- ECHELON intercept station
at Menwith Hill, England.
- Rumors have abounded for several years
of a massive system designed to intercept virtually all email and fax traffic
in the world and subject it to automated analysis, despite laws in many
nations (including this one) barring such activity. The laws were circumvented
by a mutual pact among five nations. It's illegal for the United States
to spy on it's citizens. Likewise the same for Great Britain. But under
the terms of the UKUSA agreement, Britain spies on Americans and America
spies on British citizens and the two groups trade data. Technically, it
may be legal, but the intent to evade the spirit of the laws protecting
the citizens of those two nations is clear.
- The system is called ECHELON, and had
been rumored to be in development since 1947, the result of the UKUSA treaty
signed by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand.
- The purpose of the UKUSA agreement was
to create a single vast global intelligence organization sharing common
goals and a common agenda, spying on the world and sharing the data. The
uniformity of operation is such that NSA operatives from Fort Meade could
work from Menwith Hill to intercept local communications without either
nation having to formally approve or disclose the interception.
- What is ECHELON used for?
- In the days of the cold war, ECHELON's
primary purpose was to keep an eye on the U.S.S.R. In the wake of the fall
of the U.S.S.R. ECHELON justifies it's continued multi-billion dollar expense
with the claim that it is being used to fight "terrorism", the
catch-all phrase used to justify any and all abuses of civil rights.
- With the exposure of the APEC scandal,
however, ECHELON's capabilities have come under renewed scrutiny and criticism
by many nations. Although not directly implicated in the bugging of the
Asia Pacific Economic Conference in Seattle, the use of so many U.S. Intelligence
agencies to bug the conference for the purpose of providing commercial
secrets to DNC donors raised the very real possability that ECHELON's all-hearing
ears were prying corporate secrets loose for the advantage of the favored
- Given that real terrorists and drug runners
would always use illegal cryptographic methods anyway, the USA led attempt
to ban strong crypto to the general populace seemed geared towards keeping
corporate secrets readable to ECHELON, rather than any real attempt at
- The cover blows off!
- Even close allies do not like it when
they are being spied on. Especially if the objective is not law enforcement
but corporate shenanigans to make rich politicians just that much richer.
So, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament looked into
ECHELON, and officially confirmed it's existance and purpose.
- Here is the article that ran in the London
- Issue 936 Spies like US 12-16-97
- A European Commission report warns that
the United States has developed an extensive network spying on European
citizens and we should all be worried. Simon Davies reports
- Cooking up a charter for snooping
- A GLOBAL electronic spy network that
can eavesdrop on every telephone, email and telex communication around
the world will be officially acknowledged for the first time in a European
Commission report to be delivered this week.
- The report - Assessing the Technologies
of Political Control - was commissioned last year by the Civil Liberties
Committee of the European Parliament. It contains details of a network
of American-controlled intelligence stations on British soil and around
the world, that "routinely and indiscriminately" monitor countless
phone, fax and email messages.
- It states: "Within Europe all email
telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United
States National Security Agency transfering all target information from
the European mainland via the strategic hub of London then by satellite
to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill in the North
York moors in the UK."
- The report confirms for the first time
the existence of the secretive ECHELON system.
- Until now, evidence of such astounding
technology has been patchy and anecdotal. But the report - to be discussed
on Thursday by the committee of the office of Science and Technology Assessment
in Luxembourg - confirms that the citizens of Britain and other European
states are subject to an intensity of surveillance far in excess of that
imagined by most parliaments. Its findings are certain to excite the concern
- "The ECHELON system forms part of
the UKUSA system (Cooking up a charter for snooping) but unlike many of
the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON is designed
primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations 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
- According to the report, ECHELON uses
a number of national dictionaries containing key words of interest to each
- For more than a decade, former agents
of US, British, Canadian and New Zealand national security agencies have
claimed that the monitoring of electronic communications has become endemic
throughout the world. Rumours have circulated that new technologies have
been developed which have the capability to search most of the world's
telex, fax and email networks for "key words". Phone calls, they
claim, can be automatically analysed for key words.
- Former signals intelligence operatives
have claimed that spy bases controlled by America have the ability to search
nearly all data communications for key words. They claim that ECHELON automatically
analyses most email messaging for "precursor" data which assists
intelligence agencies to determine targets. According to former Canadian
Security Establishment agent Mike Frost, a voice recognition system called
Oratory has been used for some years to intercept diplomatic calls.
- The driving force behind the report is
Glyn Ford, Labour MEP for Greater Manchester East. He believes that the
report is crucial to the future of civil liberties in Europe.
- "In the civil liberties committee
we spend a great deal of time debating issues such as free movement, immigration
and drugs. Technology alway sits at the centre of these discussions. There
are times in history when technology helps democratise, and times when
it helps centralise. This is a time of centralisation. The justice and
home affairs pillar of Europe has become more powerful without a corresponding
strengthening of civil liberties."
- The report recommends a variety of measures
for dealing with the increasing power of the technologies of surveillance
being used at Menwith Hill and other centres. It bluntly advises: "The
European Parliament should reject proposals from the United States for
making private messages via the global communications network (Internet)
accessible to US intelligence agencies."
- The report also urges a fundamental review
of the involvement of the American NSA (National Security Agency) in Europe,
suggesting that their activities be either scaled down, or become more
open and accountable.
- Such concerns have been privately expressed
by governments and MEPs since the Cold War, but surveillance has continued
to expand. US intelligence activity in Britain has enjoyed a steady growth
throughout the past two decades. The principal motivation for this rush
of development is the US interest in commercial espionage. In the Fifties,
during the development of the "special relationship" between
America and Britain, one US institution was singled out for special attention.
- The NSA, the world's biggest and most
powerful signals intelligence organisation, received approval to set up
a network of spy stations throughout Britain. Their role was to provide
military, diplomatic and economic intelligence by intercepting communications
from throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
- The NSA is one of the shadowiest of the
US intelligence agencies. Until a few years ago, it existence was a secret
and its charter and any mention of its duties are still classified. However,
it does have a Web site (www.nsa.gov:8080) in which it describes itself
as being responsible for the signals intelligence and communications security
activities of the US government.
- One of its bases, Menwith Hill, was to
become the biggest spy station in the world. Its ears - known as radomes
- are capable of listening in to vast chunks of the communications spectrum
throughout Europe and the old Soviet Union.
- In its first decade the base sucked data
from cables and microwave links running through a nearby Post Office tower,
but the communications revolutions of the Seventies and Eighties gave the
base a capability that even its architects could scarcely have been able
to imagine. With the creation of Intelsat and digital telecommunications,
Menwith and other stations developed the capability to eavesdrop on an
extensive scale on fax, telex and voice messages. Then, with the development
of the Internet, electronic mail and electronic commerce, the listening
posts were able to increase their monitoring capability to eavesdrop on
an unprecedented spectrum of personal and business communications.
- This activity has been all but ignored
by the UK Parliament. When Labour MPs raised questions about the activities
of the NSA, the Government invoked secrecy rules. It has been the same
for 40 years.
- Glyn Ford hopes that his report may be
the first step in a long road to more openness. "Some democratically
elected body should surely have a right to know at some level. At the moment
- Copyright Telegraph Group Limited 1997.
- FROM COVERT ACTION QUARTERLY
- EXPOSING THE GLOBAL SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM
by Nicky Hager
- IN THE LATE 1980S, IN A DECISION IT PROBABLY
REGRETS, THE US PROMPTED NEW ZEALAND TO JOIN A NEW AND HIGHLY SECRET GLOBAL
INTELLIGENCE SYSTEM. HAGER'S INVESTIGATION INTO IT AND HIS DISCOVERY OF
THE ECHELON DICTIONARY HAS REVEALED ONE OF THE WORLD'S BIGGEST, MOST CLOSELY
HELD INTELLIGENCE PROJECTS. THE SYSTEM ALLOWS SPY AGENCIES TO MONITOR MOST
OF THE WORLD'S TELEPHONE, E-MAIL, AND TELEX COMMUNICATIONS.
- For 40 years, New Zealand's largest intelligence
agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) the nation's
equivalent of the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been helping
its Western allies to spy on countries throughout the Pacific region, without
the knowledge of the New Zealand public or many of its highest elected
officials. What the NSA did not know is that by the late 1980s, various
intelligence staff had decided these activities had been too secret for
too long, and were providing me with interviews and documents exposing
New Zealand's intelligence activities. Eventually, more than 50 people
who work or have worked in intelligence and related fields agreed to be
- The activities they described made it
possible to document, from the South Pacific, some alliance-wide systems
and projects which have been kept secret elsewhere. Of these, by far the
most important is ECHELON.
- Designed and coordinated by NSA, the
ECHELON system is used to intercept ordinary e-mail, fax, telex, and telephone
communications carried over the world's telecommunications networks. Unlike
many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON
is designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations,
businesses, and individuals in virtually every country. It potentially
affects every person communicating between (and sometimes within) countries
anywhere in the world.
- It is, of course, not a new idea that
intelligence organizations tap into e-mail and other public telecommunications
networks. What was new in the material leaked by the New Zealand intelligence
staff was precise information on where the spying is done, how the system
works, its capabilities and shortcomings, and many details such as the
- The ECHELON system is not designed to
eavesdrop on a particular individual's e-mail or fax link. Rather, the
system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of
communications and using computers to identify and extract messages of
interest from the mass of unwanted ones. A chain of secret interception
facilities has been established around the world to tap into all the major
components of the international telecommunications networks. Some monitor
communications satellites, others land-based communications networks, and
others radio communications. ECHELON links together all these facilities,
providing the US and its allies with the ability to intercept a large proportion
of the communications on the planet.
- The computers at each station in the
ECHELON network automatically search through the millions of messages intercepted
for ones containing pre-programmed keywords. Keywords include all the names,
localities, subjects, and so on that might be mentioned. Every word of
every message intercepted at each station gets automatically searched whether
or not a specific telephone number or email address is on the list.
- The thousands of simultaneous messages
are read in "real time" as they pour into the station, hour after
hour, day after day, as the computer finds intelligence needles in telecommunications
- SOMEONE IS LISTENING
- The computers in stations around the
globe are known, within the network, as the ECHELON Dictionaries. Computers
that can automatically search through traffic for keywords have existed
since at least the 1970s, but the ECHELON system was designed by NSA to
interconnect all these computers and allow the stations to function as
components of an integrated whole. The NSA and GCSB are bound together
under the five-nation UKUSA signals intelligence agreement. The other three
partners all with equally obscure names are the Government Communications
Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain, the Communications Security Establishment
(CSE) in Canada, and the Defense Signals Directorate (DSD) in Australia.
- The alliance, which grew from cooperative
efforts during World War II to intercept radio transmissions, was formalized
into the UKUSA agreement in 1948 and aimed primarily against the USSR.
The five UKUSA agencies are today the largest intelligence organizations
in their respective countries. With much of the world's business occurring
by fax, e-mail, and phone, spying on these communications receives the
bulk of intelligence resources. For decades before the introduction of
the ECHELON system, the UKUSA allies did intelligence collection operations
for each other, but each agency usually processed and analyzed the intercept
from its own stations.
- Under ECHELON, a particular station's
Dictionary computer contains not only its parent agency's chosen keywords,
but also has lists entered in for other agencies. In New Zealand's satellite
interception station at Waihopai (in the South Island), for example, the
computer has separate search lists for the NSA, GCHQ, DSD, and CSE in addition
to its own. Whenever the Dictionary encounters a message containing one
of the agencies' keywords, it automatically picks it and sends it directly
to the headquarters of the agency concerned. No one in New Zealand screens,
or even sees, the intelligence collected by the New Zealand station for
the foreign agencies. Thus, the stations of the junior UKUSA allies function
for the NSA no differently than if they were overtly NSA-run bases located
on their soil.
- The first component of the ECHELON network
are stations specifically targeted on the international telecommunications
satellites (Intelsats) used by the telephone companies of most countries.
A ring of Intelsats is positioned around the world, stationary above the
equator, each serving as a relay station for tens of thousands of simultaneous
phone calls, fax, and e-mail. Five UKUSA stations have been established
to intercept the communications carried by the Intelsats.
- The British GCHQ station is located at
the top of high cliffs above the sea at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Satellite
dishes beside sprawling operations buildings point toward Intelsats above
the Atlantic, Europe, and, inclined almost to the horizon, the Indian Ocean.
An NSA station at Sugar Grove, located 250 kilometers southwest of Washington,
DC, in the mountains of West Virginia, covers Atlantic Intelsats transmitting
down toward North and South America. Another NSA station is in Washington
State, 200 kilometers southwest of Seattle, inside the Army's Yakima Firing
Center. Its satellite dishes point out toward the Pacific Intelsats and
to the east. *1
- The job of intercepting Pacific Intelsat
communications that cannot be intercepted at Yakima went to New Zealand
and Australia. Their South Pacific location helps to ensure global interception.
New Zealand provides the station at Waihopai and Australia supplies the
Geraldton station in West Australia (which targets both Pacific and Indian
Ocean Intelsats). *2
- Each of the five stations' Dictionary
computers has a codename to distinguish it from others in the network.
The Yakima station, for instance, located in desert country between the
Saddle Mountains and Rattlesnake Hills, has the COWBOY Dictionary, while
the Waihopai station has the FLINTLOCK Dictionary. These codenames are
recorded at thebeginning of every intercepted message, before it is transmitted
around the ECHELON network, allowing analysts to recognize at which station
the interception occurred.
- New Zealand intelligence staff has been
closely involved with the NSA's Yakima station since 1981, when NSA pushed
the GCSB to contribute to a project targeting Japanese embassy communications.
Since then, all five UKUSA agencies have been responsible for monitoring
diplomatic cables from all Japanese posts within the same segments of the
globe they are assigned for general UKUSA monitoring.3 Until New Zealand's
integration into ECHELON with the opening of the Waihopai station in 1989,
its share of the Japanese communications was intercepted at Yakima and
sent unprocessed to the GCSB headquarters in Wellington for decryption,
translation, and writing into UKUSA-format intelligence reports (the NSA
provides the codebreaking programs).
- The next component of the ECHELON system
intercepts a range of satellite communications not carried by Intelsat.
In addition to the UKUSA stations targeting Intelsat satellites, there
are another five or more stations homing in on Russian and other regional
communications satellites. These stations are Menwith Hill in northern
England; Shoal Bay, outside Darwin in northern Australia (which targets
Indonesian satellites); Leitrim, just south of Ottawa in Canada (which
appears to intercept Latin American satellites); Bad Aibling in Germany;
and Misawa in northern Japan.
- A group of facilities that tap directly
into land-based telecommunications systems is the final element of the
ECHELON system. Besides satellite and radio, the other main method of transmitting
large quantities of public, business, and government communications is
a combination of water cables under the oceans and microwave networks over
land. Heavy cables, laid across seabeds between countries, account for
much of the world's international communications. After they come out of
the water and join land-based microwave networks they are very vulnerable
- The microwave networks are made up of
chains of microwave towers relaying messages from hilltop to hilltop (always
in line of sight) across the countryside. These networks shunt large quantities
of communications across a country. Interception of them gives access to
international undersea communications (once they surface) and to international
communication trunk lines across continents. They are also an obvious
target for large-scale interception of domestic communications.
- Because the facilities required to intercept
radio and satellite communications use large aerials and dishes that are
difficult to hide for too long, that network is reasonably well documented.
But all that is required to intercept land-based communication networks
is a building situated along the microwave route or a hidden cable running
underground from the legitimate network into some anonymous building, possibly
far removed. Although it sounds technically very difficult, microwave interception
from space by United States spy satellites also occurs.4 The worldwide
network of facilities to intercept these communications is largely undocumented,
and because New Zealand's GCSB does not participate in this type of interception,
my inside sources could not help either.
- NO ONE IS SAFE FROM A MICROWAVE
- A 1994 expos of the Canadian UKUSA agency,
Spyworld, co-authored by one of its former staff, Mike Frost, gave the
first insights into how a lot of foreign microwave interception is done
(see p. 18). It described UKUSA "embassy collection" operations,
where sophisticated receivers and processors are secretly transported to
their countries' overseas embassies in diplomatic bags and used to monitor
various communications in foreign capitals. *5
- Since most countries' microwave networks
converge on the capital city, embassy buildings can be an ideal site. Protected
by diplomatic privilege, they allow interception in the heart of the target
country. *6 The Canadian embassy collection was requested by the NSA to
fill gaps in the American and British embassy collection operations, which
were still occurring in many capitals around the world when Frost left
the CSE in 1990. Separate sources in Australia have revealed that the
DSD also engages in embassy collection. *7 On the territory of UKUSA nations,
the interception of land-based telecommunications appears to be done at
special secret intelligence facilities. The US, UK, and Canada are geographically
well placed to intercept the large amounts of the world's communications
that cross their territories.
- The only public reference to the Dictionary
system anywhere in the world was in relation to one of these facilities,
run by the GCHQ in central London. In 1991, a former British GCHQ official
spoke anonymously to Granada Television's World in Action about the agency's
abuses of power. He told the program about an anonymous red brick building
at 8 Palmer Street where GCHQ secretly intercepts every telex which passes
into, out of, or through London, feeding them into powerful computers with
a program known as "Dictionary." The operation, he explained,
is staffed by carefully vetted British Telecom people: "It's nothing
to do with national security. It's because it's not legal to take every
single telex. And they take everything: the embassies, all the business
deals, even the birthday greetings, they take everything. They feed it
into the Dictionary." *8 What the documentary did not reveal is that
Dictionary is not just a British system; it is UKUSA-wide.
- Similarly, British researcher Duncan
Campbell has described how the US Menwith Hill station in Britain taps
directly into the British Telecom microwave network, which has actually
been designed with several major microwave links converging on an isolated
tower connected underground into the station.9
- The NSA Menwith Hill station, with 22
satellite terminals and more than 4.9 acres of buildings, is undoubtedly
the largest and most powerful in the UKUSA network. Located in northern
England, several thousand kilometers from the Persian Gulf, it was awarded
the NSA's "Station of the Year" prize for 1991 after its role
in the Gulf War. Menwith Hill assists in the interception of microwave
communications in another way as well, by serving as a ground station for
US electronic spy satellites. These intercept microwave trunk lines and
short range communications such as military radios and walkie talkies.
Other ground stations where the satellites' information is fed into the
global network are Pine Gap, run by the CIA near Alice Springs in central
Australia and the Bad Aibling station in Germany. *10 Among them, the various
stations and operations making up the ECHELON network tap into all the
main components of the world's telecommunications networks. All of them,
including a separate network of stations that intercepts long distance
radio communications, have their own Dictionary computers connected into
- In the early 1990s, opponents of the
Menwith Hill station obtained large quantities of internal documents from
the facility. Among the papers was a reference to an NSA computer system
called Platform. The integration of all the UKUSA station computers into
ECHELON probably occurred with the introduction of this system in the early
1980s. James Bamford wrote at that time about a new worldwide NSA computer
network codenamed Platform "which will tie together 52 separate computer
systems used throughout the world. Focal point, or `host environment,'
for the massive network will be the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. Among
those included in Platform will be the British SIGINT organization, GCHQ."
- LOOKING IN THE DICTIONARY
- The Dictionary computers are connected
via highly encrypted UKUSA communications that link back to computer data
bases in the five agency headquarters. This is where all the intercepted
messages selected by the Dictionaries end up. Each morning the specially
"indoctrinated" signals intelligence analysts in Washington,
Ottawa, Cheltenham, Canberra, and Wellington log on at their computer terminals
and enter the Dictionary system. After keying in their security passwords,
they reach a directory that lists the different categories of intercept
available in the data bases, each with a four-digit code. For instance,
1911 might be Japanese diplomatic cables from Latin America (handled by
the Canadian CSE), 3848 might be political communications from and about
Nigeria, and 8182 might be any messages about distribution of encryption
- They select their subject category, get
a "search result" showing how many messages have been caught
in the ECHELON net on that subject, and then the day's work begins. Analysts
scroll through screen after screen of intercepted faxes, e-mail messages,
etc. and, whenever a message appears worth reporting on, they select it
from the rest to work on. If it is not in English, it is translated and
then written into the standard format of intelligence reports produced
anywhere within the UKUSA network either in entirety as a "report,"
or as a summary or "gist."
- INFORMATION CONTROL
- A highly organized system has been developed
to control what is being searched for by each station and who can have
access to it. This is at the heart of ECHELON operations and works as follows.
- The individual station's Dictionary computers
do not simply have a long list of keywords to search for. And they do not
send all the information into some huge database that participating agencies
can dip into as they wish. It is much more controlled.
- The search lists are organized into the
same categories, referred to by the four digit numbers. Each agency decides
its own categories according to its responsibilities for producing intelligence
for the network. For GCSB, this means South Pacific governments, Japanese
diplomatic, Russian Antarctic activities, and so on.
- The agency then works out about 10 to
50 keywords for selection in each category. The keywords include such things
as names of people, ships, organizations, country names, and subject names.
They also include the known telex and fax numbers and Internet addresses
of any individuals, businesses, organizations, and government offices that
are targets. These are generally written as part of the message text and
so are easily recognized by the Dictionary computers.
- The agencies also specify combinations
of keywords to help sift out communications of interest. For example, they
might search for diplomatic cables containing both the words "Santiago"
and "aid," or cables containing the word "Santiago"
but not "consul" (to avoid the masses of routine consular communications).
It is these sets of words and numbers (and combinations), under a particular
category, that get placed in the Dictionary computers. (Staff in the five
agencies called Dictionary Managers enter and update the keyword search
lists for each agency.)
- The whole system, devised by the NSA,
has been adopted completely by the other agencies. The Dictionary computers
search through all the incoming messages and, whenever they encounter one
with any of the agencies' keywords, they select it. At the same time, the
computer automatically notes technical details such as the time and place
of interception on the piece of intercept so that analysts reading it,
in whichever agency it is going to, know where it came from, and what it
is. Finally, the computer writes the four-digit code (for the category
with the keywords in that message) at the bottom of the message's text.
This is important. It means that when all the intercepted messages end
up together in the database at one of the agency headquarters, the messages
on a particular subject can be located again. Later, when the analyst using
the Dictionary system selects the four-digit code for the category he or
she wants, the computer simply searches through all the messages in the
database for the ones which have been tagged with that number.
- This system is very effective for controlling
which agencies can get what from the global network because each agency
only gets the intelligence out of the ECHELON system from its own numbers.
It does not have any access to the raw intelligence coming out of the system
to the other agencies. For example, although most of the GCSB's intelligence
production is primarily to serve the UKUSA alliance, New Zealand does not
have access to the whole ECHELON network. The access it does have is strictly
controlled. A New Zealand intelligence officer explained: "The agencies
can all apply for numbers on each other's Dictionaries. The hardest to
deal with are the Americans. ... [There are] more hoops to jump through,
unless it is in their interest, in which case they'll do it for you."
- There is only one agency which, by virtue
of its size and role within the alliance, will have access to the full
potential of the ECHELON system the agency that set it up. What is the
system used for? Anyone listening to official "discussion" of
intelligence could be forgiven for thinking that, since the end of the
Cold War, the key targets of the massive UKUSA intelligence machine are
terrorism, weapons proliferation, and economic intelligence. The idea that
economic intelligence has become very important, in particular, has been
carefully cultivated by intelligence agencies intent on preserving their
post-Cold War budgets. It has become an article of faith in much discussion
of intelligence. However, I have found no evidence that these are now the
primary concerns of organizations such as NSA.
- QUICKER INTELLIGENCE - SAME
- A different story emerges after examining
very detailed information I have been given about the intelligence New
Zealand collects for the UKUSA allies and detailed descriptions of what
is in the yards-deep intelligence reports New Zealand receives from its
four allies each week. There is quite a lot of intelligence collected about
potential terrorists, and there is quite a lot of economic intelligence,
notably intensive monitoring of all the countries participating in GATT
negotiations. But by far, the main priorities of the intelligence alliance
continue to be political and military intelligence to assist the larger
allies to pursue their interests around the world. Anyone and anything
the particular governments are concerned about can become a target.
- With capabilities so secret and so powerful,
almost anything goes. For example, in June 1992, a group of current "highly
placed intelligence operatives" from the British GCHQ spoke to the
London Observer: "We feel we can no longer remain silent regarding
that which we regard to be gross malpractice and negligence within the
establishment in which we operate." They gave as examples GCHQ interception
of three charitable organizations, including Amnesty International and
Christian Aid. As the Observer reported: "At any time GCHQ is able
to home in on their communications for a routine target request,"
the GCHQ source said.
- In the case of phone taps the procedure
is known as Mantis. With telexes it is called Mayfly. By keying in a code
relating to Third World aid, the source was able to demonstrate telex "fixes"
on the three organizations. "It is then possible to key in a trigger
word which enables us to home in on the telex communications whenever that
word appears," he said. "And we can read a pre-determined number
of characters either side of the keyword."12 Without actually naming
it, this was a fairly precise description of how the ECHELON Dictionary
system works. Again, what was not revealed in the publicity was that this
is a UKUSA-wide system. The design of ECHELON means that the interception
of these organizations could have occurred anywhere in the network, at
any station where the GCHQ had requested that the four-digit code covering
Third World aid be placed.
- Note that these GCHQ officers mentioned
that the system was being used for telephone calls. In New Zealand, ECHELON
is used only to intercept written communications: fax, e-mail, and telex.
The reason, according to intelligence staff, is that the agency does not
have the staff to analyze large quantities of telephone conversations.
- Mike Frost's expos of Canadian "embassy
collection" operations described the NSA computers they used, called
Oratory, that can "listen" to telephone calls and recognize when
keywords are spoken. Just as we can recognize words spoken in all the different
tones and accents we encounter, so too, according to Frost, can these computers.
Telephone calls containing keywords are automatically extracted from the
masses of other calls and recorded digitally on magnetic tapes for analysts
back at agency headquarters. However, high volume voice recognition computers
will be technically difficult to perfect, and my New Zealand-based sources
could not confirm that this capability exists. But, if or when it is perfected,
the implications would be immense. It would mean that the UKUSA agencies
could use machines to search through all the international telephone calls
in the world, in the same way that they do written messages. If this equipment
exists for use in embassy collection, it will presumably be used in all
the stations throughout the ECHELON network. It is yet to be confirmed
how extensively telephone communications are being targeted by the ECHELON
stations for the other agencies.
- The easiest pickings for the ECHELON
system are the individuals, organizations,and governments that do not use
encryption. In New Zealand's area, for example, it has proved especially
useful against already vulnerable South Pacific nations which do not use
any coding, even for government communications (all these communications
of New Zealand's neighbors are supplied, unscreened, to its UKUSA allies).
As a result of the revelations in my book, there is currently a project
under way in the Pacific to promote and supply publicly available encryption
software to vulnerable organizations such as democracy movements in countries
with repressive governments. This is one practical way of curbing illegitimate
uses of the ECHELON capabilities.
- One final comment. All the newspapers,
commentators, and "well placed sources" told the public that
New Zealand was cut off from US intelligence in the mid-1980s. That was
entirely untrue. The intelligence supply to New Zealand did not stop, and
instead, the decade since has been a period of increased integration of
New Zealand into the US system. Virtually everything the equipment,
manuals, ways of operating, jargon, codes, and so on, used in the GCSB
continues to be imported entirely from the larger allies (in practice,
usually the NSA). As with the Australian and Canadian agencies, most of
the priorities continue to come from the US, too.
- The main thing that protects these agencies
from change is their secrecy. On the day my book arrived in the book shops,
without prior publicity, there was an all-day meeting of the intelligence
bureaucrats in the prime minister's department trying to decide if they
could prevent it from being distributed. They eventually concluded, sensibly,
that the political costs were too high. It is understandable that they
were so agitated.
- Throughout my research, I have faced
official denials or governments refusing to comment on publicity about
intelligence activities. Given the pervasive atmosphere of secrecy and
stonewalling, it is always hard for the public to judge what is fact, what
is speculation, and what is paranoia. Thus, in uncovering New Zealand's
role in the NSA-led alliance, my aim was to provide so much detail about
the operations the technical systems, the daily work of individual staff
members, and even the rooms in which they work inside intelligence facilities
that readers could feel confident that they were getting close to the truth.
I hope the information leaked by intelligence staff in New Zealand about
UKUSA and its systems such as ECHELON will help lead to change.
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