- Since 1998, much has been written and spoken about the
so-called Echelon system of international communications surveillance.
Most of what has been written has been denied or ignored by US and European
authorities. But much of what has been written has also been exaggerated
or wrong. Amongst a sea of denials, obfuscations and errors, confusion
has reigned. This review by Duncan Campbell, author of the European Parliament's
1999 "Interception Capabilities 2000" report1 , is intended
to help clear up the confusion, to say what Echelon is (and isn't), where
it came from and what it does. Echelon, or systems like it, will be with
us a long time to come.
- Echelon is a system used by the United States National
Security Agency (NSA) to intercept and process international communications
passing via communications satellites. It is one part of a global surveillance
systems that is now over 50 years old. Other parts of the same system
intercept messages from the Internet, from undersea cables, from radio
transmissions, from secret equipment installed inside embassies, or use
orbiting satellites to monitor signals anywhere on the earth's surface.
The system includes stations run by Britain, Canada, Australia and New
Zealand, in addition to those operated by the United States. Although
some Australian and British stations do the same job as America's Echelon
sites, they are not necessarily called "Echelon" stations. But
they all form part of the same integrated global network using the same
equipment and methods to extract information and intelligence illicitly
from millions of messages every day, all over the world.
- The first reports about Echelon in Europe2 credited
it with the capacity to intercept "within Europe, all e-mail, telephone,
and fax communications". This has proven to be erroneous; neither
Echelon nor the signals intelligence ("sigint") system of which
it is part can do this. Nor is equipment available with the capacity to
process and recognise the content of every speech message or telephone
call. But the American and British-run network can, with sister stations,
access and process most of the worlds satellite communications, automatically
analysing and relaying it to customers who may be continents away.
- The world's most secret electronic surveillance system
has its main origin in the conflicts of the Second World War. In a deeper
sense, it results from the invention of radio and the fundamental nature
of telecommunications. The creation of radio permitted governments and
other communicators to pass messages to receivers over transcontinental
distances. But there was a penalty - anyone else could listen in. Previously,
written messages were physically secure (unless the courier carrying them
was ambushed, or a spy compromised communications). The invention of
radio thus created a new importance for cryptography, the art and science
of making secret codes. It also led to the business of signals intelligence,
now an industrial scale activity. Although the largest surveillance network
is run by the US NSA, it is far from alone. Russia, China, France and other
nations operate worldwide networks. Dozens of advanced nations use sigint
as a key source of intelligence. Even smaller European nations such as
Denmark, the Netherlands or Switzerland have recently constructed small,
Echelon-like stations to obtain and process intelligence by eavesdropping
on civil satellite communications.
- During the 20th century, governments realised the importance
of effective secret codes. But they were often far from successful. During
the Second World War, huge allied codebreaking establishments in Britain
and America analysed and read hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese
signals. What they did and how they did it remained a cloely-guarded secret
for decades afterwards. In the intervening period, the US and British
sigint agencies, NSA and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
constructed their worldwide listening network.
- The system was established under a secret 1947 "UKUSA
Agreement," which brought together the British and American systems,
personnel and stations. To this was soon joined the networks of three British
commonwealth countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Later, other
countries including Norway, Denmark, Germany and Turkey signed secret sigint
agreements with the United States and became "third parties"
participants in the UKUSA network.
- Besides integrating their stations, each country appoints
senior officials to work as liaison staff at the others' headquarters.
The United States operates a Special US Liaison Office (SUSLO) in London
and Cheltenham, while a SUKLO official from GCHQ has his own suite of offices
inside NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, between Washington and Baltimore.
- Danish Interception Station
- Under the UKUSA agreement, the five main English-speaking
countries took responsibility for overseeing surveillance in different
parts of the globe3 . Britain's zone included Africa and Europe, east
to the Ural Mountains of the former USSR; Canada covered northern latitudes
and polar regions; Australia covered Oceania. The agreement prescribed
common procedures, targets, equipment and methods that the sigint agencies
would use. Among them were international regulations for sigint security4
, which required that before anyone was admitted to knowledge of the arrangements
for obtaining and handling sigint, they must first undertake a lifelong
commitment to secrecy. Every individual joining a UKUSA sigint organisation
must be "indoctrinated" and, often "re-indoctrinated"
each time they are admitted to knowledge of a specific project. They are
told only what they "need to know", and that the need for total
secrecy about their work "never ceases".
- Everything produced in the sigint organisations is marked
by hundreds of special codewords that "compartmentalise" knowledge
of intercepted communications and the systems used to intercept them.
The basic level, which is effectively a higher classification than "Top
Secret" is "Top Secret Umbra". More highly classified
documents are identified as "Umbra Gamma"; other codewords can
be added to restrict circulation still further. Less sensitive information,
such as analyses of telecommunications traffic, may be classified "Secret
- The scale and significance of the global surveillance
system has been transformed since 1980. The arrival of low cost wideband
international communications has created a wired world. But few people
are aware that the first global wide area network (WAN) was not the internet,
but the international network connecting sigint stations and processing
centres. The network is connected over transoceanic cables and space links.
Most of the capacity of the American and British military communications
satellites, Milstar and Skynet, is devoted to relaying intelligence information.
It was not until the mid 1990s that the public internet became larger
than the secret internet that connects surveillance stations. Britain's
sigint agency GCHQ now openly boasts on its <http://www.gchq.gov.ukweb
site that it helps operate "one of the largest WANs [Wide Area Networks}
in the world" and that "all GCHQ systems are linked together
on the largest LAN in Europe ... connected to other sites around the world".
The same pages also claim that "the immense size and sheer power
of GCHQ's supercomputing architecture is difficult to imagine".
- The UKUSA alliance's wide area network is engineered
according to the same principles as the internet5 , and provides access
from all field interception stations to and from NSA's central computer
system, known as Platform. Other parts of the system are known as Embroidery,
Tideway and Oceanfront. The intelligence news network is Newsdealer. A
TV conference system, highly encrypted like every other part of the network,
is called Gigster. They are supported by applications known as Preppy
and Droopy. NSA's e-mail system looks and feels like everybody else's e-mail,
but is completely separate from the public network. Messages addressed
to its secret internal internet address, which is simply "nsa",
will not get through.
- The delivery of NSA intelligence also now looks and feels
like using the internet. Authorised users with appropriate permissions
to access "Special Compartmented Intelligence"6 use standard
web browsers to look at the output of NSA's Operations Department from
afar. The system, known as "Intelink", is run from the NSA's
Fort Meade HQ. Completed in 1996, Intelink connects 13 different US intelligence
agencies and some allied agencies with the aim of providing instant access
to all types of intelligence information. Just like logging onto the
world wide web, intelligence analysts and military personnel can view an
atlas on Intelink's home page, and then click on any country they choose
in order to access intelligence reports, video clips, satellite photos,
databases and status reports.7
- In the early post war years, and for the next quarter
century, there was little sign of this automation or sophistication. In
those years, most of the world's long distance communications - civil,
military or diplomatic - passed by high frequency radio. NSA and its collaborators
operated hundreds of remote interception sites, both surrounding the Soviet
Union and China and scattered around the world. Inside windowless buildings,
teams of intercept operators passed long shifts listening into silence,
interspersed with sudden periods of frenetic activity. For the listening
bases on the front line of the cold war, monitoring military radio messages
during the cold war brought considerable stress. Operators at such bases
often recall colleagues breaking down under the tension, perhaps fleeing
into closets after believing that they had just intercepted a message marking
the beginning of global thermonuclear war.
- Dutsch Interception Station
- The Second World War left Britain's agency GCHQ with
an extensive network of sigint outposts. Many were fixed in Britain, while
others were scattered around the then Empire. From stations including
Bermuda, Ascension, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Iraq, Singapore, and Hong Kong,
radio operators tracked Soviet and, soon, Chinese political and military
developments. These stations complemented a US network which by 1960 included
thousands of continuously operated interception positions. The other members
of the UKUSA alliance, Australia, Canada and New Zealand contributed stations
in the South Pacific and arctic regions.
- After the signing of the UKUSA pact, a new chain of stations
began operating along the boundaries of the western sphere of influence,
monitoring the signals of Soviet ground and air forces. British sigint
outposts were established in Germany and, secretly in Austria and Iran.
US listening posts were set up in central and southern Germany and later
in Turkey, Italy and Spain. One major US sigint base - Kagnew Station
at Asmara in Eritrea - was taken over from the British in 1941 and grew
to become, until its closure in 1970, one of the largest intercept stations
in the world. One of its more spectacular features was a tracking dish
used to pass messages to the United States by reflecting them off the surface
of the moon.
- By the mid 1960s, many of these bases featured gigantic
antenna systems that could monitor every HF (High Frequency) radio message,
from all angles, while simultaneously obtaining bearings that could enable
the position of a transmitter to be located. Both the US Navy and the
US Air Force employed global networks of this kind. The US Air Force
installed 500 metre wide arrays known as FLR-9 at sites including Chicksands,
England, San Vito dei Normanni in Italy, Karamursel in Turkey, the Philippines,
and at Misawa, Japan. Codenamed "Iron Horse", the first FLR-9
stations came into operation in 1964. The US Navy established similar
bases in the US and at Rota, Spain, Bremerhaven, Germany, Edzell, Scotland,
Guam, and later in Puerto Rico, targetted on Cuba.
- When the United States went to war in Vietnam, Australian
and New Zealand operators in Singapore, Australia and elsewhere worked
directly in support of the war. Britain; as a neutral country was not
supposed to be involved. In practice, however British operators at the
GCHQ intercept station no UKC201 at Little Sai Wan, Hong Kong monitored
and reported on the North Vietnamese air defence networks while US B52
bombers attacked Hanoi and other North Vietnamese targets.
- Since the end of the cold war, the history of some cold
war signals intelligence operations have been declassified. At the US
National Cryptologic Museum, run by NSA at its headquarters, the agency
now openly acknowledges many of its cold war listening operations. It
also describes the controversial use of ships and aircraft to penetrate
or provoke military defences in operations that cost the lives of more
than 100 of its staff. But another longstanding aspect of sigint operations
remain unacknowledged. During the second world war as well as in the cold
war and since, British and US intelligence agencies monitored the signals
and broke the codes of allies and friends, as well as of civilians and
commercial communications around the world. The diplomatic communications
of every country were and are attacked.
- The stations and methods were the same as for military
targets. Within the intelligence agencies, the civilian target was known
as "ILC". ILC stood for "International Leased Carrier",
and referred to the private companies or telecommunications administrations
operating or administrating long range undersea cables or radio stations.
Some ILC circuits were rented to governments or large companies as permanent
links. The majority were used for public telegraph, telex or telephone
- Many details of the operation of the English-speaking
sigint axis were revealed by two NSA defectors at a press conference held
in Moscow on 6 September 1960. There, two NSA analysts, Bernon Mitchell
and William Martin, told the world what NSA was doing:
- We know from working at NSA [that] the United States
reads the secret communications of more than forty nations, including its
own allies ... NSA keeps in operation more than 2000 manual intercept positions
... Both enciphered and plain text communications are monitored from almost
every nation in the world, including the nations on whose soil the intercept
bases are located. New York Times, 7 September 1960.
- The revelations were reported in full in the US, but
their impact was soon buried by security recriminations and accusations.
Martin and Mitchell revealed that NSA's operations division included
two key groups. One group covered the Soviet Union and its allies. The
second analysis division was known as ALLO, standing for "all other
[countries]". This part of NSA's production organisation was later
renamed ROW, starting for "Rest of the World".
- Thus, in 1965, while intercept operators at the NSA's
Chicksands station in England focussed on the radio messages of Warsaw
Pact air forces, their colleagues 200 kilometres north at Kirknewton, Scotland
were covering "ILC" traffic, including commercially run radio
links between major European cities. These networks could carry anything
from birthday telegrams to detailed economic or commercial information
exchanged by companies, to encrypted diplomatic messages. In the intercept
rooms, machines tuned to transmission channels continuously spewed out
8-ply paper to be read and marked up by intelligence analysts. Around
the world, thousands of analysts worked on these mostly unencrypted communications
using NSA 'watch lists' - weekly key word lists of people, companies, commodities
of interest for the NSA watchers to single out from 'clear' traffic. Coded
messages were passed on immediately. Among the regular names on the watch
lists were the leaders of African guerrilla movements who were later to
become their countries' leaders. In time, many prominent Americans were
added to the list. The international communications of the actress Jane
Fonda, Dr Benjamin Spock and hundreds of others were put under surveillance
because of their opposition to the war in Vietnam. Back power leader
Eldridge Cleaver and his colleagues were included because of their civil
rights activities in the US.
- A short distance to the north at Cupar, Scotland, another
intercept station was operated by the British Post Office, and masqueraded
as a long distance radio station. In fact, it was another GCHQ interception
site, which collected European countries' communications, instead of sending
- In time, these operations were integrated. In 1976,
NSA set up a special new civilian unit at its Chicksands base to carry
out diplomatic and civilian interception. The unit, called "DODJOCC"
(Department of Defense Joint Operations Centre Chicksands) was targeted
on non-US Diplomatic Communications, known as NDC. One specific target,
known as FRD, stood for French diplomatic traffic. Italian diplomatic
signals, known similarly as ITD, were collected and broken by NSA's counterpart
agency GCHQ, at its Cheltenham centre.
- Entering Chicksands' Building 600 through double security
fences and a turnstile where green and purple clearance badges were checked,
the visitor would first encounter a sigint in-joke - a copy of the International
Telecommunications Convention pasted up on the wall. Article 22 of the
Convention, which both the United Kingdom and the United States have ratified,
promises that member states "agree to take all possible measures,
compatible with the system of telecommunication used, with a view to ensuring
the secrecy of international correspondence".
- Besides intercepting ILC communications at radio stations,
NSA, GCHQ and their counterparts also collected printed copies of all international
telegrams from public and commercial operators in London, New York and
other centres. They were then taken to sigint analysts and processed in
the same way as foreign telegrams snatched from the air at sites like Chicksands
and Kirknewton. Britain had done this since 1920, and the United States
since 1945. The joint programme was known as Operation Shamrock, and
continued until it was exposed by US Congressional intelligence investigations
in the wake of the Watergate affair.
- On 8 August 1975, NSA Director Lt General Lew Allen admitted
to the Pike Committee of the US House of Representatives that : "NSA
systematically intercepts international communications, both voice and
cable" He also admitted that "messages to and from American citizens
have been picked up in the course of gathering foreign intelligence".
At a later hearing, he described how NSA used "'watch lists"
an aid to watch for foreign activity of reportable intelligence interest".8
- US legislators considered that these operations might
have been unconstitutional. During 1976, a Department of Justice team
investigated possible criminal offences by NSA. Part of their report
was released in 1980 It described how intelligence on US citizens, known
as MINARET "was obtained incidentally in the course of NSA's interception
of aural and non-aural (e.g, telex) international communications and the
receipt of GCHQ-acquired telex and ILC (International Leased Carrier) cable
traffic (SHAMROCK)" (emphasis in original).
- As in the United Kingdom, from 1945 onwards NSA and its
predecessors had systematically obtained cable traffic from the offices
of major cable companies - RCA Global, ITT World Communications and Western
Union. Over time, the collection of copies of telegrams on paper was replaced
by the delivery of magnetic tapes and eventually by direct connection of
the monitoring centres to international communications circuits. In Britain,
all international telex links and telegram circuits passing in, out or
through the country were and are connected to a GCHQ monitoring site in
central London, known as UKC1000.
- By the early 1970s, the laborious process of scanning
paper printouts for names or terms appearing on the "watch lists"
had begun to be replaced by automated computer systems. These computers
performed a task essentially similar to the search engines of the internet.
Prompted with a word, phrase or combination of words, they will identify
all messages containing the desired words or phrases. Their job, now
performed on a huge scale, is to match the "key words" or phrases
of interest to intelligence agencies to the huge volume of international
communications, to extract them and pass them to where they are wanted.
During the 1980s, the NSA developed a "fast data finder" microprocessor
that was optimally designed for this purpose. It was later commercially
marketed, with claims that it "the most comprehensive character-string
comparison functions of any text retrieval system in the world".
A single unit could work with:
- "trillions of bytes of textual archive and thousands
of online users, or gigabytes of live data stream per day that are filtered
against tens of thousands of complex interest profiles"9 .
- Although different systems are in use, the key computer
system at the heart of a modern sigint station's processing operations
is the "Dictionary". Every Echelon or Echelon-like station contains
a Dictionary. Portable versions are even available, and can be loaded
into briefcase-sized units known as "Oratory" 10 . The Dictionary
computers scan communications input to them, and extract for reporting
and further analysis those that match the profiles of interest. In one
sense, the main function of Dictionary computers are to throw most intercepted
- In a 1992 speech on information management, former NSA
Director William Studeman described the type of filtering involved in systems
like ECHELON11 :
- "One [unidentified] intelligence collection system
alone can generate a million inputs per half hour; filters throw away all
but 6500 inputs; only 1,000 inputs meet forwarding criteria; 10 inputs
are normally selected by analysts and only one report is produced. These
are routine statistics for a number of intelligence collection and analysis
systems which collect technical intelligence".
- In other words, for every million communications intercepted
only one might result in action by an intelligence agency. Only one in
a thousand would ever be seen by human eyes.
- Supporting the operations of each Dictionary are gigantic
intelligence databases which contain tables of information related to each
target. At their simplest, these can be a list of telephone, mobile phone,
fax or pager numbers which associated with targets in each group. They
can include physical or e-mail addresses, names, or any type of phrase
or concept that can be formulated under normal information retrieval rules.
- Powerful though Dictionary methods and keyword search
engines may be, however, they and their giant associated intelligence databases
may soon be replaced by "topic analysis", a more powerful and
intuitive technique, and one that NSA is developing strongly. Topic analysis
enables Comint customers to ask their computers to "find me documents
about subject X". X might be "Shakespeare in love" or "Arms
- In a standard US test used to evaluate topic analysis
systems, one task the analysis program is given is to find information
about "Airbus subsidies". The traditional approach involves
supplying the computer with the key terms, other relevant data, and synonyms.
In this example, the designations A-300 or A-320 might be synonymous with
"Airbus". The disadvantage of this approach is that it may find
irrelevant intelligence (for example, reports about export subsidies to
goods flown on an Airbus) and miss relevant material (for example a financial
analysis of a company in the consortium which does not mention the Airbus
product by name). Topic analysis overcomes this and is better matched to
- In 1991, a British television programme reported on the
operations of one Dictionary computer at GCHQ's London station in Palmer
Street, Westminster (station UKC1000). The programme quoted GCHQ employees,
who spoke off the record:
- "Up on the fourth floor there, [GCHQ] has hired
a group of carefully vetted British Telecom people. [Quoting the ex-GCHQ
official:] 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."
- Among the targets of this station were politicians, diplomats,
businessmen, trades union leaders, non- government organisations like Amnesty
International, and even the hierarchy of the Catholic church.
- The Echelon system appears to have been in existence
since the early 1970s, and to have gone through extensive evolution and
development. The need for efficient processing systems to replace the
human operators who performed watch list scans was first foreseen in the
late 1960s, when NSA and GCHQ were planning the first large satellite interception
sites. The first such station was built at Morwenstow, Cornwall, and utilised
two large dish antennae to intercept communications crossing the Atlantic
and Indian Oceans. The second was built at Yakima, in the northwestern
US state of Washington. Yakima intercepted satellite communications over
the Pacific Ocean.
- Also in the early 1970s, NSA and CIA discovered that
sigint collection from space was far more effective and productive than
had been foreseen, resulting in vast accumulations of magnetic tapes that
quickly outstripped the available supply of Soviet linguists and analysts.
By the end of the 1970s, one of the main sites processing communications
intercepted from space was Menwith Hill, in central England. A document
prepared there in 198112 identifies intelligence databases used at Menwith
Hill as "Echelon 2". This suggests that the Echelon network
was already into its second generation by 1981.
- By the mid 1980s, communications handled by Dictionary
computers around the world were heavily sifted, with a wide variety of
specifications available for non-verbal traffic. Extensive further automation
was planned in the mid 1980s under two top secret NSA Projects, P-377 and
P-415. The implementation of these projects completed the automation
of the "watch list" activity of pevious decades. Computers replaced
the analysts who compared reams of paper intercepts to names and topics
on the watch list. In the late 1980s, staff from sigint agencies from countries
including the UK, New Zealand and China attended training courses on the
new Echelon computer systems.
- Project P-415 made heavy use of NSA and GCHQ's global
internet to enable remote intelligence customers to task computers at each
collection site, and then receive the results automatically. Selected
incoming messages were compared to forwarding criteria held on the Dictionary.
If a match was found, the raw intelligence was forwarded automatically
to the designated recipients. According to New Zealand author Nicky Hager,
13 Dictionary computers are tasked with many thousands of different collection
requirements, described as "numbers" (four digit codes).
- Details of project P-415 and the plans for the massive
global expansion of the Echelon system were revealed in 1988 by Margaret
"Peg" Newsham. Ms Newsham a former computer systems manager,
worked on classified projects for NSA contractors until the mid 1980s.
From August 1978 onwards, she worked at the NSA's Menwith Hill Station
as a software co-ordinator. In this capacity, she helped managed a number
of Sigint computer databases, including "Echelon 2". She and
others also helped establish "Silkworth", a system for processing
information relayed from signals intelligence satellites called Chalet,
Vortex and Mercury. Her revelations led to the first ever report about
Echelon, published in 1988. 14
- In Sunnyvale, California, Peg Newsham worked for Lockheed
Space and Missiles Corporation. In that capacity, she worked on plans
for the massive expansion of the Echelon network, a project identified
internally as P-415. During her employment by Lockheed, she also become
concerned about corruption, fraud and abuse within the organisations planning
and operating electronic surveillance systems. She reported her concerns
to the US Congress House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence early
in 1988. She also told them how she had witnessed the interception of
a telephone call made by a US Senator, Strom Thurmond, while working at
- The full details of Echelon would probably never have
come to serious public attention but for 6 further years of research by
New Zealand writer Nicky Hager, who assiduously investigated the new Echelon
station that started operating at Waihopai on the South Island of New Zealand
in 1989. His 1996 book Secret Power15 is based on extensive interviews
with and help from members of the New Zealand signals intelligence organisation.
It remains the best informed and most detailed account of how Echelon works.
- Early in 2000, information and documents leaked to a
US researcher16 provided many details of how Echelon was developed for
use worldwide. Under a 1982 NSA plan assigned to Lockheed Space and Missiles
Systems, engineers and scientists worked on Project P-377 - also known
as CARBOY II. This project called for the development of a standard kit
of "ADPE" (automated data processing equipment) parts for equipping
Echelon sites. The "commonality of automated data processing equipment
(ADPE) in the Echelon system" included the following elements:
- * Local management subsystem * Remote management subsystem
* Radio frequency distribution * Communications handling subsystem *
Telegraphy message processing subsystem * Frequency division multiplex
telegraphy processing subsystem * Time division multiplex telegraphy processing
subsystem * Voice processing subsystem * Voice collection module * Facsimile
processing subsystem * [Voice] Tape Production Facility
- The CARBOY II project also called for software systems
to load and update the Dictionary databases. At this time, the hardware
for the Dictionary processing subsystem was based on a cluster of DEC VAX
mini-computers, together with special purpose units for processing and
separating different types of satellite communications.
- In 1998 and 1999, the intelligence specialist Dr Jeff
Richelson of the National Security Archive17 Washington, DC used the
Freedom of Information Act to obtain a series of modern official US Navy
and Air Force documents which have confirmed the continued existence, scale
and expansion of the Echelon system. The documents from the US Air Force
and US Navy identify Echelon units at four sites and suggest that a fifth
site also collects information from communications satellites as part of
the Echelon system.
- One of the sites is Sugar Grove, West Virgina US, about
250 miles south-west of Washington in a remote area of the Shenandoah Mountains.
It is operated by the US Naval Security Group and the US Air Force Intelligence
Agency. An upgraded sigint system called Timberline II was installed at
Sugar Grove in the summer of 1990. At the same time, according to official
US documents, an "Echelon training department" was established.
With training complete, the task of the station in 1991 became "to
maintain and operate an ECHELON site".18
- The US Air Force has publicly identified the intelligence
activity at Sugar Grove as "to direct satellite communications equipment
[in support of] consumers of COMSAT information ... this is achieved by
providing a trained cadre of collection system operators, analysts and
managers". The 1998-99 USAF Air Intelligence Agency Almanac described
the mission of the Sugar Grove unit as providing "enhanced intelligence
support to air force operational commanders and other consumers of COMSAT
information." 19 In 1990, satellite photographs showed that there
were 4 satellite antennae at Sugar Grove. By November 1998, ground inspection
revealed that this had expanded to nine.
- Further information published by the US Air Force identifies
the US Naval Security Group Station at Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico as a COMSAT
interception site. Its mission is "to become the premier satellite
communications processing and analysis field station". These and
further documents concerning Echelon and COMSAT interception stations at
Yakima, Sabana Seco (Puerto Rico), Misawa (Japan) and Guam have been published
on the web.20
- From 1984 onwards, Australia, Canada and New Zealand
joined the US and the UK in operating Comsat (communications satellite)
interception stations. Australia's site at Kojarena, Geraldton near Perth
in western Australia includes four interception dishes. The station's top
targets include Japanese diplomatic and commercial messages, communications
of all types from and within North Korea, and data on Indian and Pakistani
nuclear weapons developments. A second Australian satcom intercept site,
at Shoal Bay in the Northern Territories, mainly targets Australia's northern
neighbour, Indonesia. Australian sources say however that Shoal Bay is
not part of the Echelon system, as Australia is unwilling to allow the
US and Britain to obtain raw intercepts directly.
- The New Zealand site, Waihopai now has two dishes targeted
on Intelsat satellites covering the south Pacific. In 1996, shortly after
"Secret Power" was published, a New Zealand TV station obtained
images of the inside of the station's operations centre. The pictures
were obtained clandestinely by filming through partially curtained windows
at night. The TV reporter was able to film close-ups of technical manuals
held in the control centre. These were Intelsat technical manuals, providing
confirmation that the station targeted these satellites. Strikingly, the
station was seen to be virtually empty, operating fully automatically.
- Before the introduction of Echelon, different countries
and different stations knew what was being intercepted and to whom it was
being sent. Now, all but a fraction of the messages selected by Dictionary
computers at remote sites may be forwarded to overseas customers, normally
NSA, without any local knowledge of the intelligence obtained.
- Information from the Echelon network and other parts
of the global surveillance system is used by the US and its allies for
diplomatic, military and commercial purposes. In the post cold war years,
the staff levels at both NSA and GCHQ have contracted, and many overseas
listening posts have been closed or replaced by Remote Operations Facilities,
controlled from a handful of major field stations. Although routinely
denied, <tp/english/inhalt/co/6662/1.htmlcommercial and economic intelligence
is now a major target of international sigint activity. Under a 1993 policy
colloquially known as "levelling the playing field", the United
States government under President Clinton established new trade and economic
committees and told the NSA and CIA to act in support of US businesses
in seeking contracts abroad. In the UK, GCHQ's enabling legislation
from 1994 openly identifies one of its purposes as to promote "the
economic well-being of the United Kingdom in relation to the actions or
intentions of persons outside the British Islands".
- Massive new storage and processing systems are being
constructed to provide on-line processing of the internet and new international
communications networks. By the early 1990s, both GCHQ and NSA employed
"near line" storage systems capable of holding more than a terabyte
of data21 . In the near future, they are likely to deploy systems one
thousand times larger. Key word spotting in the vast volumes of intercepted
daily written communications - telex, e-mail, and data - is a routine task.
"Word spotting" in spoken communications is not an effective
tool, but individual speaker recognition techniques have been in use for
up to 10 years. New methods which have been developed during the 1990s
will become available to recognise the "topics" of phone calls,
and may allow NSA and its collaborators to automate the processing of the
content of telephone messages - a goal that has eluded them for 30 years.
- Under the rubric of "information warfare",
the sigint agencies also hope to overcome the ever more extensive use of
encryption by direct interference with and attacks on targeted computers.
These methods remain controversial, but include information stealing
viruses, software audio, video, and data bugs, and pre-emptive tampering
with software or hardware ("trapdoors").
- In the information age, we need to re-learn a lesson
now a century old. Despite the sophistication of 21st century technology,
today's e-mails are as open to the eyes of snoopers and intruders as were
the first crude radio telegraph messages. Part of the reason for this
is that, over many decades, NSA and its allies worked determinedly to limit
and prevent the privacy of international telecommunications. Their goal
was to keep communications unencrypted and, thus, open to easy access and
processing by systems like Echelon. They knew that privacy and security,
then as a century ago, lay in secret codes or encryption. Until such protections
become effective and ubiquitous, Echelon or systems like it, will remain
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Rechte vorbehalten Verlag Heinz Heise, Hannover last modified: 25.07.2000
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