4 July 2001. Thanks to Duncan Campbell.

See related European Parliament Motion of Resolution on Echelon, dated July 4, 2001: http://cryptome.org/echelon-epmr.htm

This report by Duncan Campbell about unusual developments in Europe related to Echelon appeared in the British Guardian on Tuesday 3 July, but was unfortunately published only in abbreviated form owing to late-breaking news of a verdict in a case of murder of famous British TV celebrity. The published version is at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,515928,00.htm 


Fight over Euro-intelligence plans

The sudden closure of one of the world’s largest spy stations is a potential harbinger of confrontation between the U.S. and Germany

Duncan Campbell

Today in Brussels, members of the European Parliament will vote to finalise a report that condemns the use of the British and American run "Echelon" international communications surveillance system as a breach of privacy, sovereignty and human rights.

The special report, which is expected to be adopted overwhelmingly by the full European Parliament at the start of September, calls for the European Convention on Human Rights to be amended to enforce the privacy of international communications to the same standard as applies to national communications. And it demands that the British and German government enforce their legal and treaty obligations to ensure proper supervision and accountability for secret US surveillance operations conducted from their territory.

"The American authorities have repeatedly tried to justify the interception of telecommunications by accusing the European authorities of corruption and taking bribes", the report claims. But "the USA must leave the task of law enforcement to the host countries". To do otherwise is "a violation of human rights".

Both Britain and Germany host giant satellite based listening stations which form the major part of the US international surveillance network. Bad Aibling Station, in a spa town south of Munich, was the world’s first satellite spy base, and started operating in 1968. Menwith Hill Station, near Harrogate, is the largest electronic listening station in the world, and will play a major role in President Bush’s controversial missile defence plans.

The world’s largest electronic spying system, of which Echelon is a part, is run by the UKUSA alliance of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the US It is founded on a still-secret 1948 agreement. The five nations share the take from their global network of surveillance stations. The only other worldwide systems are run by Russia, and by France, which has listening stations in South America and the South Pacific. A new European intelligence agency, in which Germany and France would take leading roles, would be a major challenge to the UKUSA group.

The developing spy base controversy has been foreseen as placing Britain under pressure to choose between its historic intelligence links with the US and the new European defence and intelligence initiatives spearheaded by the German government. These already include the construction of a joint European satellite receiving station at Torrejon, Spain.

But a series of recent events points to a deeper and different schism being constructed in Europe, in which Washington appears to have moved pre-emptively to prevent British isolation and to undermine a German-led Europe rising over time to become a rival intelligence power.

It is a battle that only Bonn seems so far to have anticipated and joined. In a little-reported development two days after the European Parliament report was published, irate US diplomats wrote to the German government to announce that, after lengthy negotiation with the central government and the state of Bavaria, the Bad Aibling base would peremptorily be closed.

"We have decided to alter our course and will pursue a total closure .... The US will remove ...all operational equipment under its control, including antennas and computer processing equipment", the German foreign ministry was told.

This decision was, according to the US military attache, "driven by the United States' government's desire to maintain good relations with your government, and also with the government of Bavaria".

Only last year, the supreme US military commander in Europe testified to the US Senate about his plans to urgently expand Bad Aibling as a regional intelligence co-ordination centre. Then, the US had no intention of leaving. Now, hundreds of tons of top secret equipment will be pulled out by September 2002.

The Bad Aibling row is the latest in a series of decisions from Bonn directly challenging the United States on intelligence policy issues. In 1999, Germany was the first major country to break ranks and denounce the US intelligence-inspired attempts to control private and commercial cryptography to levels they could easily break. France and most of the rest of Europe followed suit. By December, the United States government had been forced to abandon its until then successful decade old control policy on commercial and political grounds.

Four months ago, an edict from Bonn reported in Der Spiegel specified that German military or foreign service computer systems would be prohibited from using the Microsoft Windows system, on grounds that the program code was not open and could not be checked for security or "back door" flaws. American designed computer operating systems would not be permited for use on "sensitive" German government systems.

The American riposte on Echelon came in early June, after President Bush visited Madrid. After the visit, Spanish and US officials openly spoke of new arrangements between the US and Spain to supply communications intelligence from the Echelon network to help fight ETA, the seperatist Basque terrorist organisation.

Spanish foreign minister Josep Pique confirmed that the US would be providing Spain with secret intelligence on ETA. "A lot can be done from the point of view of technology, information and detecting communications", he said. Government spokesmen confirmed that "new forms of cooperation with US intelligence services were still being worked on … it opens a very promising field of action".

Since most ETA terrorists operate from south-western France, the Spanish-American deal effectively endorsed and authorised US intelligences activities in intercepting telephone calls and other communications systems operating in France. The Spanish prime minister, Jose-Maria Aznar, has also – alone in Europe - endorsed Bush’s plans for new missile defence systems.

But the ETA-tracking deal is actually the first visible sign of longer term U.S. plans to set up new bilateral intelligence arrangements with selected European nations. The US has recently developed and extended intelligence links with Norway, Denmark, and Switzerland, and has offered anti-terrorist intelligence sharing to the Italian and Greek government, as well as the Spanish.

At the remote village of Skibsbylejren near Hjorring in northern Denmark, and at Heimenschwand and Leuk in central Switzerland, contractors are now putting the finishing touches to a new network of satellite communications interception centres. The data they collect will be routed to processing centres at Zimmerwald and near Copenhagen, and then exchanged with other intelligence agencies.

By the time they are complete in 2002, the new stations will be capable of simultaneously intercepting messages from about 25 satellites. This will provide the US with more capacity than is provided by the three smaller members of the current US alliance- Canada, Australia and New Zealand – put together.

Neither Denmark nor Switzerland has claimed that the new spy bases are being provided for national requirements. According to General Peter Regli, head of the Swiss Untergruppe Nachrichtendienst der Armee (UNA) military intelligence unit, the purpose of the Swiss system – called SATOS-3 – is to trade information with partner spy agencies.

Most significantly, the policy of sharing anti-Echelon intelligence with Spain announced by President Bush is not new. The agreements were put in place under the previous Clinton administration. They were then put into operation on 15 September 2000, when a joint French-Spanish police operation netted 20 high-flying ETA figures, including Ignacio Gracia Arregui, believed to have been ETA's most senior military commander at the time. Back in Washington, administration officials gloated and said that when the right moment came, they would make use of these results and "let the damn Europeans stick this up their Echelon".

This and other developments suggest that the U.S. intelligence agencies have long been planning how to overcome the new European intelligence and privacy concerns. Their goal appears to go further than merely protecting existing surveillance operations against privacy campaigners or restrictions proposed by the European Parliament. The greater target appears to be to head off, or at least subvert and minimise the impact of an independent European intelligence capability. Now, in Bavaria and the Basque country, these battle lines have been joined.