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IP: Europe's Echelon eavesdropping exposed

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: Europe's Echelon eavesdropping exposed
Date: Thu, 01 Oct 1998 10:18:09 -0500
To: [email protected]

Source:  Wired

 Eavesdropping on Europe
 by Niall McKay 

 4:00 a.m.30.Sep.98.PDT
 If the European Parliament has its way, the lid is
 about to come off what is reputedly one of the
 most powerful, secretive, and extensive spy
 networks in history -- if, in fact, it really exists. 

 In October, Europe's governing body will
 commission a full report into the workings of
 Echelon, a global network of highly sensitive
 listening posts operated in part by America's
 most clandestine intelligence organization, the
 National Security Agency. 

 "Frankly, the only people who have any doubt
 about the existence of Echelon are in the United
 States," said Glyn Ford, a British member of the
 European Parliament and a director of Scientific
 and Technical Options Assessment, or STOA, a
 technology advisory committee to the

 Echelon is reportedly able to intercept, record,
 and translate any electronic communication --
 telephone, data, cellular, fax, email, telex -- sent
 anywhere in the world. The parliamentary report
 will focus on concerns that the system has
 expanded and is now zeroed in on the secrets of
 European companies and elected officials. 

 The parliament is alarmed at reports of
 Echelon's impressive capabilities, and during a
 debate on 19 September, the European Union
 called for accountability. The parliament
 stressed that the NSA and the Government
 Communications Headquarters, which jointly
 operate Echelon, must adopt measures to guard
 against the system's abuse. 

 International cooperation on law enforcement is
 important, Ford said, but there are limits. "We
 want to establish a code of conduct for the
 systems to protect EU citizens and

 Across the Atlantic, Patrick Poole, deputy
 director for the Free Congress Foundation, a
 conservative Washington think tank, is preparing
 a report on Echelon to present to Republican
 members of Congress. "I believe it's time we
 start to bring this matter to our elected officials,"
 he said. 

 Poole and Ford have their work cut out for them:
 Neither Britain nor the United States will admit
 that Echelon even exists. The NSA declined any
 comment on a series of faxed questions for this

 Keyword: Bomb 

 Over the years, enough information has leaked
 to suggest that the spy network is more than
 science fiction. Echelon came to the attention of
 the EU Parliament following a report
 commissioned by STOA last year. 

 "Unlike many of the electronic spy systems
 developed during the Cold War, Echelon is
 designed for primarily non-military targets:
 governments, organizations, and businesses in
 virtually every country," the report said. 

 According to the STOA report and stories in The
 New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The
 Guardian, Echelon consists of a network of
 listening posts, antenna fields, and radar
 stations. The system is backed by computers
 that use language translation, speech
 recognition, and keyword searching to
 automatically sift through telephone, email, fax,
 and telex traffic. 

 The system is principally operated by the NSA
 and the GCHQ, but reportedly also relies on
 cooperation with "signals intelligence"
 operations in other countries, including the
 Communications Security Establishment of
 Canada, Australia's Defense Signals Directorate,
 and New Zealand's Government
 Communications Security Bureau. 

 John Pike, a security analyst for the Federation
 of American Scientists, said each of the five
 government agencies takes responsibility for its
 own geographical region. 

 Each agency reportedly maintains a glossary of
 keywords. If Echelon intercepts a transmission
 containing a word or phrase contained in the
 glossary -- bomb, for example -- the full
 conversation, email, or fax is recorded and
 shared among the agencies. 

 "Echelon intercepts Internet traffic at the
 transport layer, such as the TCP/IP layer, so the
 system doesn't care too much what it is or
 where it came from," said Pike. "For analog
 traffic, such as telephone conversations, it uses
 automatic voice-recognition technology to scan
 the conversations." 

 Abuses of Power? 

 While the EU is aware that Echelon may be a
 useful tool for tracking down global terrorists,
 drug barons, and international criminals, Ford
 said the parliament is concerned that the
 system may also be used for espionage, spying
 on peaceful nations, or gaining unfair economic
 advantage over non-member nations. 

 Indeed, there are many reported instances of the
 British and US intelligence agencies working
 together to gather information in a questionable

 A 1993 BBC documentary about NSA's Menwith
 Hill facility in England revealed that peace
 protestors had broken into the installation and
 stolen part of this glossary, known as "the
 Dictionary." The documentary alleged that
 Menwith Hill -- a sprawling installation covering
 560 acres and employing more than 1,200
 people -- was Echelon's nerve center. 

 Further evidence emerged last year, when
 British Telecom told a court that it provides
 high-bandwidth telecommunications into the
 Menwith Hill facility and from the facility to the
 United States, using a transatlantic fiber-optic

 "I believe that these five intelligence agencies
 are working from a single plan," said Pike. 

 British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell
 was the first to report about Echelon in a 1988
 article in The New Statesman. He believes that
 there is a very thin line between intelligence
 gathering and commercial espionage. 

 Pike, of the Federation of American Scientists,
 believes the intelligence agencies operate in a
 gray area of international law. For example,
 there is no law prohibiting the NSA from
 intercepting telecommunications and data traffic
 in the United Kingdom and no law prohibiting
 GCHQ from doing the same thing in the United

 "The view by the NSA seems to be anything that
 can be intercepted is fair game," said Pike. "And
 it's very hard to find out what, if any, restraints
 can be employed." 
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