Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 22:11:02 -0600 (CST)
From: Doron Tal <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: The Turkel Tribe http://Turkel.areCool.net/
Subject: Echelon: Big Brother Is Watching You
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 17:58:54 -0500
From: TheGolem <email@example.com>
Subject: Project Echelon
From The Golem
16 November 1999
From ACLU site.. I've been gathering some of this information
from other sources which I will be posting to the appropriate
message boards. This recognition technology is not unlike what
was shown to me as far back as the late 60s, though much more
sophisticated today. Watch for more about Echelon in the future.
Post your knowledge and views to PNEWS <http://pnews.org/boards/pnewsboard>
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 fiber communications.
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 Germany.(5)
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 information servicers.
"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
The most recent report, known as "Interception Capabilities
2000", describes ECHELON capabilities in even more elaborate
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 NSA2s 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 activities.(16)
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 hearings.(17)
Q - What is being done with the information that ECHELON collects?
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 Australia2s
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 ECHELON2s only concern. Reports
have indicated that industrial espionage has become a part of
ECHELON2s activities. While present information seems to suggest
that only high- ranking government officials have direct control
over ECHELON2s 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 ECHELON2s 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 is doing 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 does?
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
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,
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,
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)
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)
18. Ross Coulhart, Echelon System: FAQs and website links,
(May 23, 1999) (http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sun_bg2.asp?id7).
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.