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IP: ECHELON: America's Spy in the Sky

From: Patrick Poole <[email protected]>
Subject: IP: ECHELON: America's Spy in the Sky
Date: Wed, 28 Oct 1998 17:27:26 -0500
To: [email protected]

The Free Congress Foundation is pleased to announce that the fourth
installment in our "Privacy Papers" series is now available online.
Entitle "ECHELON: America's Spy in the Sky," you can read about how the
National Security Agency has established a global surveillance system
that monitors every phone, fax and email message sent around the world.
Read the report's Executive Summary below, and then read the report in
its entirety at:


Executive Summary

In the greatest surveillance effort ever established, the US National
Security Agency (NSA) has created a global spy system, codename ECHELON,
which captures and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax, email and
telex message sent anywhere in the world. ECHELON is controlled by the
NSA and is operated in conjunction with the General Communications Head
Quarters (GCHQ) of England, the Communications Security Establishment
(CSE) of Canada, the Australian Defense Security Directorate (DSD), and
the General Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) of New Zealand. These
organizations are bound together under a secret 1948 agreement, UKUSA,
whose terms and text remain under wraps even today.

The ECHELON system is fairly simple in design: position intercept
stations all over the world to capture all satellite, microwave,
cellular and fiber-optic communications traffic, and then process this
information through the massive computer capabilities of the NSA,
including advanced voice recognition and optical character recognition
(OCR) programs, and look for code words or phrases (known as the ECHELON
"Dictionary") that will prompt the computers to flag the message for
recording and transcribing for future analysis. Intelligence analysts at
each of the respective "listening stations" maintain separate keyword
lists for them to analyze any conversation or document flagged by the
system, which is then forwarded to the respective intelligence agency
headquarters that requested the intercept.

But apart from directing their ears towards terrorists and rogue states,
ECHELON is also being used for purposes well outside its original
mission. The regular discovery of domestic surveillance targeted at
American civilians for reasons of "unpopular" political affiliation or
for no probable cause at all in violation of the First, Fourth and Fifth
Amendments of the Constitution - are  consistently impeded by very
elaborate and complex legal arguments and privilege claims by the
intelligence agencies and the US government. The guardians and
caretakers of our liberties, our duly elected political representatives,
give scarce attention to these activities, let alone the abuses that
occur under their watch. Among the activities that the ECHELON targets

Political spying: Since the close of World War II, the US intelligence
agencies have developed a consistent record of trampling the rights and
liberties of the American people. Even after the investigations into the
domestic and political surveillance activities of the agencies that
followed in the wake of the Watergate fiasco, the NSA continues to
target the political activity of "unpopular" political groups and our
duly elected representatives. One whistleblower charged in a 1988
Cleveland Plain Dealer interview that, while she was stationed at the
Menwith Hill facility in the 1980s, she heard real-time intercepts of
South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond. A former Maryland Congressman,
Michael Barnes, claimed in a 1995 Baltimore Sun article that under the
Reagan Administration his phone calls were regularly intercepted, which
he discovered only after reporters had been passed transcripts of his
conversations by the White House. One of the most shocking revelations
came to light after several GCHQ officials became concerned about the
targeting of peaceful political groups and told the London Observer in
1992 that the ECHELON dictionaries targeted Amnesty International,
Greenpeace, and even Christian ministries.

Commercial espionage: Since the demise of Communism in Eastern Europe,
the intelligence agencies have searched for a new justification for
their surveillance capability in order to protect their prominence and
their bloated budgets. Their solution was to redefine the notion of
national security to include economic, commercial and corporate
concerns. An office was created within the Department of Commerce, the
Office of Intelligence Liaison, to forward intercepted materials to
major US corporations. In many cases, the beneficiaries of this
commercial espionage effort are the very companies that helped the NSA
develop the systems that power the ECHELON network. This incestuous
relationship is so strong that sometimes this intelligence information
is used to push other American manufacturers out of deals in favor of
these mammoth US defense and intelligence contractors, who frequently
are the source of major cash contributions to both political parties.

While signals intelligence technology was helpful in containing and
eventually defeating the Soviet Empire during the Cold War, what was
once designed to target a select list of communist countries and
terrorist states is now indiscriminately directed against virtually
every citizen in the world. The European Parliament is now asking
whether the ECHELON communications interceptions violate the sovereignty
and privacy of citizens in other countries. In some cases, such as the
NSA's Menwith Hill station in England, surveillance is conducted against
citizens on their own soil and with the full knowledge and cooperation
of their government.

This report suggests that Congress pick up its long-neglected role as
watchdog of the Constitutional rights and liberties of the American
people, instead of its current role as lap dog to the US intelligence
agencies. Congressional hearings ought to be held, similar to the Church
and Rockefeller Committee hearings in the mid-1970s, to find out to what
extent the ECHELON system targets the personal, political, religious,
and commercial communications of American citizens. The late Senator
Frank Church warned that the technology and capability embodied in the
ECHELON system represented a direct threat to the liberties of the
American people. Left unchecked, ECHELON could be used by either the
political elite or the intelligence agencies themselves as a tool to
subvert the civil protections of Constitution and to destroy
representative government in the United States.

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