|How it works|
Congress, NSA butt heads over Echelon
BY DANIEL VERTON (firstname.lastname@example.org) JUNE 3, 1999
Congress has squared off with the National Security Agency over a top-secret U.S. global electronic surveillance program, requesting top intelligence officials to report on the legal standards used to prevent privacy abuses against U.S. citizens.
Echelon is NSA's Cold War-vintage global spying system, which consists of a worldwide network of clandestine listening posts capable of intercepting electronic communications such as e-mail, telephone conversations, faxes, satellite transmissions, microwave links and fiber-optic communications traffic. However, the European Union last year raised concerns that the system may be regularly violating the privacy of law-abiding citizens [FCW, Nov. 17, 1998].(full text)
by Niall McKay
|The National Security Agency has its ear to the world, but doesn't listen to everyone at once.|
That was one conclusion of a new report, Interception Capabilities 2000, accepted late last week by the European Parliament's Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel (STOA).
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The Electronic Telegraph,
16 July 1998
in the Sky
Patric S. Pool,
June 15, 1998, Vol.2, No.121
Cooking up a charter for snooping
The Electronic Telegraph,
16 December 1997
Spies like US
The Electronic Telegraph,
16 December 1997
by Jason Vest
ECHELON is operated jointly by five spy organizations under the umbrella of the 1948 UKUSA (pronounced you-koo-za) agreement.
Though its most egregious excesses of 20 years ago are believed to have been curbed, in addition to monitoring all foreign communications, it still has the legal authority to intercept any communication that begins or ends in the U.S., as well as use American citizens' private communications as fodder for trainee spies. Charged with the gathering of signals intelligence, or SIGINT--which encompasses all electronic communications transmissions--the NSA is larger, better funded, and infinitely more secretive than the CIA. Indeed, the key document that articulates its international role has never seen the light of day. (full text)
You may not have heard of Echelon, but if you've called over to Europe lately, it has probably overheard you. Echelon is a global communications surveillance system that allows our government to listen in on international phone calls and intercept e-mail and faxes, all without a warrant or court order.
Did Clinton Bug Conclave for Cash?
United States spying on European citizens|
A European Commission report warns
Simon Davies: Spies like US
The Daily Telegraph,
Dec. 16, 1997 (Issue 936)
Copyright Telegraph Group Limited 1997.
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
According to the report, ECHELON uses a number of national dictionaries containing key words of interest to each country.
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 always 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.
Union and FBI Launch |
Global Surveillance System
Statewatch warns about
connections to ECHELON
One of the references in the report to the European parliament is a report from Statewatch on " European Union and FBI Launch Global Surveillance System", (24 Feb 1997). EU and FBI should have made an agreement on big scale interception in Europe in order to catch criminals. Statewatch warns about connections to the existing Echelon-system.
The ECHELON "...system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and using computers to identify and extract messages from the mass of unwanted ones."
"It is the interface of the ECHELON system and its potential development on phone calls combined with the standardisation of "tappable" telecommunications centres and equipment being sponsored by the EU and the USA which presents a truly global threat over which there are no legal or democratic controls. " Wiretaps: Europe is launching a universal wiretap network (April 14, 1997, bulletin lambda 3.02)
"The British watchdog group Statewatch revealed confidential documents from the European Union's intergovernmental meetings that show a global wiretapping system is under way among Europe, the United States and other industrialized countries."
A meeting of the Trevi Ministers decide a study should be carried out on the new telecommunications systems and "the different interception possibilities".
29-30 November 1993
The first meeting of the new, post-Maastricht, Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers meeting in Brussels adopt a Resolution calling on experts to compare the needs of the EU "with those of the FBI".
March, April, November and December 1994
The K4 Committee discusses the draft Resolution on the lawful interception of telecommunications and the "Requirements" to be placed on network and service providers.
The Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers discuss the draft Resolution.
The K4 Committee discusses the draft "Memorandum of Understanding with third countries".
9 January 1995
The Working Group on Police Cooperation, under the K4 Committee, considers a report on the need to "tag" all communications.
17 January 1995
The Resolution is adopted by "written procedure". It is not published in any form until 4 November 1996 when it appears in the Official Journal.
13 November 1995
The Working Group on Police Cooperation consider a report on the situation in each EU state on telephone tapping.
23 November 1995
The Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers agree the "Memorandum of Understanding". It is not published in any form.
COREPER agree the text of a letter to be sent to international standards bodies attaching the Resolution.
7 May 1996
Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, tells the Chair of the Select Committee on the European Communities in the House of Lords that the "Memorandum of UndersChair of the Select Committee on the European Communities in the House of Lords that
28 November 1996
The Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers agree the text of a letter to be sent out to other potential "participants" (countries) in the "Memorandum of Understanding".
Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers
One of NSA bases, Menwith Hill, England, 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.