The NSA's ECHELON System

"At the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology...

"I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."

— Senator Frank Church, quoted in: ECHELON: America's Secret Global Surveillance Network


In his article Exposing the Global Surveillance Network in the #59 issue of CovertAction Quarterly (archive of European mirror) Nicky Hagar writes:

satellite tracking "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 ... The activities they [Hagar's sources] 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. ... It potentially affects every person communicating between (and sometimes within) countries anywhere in the world."

The ECHELON system was exposed in detail for the first time in 1996 in Nicky Hagar's book Secret Power. In Chapter 3 we read:

"All the text messages (written communications such as telexes, faxes, e-mail) intercepted at the Waihopai station are fed into these computers. This is an enormous mass of material -- literally all the business, government and personal messages that the station catches. The computers automatically search through everything as it arrives at the station.

"This is the work of the Dictionary program. It reads every word and number in every single incoming message and picks out all the ones containing target keywords and numbers. 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 the telecommunications haystack."

And the same is happening at the other satellite tracking stations run by the NSA -- in Australia (Geraldton), England (Morwenstow), the U.S. (Sugar Grove and Yakima) and other places. The spooks have the world covered, and consider themselves free to read anyone's email that they wish to. Should this be allowed to continue? Perhaps it can't be stopped. In that case the appropriate counter-measure is to use encryption as much as possible.


Actually massive electronic eavesdropping by the NSA on telephone and telex communications is reported as having been practiced now for 35 years.


Recently added links:

Pine Gap



Older links:

This page was previously afflicted by link rot. As of 2002-11-08 all links are working, except where [link expired] is shown (in these cases a good search engine, such as Google, might turn up current documents).


Russia, of course, is not one of the nations maintaining ECHELON, but it has a listening post in Cuba to spy on the U.S., which strongly objects to this electronic eavesdropping. Apparently spying on other countries is bad when it is done from Cuba but is quite OK when done from Britain.

Spying row blocks US-Russian deal


Spying From Space: U.S. to Sharpen the Focus

Anyone wondering where U.S. military investment is headed need look no farther than the next generation of spy satellites that are being built now and will start going into orbit in 2005. The estimated 20-year price tag is $25 billion, making this program the most expensive venture ever mounted by U.S. intelligence services.

Now where do you suppose the U.S. government plans to get this $25,000,000,000 from?  But that's a secret.  Very hush-hush.


And finally a big HI FOLKS! to all those hardworking spies at GCHQ at Cheltenham (see you put up a whole lot of new buildings — apparently eavesdropping on people's conversations is a growth industry), Morwenstow, Chicksands, Menwith Hill, Digby (those RAF bombers sure make it hard to listen in on Paris, eh?), Sugar Grove WV, Waihopai in New Zealand, Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean), Geraldton, Shoal Bay and Pine Gap in Australia (hope the beer's cold, sport!), and last but not least those lovable spooks at Langley and Fort Meade.

By the way — Cold War's over, y'know. Both sides lost. You probably (over)heard it. Whatcha up to these days? Givin' those French and Germans some cause for fright, eh? Pretty soon they'll be encrypting all their communications. But those Ay-rabs have a thing or two to learn yet, eh? Such a fun time coming up!

 

Photo courtesy Duncan Campbell

Antennas at Sugar Grove, West Virginia, monitor COMSAT and INTELSAT traffic.

Cryptosystem ME6 Cryptography Index Home Page