19 December 2005. See also, first published today, Signals Intelligence and
Human Rights - The ECHELON Report, by Duncan Campbell:
2 March 2000
Earliest public report on NSA electronic espionage (1972):
Earliest public report on Echelon (1988):
Key Echelon files:
Date: Thu, 02 Mar 2000 19:14:47 -0500
From: Paul Wolf <email@example.com>
Subject: 60 Minutes ECHELON transcript
From: Sanho Tree <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Television Broadcast February 27, 2000
ECHELON; WORLDWIDE CONVERSATIONS BEING RECEIVED BY THE ECHELON SYSTEM
MAY FALL INTO THE WRONG HANDS AND INNOCENT PEOPLE MAY BE TAGGED AS SPIES
STEVE KROFT, co-host:
If you made a phone call today or sent an e-mail to a friend, there's a good
chance what you said or wrote was captured and screened by the country's
largest intelligence agency. The top-secret Global Surveillance Network is
called Echelon, and it's run by the National Security Agency and four
English-speaking allies: Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
The mission is to eavesdrop on enemies of the state: foreign countries, terrorist
groups and drug cartels. But in the process, Echelon's computers capture
virtually every electronic conversation around the world.
How does it work, and what happens to all the information that's gathered?
A lot of people have begun to ask that question, and some suspect that the
information is being used for more than just catching bad guys.
(Footage of satellite; person talking on cell phone; fax machine; ATM being
used; telephone pole and wires; radio towers)
KROFT: (Voiceover) We can't see them, but the air around us is filled with
invisible electronic signals, everything from cell phone conversations to
fax transmissions to ATM transfers. What most people don't realize is that
virtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being
collected and analyzed.
How much of the world is covered by them?
Mr. MIKE FROST (Former Spy): The entire world, the whole planet--covers
everything. Echelon covers everything that's radiated worldwide at any given
KROFT: Every square inch is covered.
Mr. FROST: Every square inch is covered.
(Footage of Frost; listening post)
KROFT: (Voiceover) Mike Frost spent 20 years as a spy for the CSE, the Canadian
equivalent of the National Security Agency, and he is the only high-ranking
former intelligence agent to speak publicly about the Echelon program. Frost
even showed us one of the installations where he says operators can listen
in to just about anything.
Mr. FROST: Everything from--from data transfers to cell phones to portable
phones to baby monitors to ATMs...
KROFT: Baby monitors?
Mr. FROST: Oh, yeah. Baby monitors give you a lot of intelligence.
(Footage of listening posts)
KROFT: (Voiceover) This listening post outside Ottawa is just part of a network
of spy stations, which are hidden in the hills of West Virginia, in remote
parts of Washington state, even in plain view among the sheep pastures of
This is Menwith Hill Station in the Yorkshire countryside of Northern England.
Even though we're on British soil, Menwith Hill is an American base operated
by the National Security Agency. It's believed to be the largest spy station
in the world.
(Footage of Menwith Hill Station; aerial footage of NSA headquarters;
KROFT: (Voiceover) Inside each globe are huge dishes which intercept and
download satellite communications from around the world. The information
is then sent on to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where acres
of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for
key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.
Mr. FROST: Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the
computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words
such as 'bomb' or 'terrorist' or 'blow up,' to telephone numbers or--or a
person's name. And people are getting caught, and--and that's great.
(Footage of National Security Agency; Carlos the Jackal; two Libyans in court)
KROFT: (Voiceover) The National Security Agency won't talk about those successes
or even confirm that a program called Echelon exists. But it's believed the
international terrorist Carlos the Jackal was captured with the assistance
of Echelon, and that it helped identify two Libyans the US believes blew
up Pan-Am Flight 103.
Is it possible for people like you and I, innocent civilians, to be targeted
Mr. FROST: Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was
at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before,
and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a--a lousy job.
Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said
to her friend something like this, 'Oh, Danny really bombed last night,'
just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that
was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w--was referring
to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number
in the database as a possible terrorist.
KROFT: This is not urban legend you're talking about. This actually happened?
Mr. FROST: Factual. Absolutely fact. No legend here.
(Vintage footage of Fonda; Spock; King; congressional hearing; the Capitol
KROFT: (Voiceover) Back in the 1970s, the NSA was caught red-handed spying
on anti-war protesters like Jane Fonda and Dr. Benjamin Spock, and it turns
out they had been recording the conversations of civil rights leaders like
Martin Luther King in the 1960s. When Congress found out, it drafted strict,
new laws prohibiting the NSA from spying on Americans, but today, there's
enough renewed concern about potential abuses that Congress is revisiting
Representative BOB BARR (Republican, Georgia): (From C-SPAN) One such project
known as Project Echelon engages in the interception of literally millions
of communications involving United States citizens.
(Footage of Barr; NSA sign; Goss and Kroft)
KROFT: (Voiceover) But even members of Congress have trouble getting information
about Echelon. Last year, the NSA refused to provide internal memoranda on
the program to Porter Goss, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
What exactly was it that you requested?
Representative PORTER GOSS (Chairman, House Intelligence Committee): Well,
I can't get too specific about it, but there was some information about
procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted
to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards
were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the
NSA said, 'Well, we don't think we need to share this information with the
Oversight Committee.' And we said, 'Well, we're sorry about that. We do have
the oversight, and you will share the information with us,' and they did.
(Footage of Goss and Kroft)
KROFT: (Voiceover) But only after Goss threatened to cut the NSA's budget.
He still believes, though, that the NSA does not eavesdrop on innocent American
If the NSA has capabilities to screen enormous numbers of telephone calls,
faxes, e-mails, whatnot, how do you filter out the American conversations,
and how do you--how can you be sure that no one is listening to those
Rep. GOSS: We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those
procedures are working very well.
(Footage of Madsen; epic.org Web site; Amnesty International gathering;
Greenpeace members in a boat; Princess Diana)
KROFT: (Voiceover) Others aren't so sure. Wayne Madsen works with a group
called the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which is suing the NSA
to get a copy of the documents that were finally turned over to Congressman
Goss. Madsen, a former naval officer who used to work for the NSA, is concerned
about reports that Echelon has listened in on groups like Amnesty International
and Greenpeace. Last year, the NSA was forced to acknowledge that it had
more than 1,000 pages of information on the late Princess Diana.
Mr. WAYNE MADSEN (Electronic Privacy Information Center): Princess Diana,
in her campaign against land mines, of course, was completely at odds with
US policy, so her activities were of tremendous interest to--to the US
policy-makers, of course, and--and, therefore, to the National Security Agency
KROFT: Do you think the--the NSA only monitored her conversations that involved
Mr. MADSEN: Well, when NSA extends the big drift net out there, it's possible
that they're picking up more than just her conversations concerning land
mines. What they do with that intelligence, who knows?
(Footage of newspaper headlines; Menwith Hill Station)
KROFT: (Voiceover) In the early 1990s, some of Diana's personal conversations,
as well as those of some others associated with the royal family, mysteriously
appeared in the British tabloids. Could some of those conversations have
been picked up by that US spy station in England?
Mr. MADSEN: (Voiceover) There's been some speculation that Menwith Hill may
have been involved in the intercepts of those communications as--as well.
And how--how could that be legal? Well, British intelligence could say, 'Well,
we didn't eavesdrop on members of the British royal family. These happened
to be conducted by, you know, one of our strategic partners.' And, therefore,
they would skirt the--skirt the British laws against intercepts of
(Footage of National Security Agency sign)
KROFT: (Voiceover) The US admits it often shares intelligence with its allies,
but never to get around the law.
Mr. FROST: Never, Steve, will governments admit that they can circumvent
legislation by asking another country to do for them what they can't do for
themselves. They will never admit that. But that sort of thing is so easy
to do. It is so commonplace.
KROFT: Do you have any first-hand experience?
Mr. FROST: I do have first-hand experience where CSE did some dirty work
for Margaret Thatcher when she was prime minister. She...
KROFT: What kind of dirty work?
Mr. FROST: Well, at the time, she had two ministers that she said, quote,
"They weren't on side," unquote, and she wanted to find out, not what these
ministers were saying, but what they were thinking. So my boss, as a matter
of fact, went to McDonald House in London and did intercept traffic from
these two ministers. The British Parliament now have total deniability. They
didn't do anything. They know nothing about it. Of course they didn't do
anything; we did it for them.
(Footage of Newsham and Kroft)
KROFT: (Voiceover) One of the few people to acknowledge that they have listened
to conversations over the Echelon system is Margaret Newsham, who worked
at Menwith Hill in England back in 1979. She had a top secret security clearance.
So who--you--you knew that conversations were being pulled off satellites.
Ms. MARGARET NEWSHAM: Yes. But to my knowledge, all it was going to be would
be like Russian, Chinese or, y--you know, foreign.
(Footage of Newsham)
KROFT: (Voiceover) But soon, she says, she discovered it wasn't only the
Russians and the Chinese who were the targets.
Ms. NEWSHAM: I walked into the office building and a friend said, 'Come over
here and listen to--to this thing.' And--and he had headphones on, so I took
the headphones and I listened to it, and--and I looked at him and I'm going,
'That's an American.' And he said, 'Well, yeah.'
KROFT: And it was definitely an American voice?
Ms. NEWSHAM: It was definitely an American voice, and it was a voice that
was distinct. And I said, 'Well, who is that?' And he said it was Senator
Strom Thurmond. And I go, 'What?'
KROFT: Do you think this kind of stuff goes on?
Mr. FROST: Oh, of course it goes on. Been going on for years. Of course it
KROFT: You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in...
Mr. FROST: Well, I--I...
KROFT: ...in the United States?
Mr. FROST: Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? Sounds like the world of fiction.
It's not; not the world of fiction. That's the way it works. I've been there.
I was trained by you guys.
Rep. GOSS: Certainly possible that something like that could happen. The
question is: What happened next?
KROFT: What do you mean?
Rep. GOSS: It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation.
I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone
and elsewhere. So it's very possible somebody could have heard me. But the
question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in
the ether; it's there. But what I can make sure is that it's not abused--the
capability's not abused, and that's what we do.
KROFT: Much of what's known about the Echelon program comes not from enemies
of the United States, but from its friends. Last year, the European Parliament,
which meets here in Strasbourg, France, issued a report listing many of the
Echelon's spy stations around the world and detailing their surveillance
capabilities. The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies
and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and
industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European
corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain
an economic advantage.
(Footage of report; plane; report; Raytheon sign; Ford and Kroft)
KROFT: (Voiceover) The European Parliament report alleges that the NSA 'lifted
all the faxes and phone calls' between the European aircraft manufacturer
Airbus and Saudi Arabian Airlines, and that the information helped two American
companies, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, win a $ 6 billion contract. The
report also alleges that the French company Thomson-CSF lost a $ 1.3 billion
satellite deal to Raytheon the same way. Glen Ford is the member of the European
Parliament who commissioned the report.
Mr. GLEN FORD (European Parliament Member): It's not the--if you want, the
Echelon system that's the problem. It's how it's being used. Now, you know,
if we're catching the bad guys, we're completely in favor of that, whether
it's you catching the bad guys, us or anybody else. We don't like the bad
guys. What we're concerned about is that some of the good guys in my constituency
don't have jobs because US corporations got an inside track on--on some global
(Footage of encryption machine; Clinton and several men walking; Ford)
KROFT: (Voiceover) Increasingly, European governments and corporations are
turning to something called encryption, a system of scrambling phone, fax
or e-mail transmissions so that the Echelon system won't be able to read
them. The US is worried about the technology falling into the hands of terrorists
or other enemies. The Clinton administration has been trying to persuade
the Europeans to give law enforcement and intelligence agencies a key with
which they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Glen Ford,
the European parliamentarian, agrees it's a good idea, in principle.
Mr. FORD: However, if we are not assured that that is n--not going to be
abused, then I'm afraid we may well take the view, 'Sorry, no.' In the United
Kingdom, it's traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if
they want the neighbors to come in and--and do something in their house.
Well, we're neighbors, and we're not going to leave the electronic key under
the doormat if you're going to come in and steal the family silver.
KROFT: Y--you said that you think that this is basically a good idea, that
we have to do this at some...
Mr. FROST: Oh, in a perfect world, we would not need the NSA, we would not
need CSE. But, you know, we have to. We have to in the areas of terrorism,
drug lords. We--we'd be lost without them. My concern is no accountability
and nothing--no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through
the cracks. That's my concern.
KROFT: Accountability isn't the only issue that's of interest to Congress.
There is growing concern within the intelligence community that encryption
and the worldwide move to fiber-optic cables, which Echelon may not be able
to penetrate, will erode the NSA's ability to gather the intelligence vital
to national security. The agency is looking for more money to develop new
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