28 February 2002: Link to news report on Newsham settlement with Lockheed.

25 February 2000. Thanks to Duncan Campbell. Intratextual links by Cryptome.

Making history: the original source for the 1988 first Echelon report steps forward

London, Friday 25 February, 2000

In the circumstances of the extensive worldwide political and media attention that is currently focussed on the Echelon communications surveillance network, I wish to pay tribute to the person who first alerted the United States legislature and the world to the existence of Echelon.

Following the presentation of my report on Echelon and related Sigint systems to the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this week, my principal original source has said that she may be identified.

I published the first-ever report about Echelon in the British political weekly New Statesman on 12 August 1988. The information about Echelon in that report came principally from Margaret Newsham, a computer systems manager who is now in retirement.

Margaret Newsham, better known as Peg, was formerly employed by a contractor at the National Security Agency Field Station at Menwith Hill, Yorkshire, England. From August 1978 onwards, she worked at Menwith Hill as a software system support co-ordinator. In this capacity, she helped managed a number of Sigint computer databases, including "Echelon 2". She and others also helped establish the "Silkworth" system at Menwith Hill. Silkworth is the ground processing system for the series of signals intelligence satellites initially known as Chalet, Vortex and Mercury.

Later, on transferring to Sunnyvale, California, Peg Newsham worked for Lockheed Space and Missiles Corporation. In that capacity, she became aware of the plans drawn up for the massive expansion of the Echelon network, a project identified internally as P-415.

During her employment by Lockheed, she became concerned about corruption, fraud and abuse within the organisations planning and operating electronic surveillance systems such as Echelon. She drew these matters to the attention of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence early in 1988.

While working at Menwith Hill, she witnessed the interception of a telephone call made by US Senator Strom Thurmond. Although this incident was reported to the House Committee, no substantive investigation took place, and no report was made to Congress.

The incident involving Senator Thurmond was first reported by Keith C Epstein and John S Long in the Ohio Plain Dealer in July 1988. I reported the existence and expansion of the Echelon network in the New Statesman one month later. Neither the media nor the Congress took the matter further. There were no Washington Post, New York Times or Sixty Minutes reports. Now – finally – 12 years late, CBS has invited her to repeat the information we first published in 1988 on their programme Sixty Minutes, to be shown on Sunday evening, 27 February.

BACK IN 1988, however, the US and world press was uninterested in her reports, and did not cover Peg Newsham’s revelations. ABC News interviewed her for television in 1992, but editors at that network chose not to broadcast the report.

The full details of Echelon would probably never have come to serious public attention but for 6 years of careful work by New Zealand writer Nicky Hager, who assiduously researched the new Echelon station that started operating in his country in 1989. His 1996 book Secret Power is based on extensive interviews with and help from a group of members of the New Zealand signals intelligence organisation. It remains the best informed and most detailed account of how Echelon works.

In 1998 and 1999, the intelligence specialist Dr Jeff Richelson of the Washington, DC National Security Archive used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a series of modern official US Navy and Air Force documents which confirmed the continued existence, scale and expansion of the Echelon system. His initial findings were included in my April 1999 report to the European Parliament. Since then, his research has uncovered new and previously unknown Echelon units. These were reported to the European Parliament this week. Because of these workers, there is now no room for doubt about the substance of Peg Newsham’s 1988 revelations.

HISTORY can therefore now fully record how the Echelon network first came to light and how both the media and US congressional oversight bodies failed to respond for more than a decade. It should also record the courage of Ms Newsham in speaking out 12 years ago, and should address the need to provide better and timelier support to those who, like her, have had to stand in the shadows, and perhaps in fear, while they blow the whistle in the public interest.

I am sad that Peg Newsham now must draw on the same reserves of courage to fight a serious illness. But I am heartened that she now feels free to be recognised as the person who first opened these serious and important issues to public scrutiny. I hope that others too will salute her contribution to the public interest of the United States and other nations.

Duncan Campbell