important link
in the Echelon spy network.
they turned, the MEPs left, angry and frustrated, cutting short their
Now, with the
European Parliament's groundbreaking report into the global spy network
published in Brussels, the MEPs who were left out in the cold know whom
to blame. Not just the American authorities but the British Government,
they are convinced, colluded in the obstruction.
The 108-page report,
the fruit of seven months' investigation by the Parliament, does nothing
to dampen the controversy long associated with the clandestine network
and raises fresh, disturbing questions.
Echelon was set up
during the Cold War by the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand
and Australia to collate electronic intelligence. The network has grown
to keep pace with the explosion in information technology.
Today it 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, Yorkshire, and GCHQ at
Cheltenham. In Germany, 750 Americans operate an intercept station near
Bad Aibling, taken over by the US Army in 1952.
espionage expert and author Nicky Hager says New Zealand's Waihopai
surveillance facility near Blenheim eavesdrops on two major satellites
funnelling enormous amounts of information across the Pacific, whether
between Asia and the Americas or between countries on Asia's Pacific
This daily barrage
is fed through a computer system which sifts out messages containing
keywords or individual names and divides them between various
intelligence agencies for further study.
Officers of New
Zealand's largest intelligence agency, the GCSB or Government
Communications Security Bureau, sit in Wellington checking screen after
screen of communications from Pacific sources.
"The bureau has
a name designed to be forgotten," says Hager. "Despite a
best-selling book about them, very few people know they exist."
passed to the GCSB can come from any Pacific nation or source south of
the equator and east of Papua New Guinea.
Other data received
in New Zealand, but obtained from different areas, is never sighted here
but sent direct to Washington or Canberra.
Hager doubts whether
there is any political will in New Zealand to withdraw from this
alliance as it would fundamentally alter our relationship with the
One of Europe's main
worries is the claim that Echelon gathers industrial espionage from
European companies for American rivals.
Boeing and McDonnell
Douglas are said to have beaten France to a $6 billion contract to
supply Airbus jets to Saudi Arabia, thanks to Echelon intercepts of
faxes and phone calls.
There has also been
scathing criticism of Britain - and its obsession with secrecy - from
its European partners for siding with the "Anglo-Saxon" club
rather than Europe in espionage matters.
The MEPs were
alarmed to learn that their mobile phones were being used to track their
movements and could be transformed into bugging devices.
At least they can
take some comfort from claims that the network is just as capable of
being used against the United States.
A former employee of
Canada's security agency has claimed that Canadian spies once managed to
overhear the American ambassador in Ottawa discussing a pending trade
deal with China on a mobile phone.
gained was used to undercut the Americans and land a $2.5 billion
Chinese grain sale.
But while the
European report is revealing, the authors did not vindicate all the
claims made about the spy system. They failed to prove conclusively that
Echelon had been used by the United States, 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 were 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
Nicky Hager expects
increasing concern over Echelon and similar networks to encourage more
individuals and businesses to turn to encryption, which will in turn
pressure communication networks to offer such a service to customers.
encryption is a similar step to deciding to start using e-mail. It's
very simple, but it isn't a great hassle to intelligence agencies yet
because hardly anyone knows about them other than the very people the
United States says Echelon is aimed at, such as terrorists shipping
Hager uses an
apparently unbreakable encryption system which can be easily downloaded
free from www.pgpi.org.
"As long as the
person you are e-mailing has the same system, you simply push a button
and the message can be decoded in 20 seconds. To break the encryption
would take about 100 years and I don't think you'd be around to worry
But even as the
means to negate electronic surveillance becomes available, Hager fears
the United States is moving to another level.
The Navy's newly
launched $2.5 billion Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter is
the third of a class suspected of being capable of attaching tapping
devices directly to the fibre-optic cables which criss-cross our oceans.
9297-tonne nuclear-powered vessel can dive to a depth of 800m where it
can deploy minisubs and remote-controlled underwater vehicles.
Such taps would be
extremely difficult to detect and easy to replace.
But if the European
Union appears powerless to do much about such developments within
America, the members' report has pointed out that Britain's role could
breach the European Convention on Human Rights.
And, as the report
was being debated in Brussels, the MEPs voiced their suspicion of a
British hand in ensuring their investigation in Washington DC went
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."
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
have to decide where it wants to stand. How can we have a common
European Union security policy if they continue with this attitude
towards other member states."
members did meet the oversight committee of Congress and former
intelligence officials and civil liberties groups.
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
Mr Woolsey had
conceded that the United States did spy on European companies "but
only because they bribe" to get lucrative contracts.
European states criticise Britain and the United States, they have been
busy building their own electronic eavesdropping networks.
Switzerland, Holland and Denmark all have similar systems in place. But
Echelon and the British connection is a difficult field for British
members of the European Parliament.
One MEP, Neil
MacCormick, says: "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
In the 1970s 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 of electronic surveillance.
Mr Ford pulled out
of the race for an official position on the committee after eyebrows
were raised in the Labour Party hierarchy.
This week he said he
did not want to pursue past agendas but was looking forward.
cannot prove that Echelon exists but you can make a reasonable judgment.
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 respect for
But Echelon is not
always the all-pervasive, powerful monster sometimes portrayed.
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."
2001, NZ Herald
Monday, July 30, 2001 (SF
group denounces U.S. spying/E-mail, faxes being monitored Steve Kettmann,
Chronicle Foreign Service
Brussels -- Echelon, an
alleged U.S. satellite surveillance system, is getting more and more attention
from the rest of world, particularly European Union lawmakers.
A year ago, when the
European Parliament established a temporary committee to investigate Echelon,
most Americans had not heard of the system. It is reportedly operated by the
U.S. National Security Agency in association with the governments of the
United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Governments are questioning
what e-mails, faxes and phone calls the NSA was tapping into.
But despite the concern,
the European Parliament committee charged with investigating the situation
concluded its congress in Strasbourg, France, earlier this month with little
concrete action agreed upon.
In its resolution, the
committee condemned Echelon's existence and agreed to step up meaningful
rhetorical pressure on the United States.
Some EU officials wanted
Giuseppe Di Lello Finuoli
of Italy, one of three vice chairmen, protested the committee's emphasis on
legalisms, saying such language would not prevent Europeans from having their
e-mail, faxes and phone conversations monitored by nosy Americans, along with
their English-speaking partners, England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Di Lello Finuoli said he
believes Echelon will continue to operate with impunity.
"That failure to
protect European citizens will have been endorsed by the failure to take
action," Di Lello Finuoli said through the official translator.
Here in the United States,
the National Security Agency, which reportedly operates the Echelon system,
declined to comment even generally when queried by a reporter on the topic of
But former CIA Director
James Woolsey confirmed the existence of the system in a news conference in
March -- and also confirmed that the U.S. government spies on European
business for certain purposes.
Speaking at a news
conference for foreign journalists, Woolsey said that because of a
"national culture . . . of bribery" in Europe, the U.S. government
was justified in using reconnaissance satellites to monitor communications.
Comments such as Woolsey's
have increased opposition to Echelon in the United States.
"We've gone past the
point where Echelon is 'X-Files' material and can be dismissed as
paranoia," said Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the New York
office of the American Civil Liberties Union, which maintains the http://www.echelonwatch.org
Web site. "It's been the intercession of the European Parliament that has
forced the issue out into the open and forced the United States government to
admit that Echelon exists."
He applauded the
committee's emphasis on looking at governmental surveillance as a question of
violating citizens' basic rights to privacy -- and on the question of how
agencies that "operate in the dark without any significant
oversight" can be regulated.
"What really needs to
happen next is a committee of the U.S. Congress that's not tied to the
intelligence agencies needs to take a close look at Echelon," Steinhardt
said. "They are the only ones with the subpoena power and the security
clearance to bring the NSA to the table. Only the U.S. Congress has the
capability to ferret out the truth."
Set up last July, the
European Parliament committee was at first attacked as a do-nothing show
committee that would not dare raise politically dangerous accusations.
Instead, the Echelon
committee made repeated headlines in Europe as it called on expert witnesses
to discuss the alleged system's ability to monitor phone calls, faxes and
e-mails in Europe and the rest of the world. Most explosively, it painted a
convincing picture of the United States using this capability to engage in
industrial espionage and assist U.S. corporations.
The committee's rapporteur
or spokesman, Gerhard Schmid of Germany, stopped short of specifically
charging the United States with industrial espionage in his report, explaining
that he fell just short of definitive proof for such allegations.
"It's not up to the
rapporteur to say what he thinks the Americans are doing, it is to say what I
know the Americans are doing," Schmid said during the committee's last
scheduled meeting in Brussels.
In Strasbourg, the Echelon
committee approved the final wording of its resolution calling on the United
Nations and the United States to push for international monitoring of
satellite-operated surveillance systems, among other steps.
Accurately mapping the
work of intelligence agencies may not be possible. But enough detail has
emerged from the work of the committee -- and a few journalists -- to paint a
thorough picture of the system known as Echelon, though even the name remains
Author James Bamford
explained in his book "Body of Secrets" that the NSA created
software in the 1970s to sort through the voluminous information coming in
from listening posts around the world and dubbed the software Echelon.
Duncan Campbell, a British
journalist, has been reporting on Echelon for years, and his work helped turn
it into an international controversy.
By signing National
Security Directive 67, he wrote, former President George Bush instructed the
CIA and NSA in March 1992 to spy on foreign countries to "level the
playing field." The Clinton administration went further, establishing an
"Advocacy Center" with links to both U.S. corporations and
According to figures
released by the Advocacy Center -- and cited by Campbell, who testified to the
Echelon committee -- the use of intelligence agencies to detect
"unfair" business practices cost France nearly $17 billion of trade
during the 1990s. Germany was next at $4 billion.
covers technology issues from Berlin.
Copyright 2001 SF
Return to top of page