18 July 1998

Note: the original URL for this report has lapsed; we offer this copy to replace it. Thanks to DR for noting.

To: cypherpunks@cyberpass.net
Subject: echelon/nsa (usjournal)
Date: Mon, 15 Jun 98 13:47:07 -0700
From: "Vladimir Z. Nuri" <vznuri@netcom.com>

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Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1998 12:42:55 -0500
From: jlbtexas <jlbtexas@swbell.net>
To: Ignition Point <Ignition-Point@majordomo.pobox.com>

Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1998 09:18:48 -0600
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From: Robert Huddleston <cabhop@highfiber.com>

      http://www.usajournal.com/page34.htm [now lapsed]
     USJournal Federal Page


     Patrick S. Poole

     WASHINGTON -- Imagine what reaction the American
     public would have if they were suddenly to discover that
     a top-secret government intelligence agency was
     listening to virtually every phone conversation and
     reading almost every email and fax transmitted across
     the world each day, including their own. Now imagine
     how our European allies would react if they found out
     that this enormous intelligence gathering effort was
     particularly focused upon them by that same US
     intelligence agency. Think they’d be upset? Well, such
     as system exists, and in fact they are rather upset. 

     ECHELON. Every American interacts with this system
     on a daily basis, and yet virtually no one on this side of
     the Atlantic is aware of its existence. ECHELON is
     actually a computer component to a global spy system
     controlled by the National Security Agency (NSA) and
     shared with the GCHQ of England, the CSE of
     Canada, the Australian DSD, and the GCSB of New
     Zealand. These organizations are bound together
     under a secret 1948 agreement, UKUSA, whose terms
     and text remain under wraps even today.  

     But European diplomats are tearing the shroud of
     secrecy, tired of snooping by the US on their citizens.
     The use of ECHELON against European citizens was
     a central topic in a European Parliament STOA report
     published this past January, “Technologies of Political
     Control,” which confirmed a decades worth of reports
     by several determined journalists about global spying
     by the NSA. 

     This global spy system itself is fairly simple in design:
     position communications receiving stations all over the
     world to capture all satellite, microwave, cellular and
     fiber-optic traffic, and then process this information
     through the massive computer capabilities of the NSA,
     including voice recognition and OCR technology, and
     look for code words or phrases (known as the
     ECHELON “dictionaries”). Intelligence analysts at each
     of the respective “listening stations” analyze any
     conversation or document flagged by the system and
     forward any relevant information back to NSA
     headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland. 

     The vast majority of information gathered by this
     system passes through without notice to the
     intelligence agencies. But should you mention the word
     “bomb” in a phone conversation, you can be assured
     that some intelligence analyst will be reviewing the
     transcript of your conversation to ensure that you are
     not engaged in a terrorist plot. 

     Now you may wonder how it is that the NSA can
     conduct spying within US borders in violation of its
     charter barring domestic surveillance. This is where
     UKUSA works to their advantage. The two primary
     listening stations at Sugar Grove, West Virginia and
     Yakima, Washington are manned by “on loan”
     intelligence officials from the one of the cooperating
     agencies. If they uncover information regarding a US
     citizen, they walk across the hall and give the
     information to the NSA liaison officer, effectively
     circumventing the domestic surveillance prohibition. 

     At this point you’re probably thinking that I’ve read one
     too many issues of the Black Helicopter Gazette or the
     Branch Davidian Times, however, my sources come
     from such “covert” sources as the London Times, the
     New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, La
     Monde and the BBC. Much of the recent press
     coverage has focused on the growing European
     outrage at the use of ECHELON and the British
     participation in the UKUSA intelligence arrangement.  

     A May 31st article by Nicholas Rufford in the Sunday
     (London) Times quoted several officials from the
     German, French and Italian intelligence agencies
     decrying the expansion of the NSA facility on the
     windswept North Yorkshire moors of Menwith Hill,
     England (Field Station F83). Menwith Hill is the largest
     spy station in the world, and operated exclusively by
     the NSA. It monitors all communications traffic crossing
     the Atlantic and the European continent.  

     Last September in a trial of two Menwith Hill
     trespassers, British Telecomm inadvertently released
     top secret documents to defense attorneys which
     confirmed that the three main digital optical fiber
     cables for the British Isles ­ each carrying 100,000
     calls each at any time ­ run through the Menwith Hill
     facility to ease spying against Anglo citizens. Judge
     Jonathan Crabtree immediately lambasted the phone
     company, stating “BT had no business whatsoever to
     disclose anything of the kind…The national interest of
     the United Kingdom, even if it is conducted
     dishonestly, requires this to be kept a secret.” 

     ECHELON was designed during the heated days of
     the Cold War to combat the Soviet Union’s creep into
     Western Europe ­ a noble cause indeed. During that
     time, however, the Watergate scandal uncovered that
     US law enforcement and intelligence agencies were
     targeting US citizens for surveillance based on their
     political affiliations. In hearings held in 1975, Senator
     Frank Church cautioned against the technological
     power of the NSA, and we should heed his warning

     “That capability at any time could be turned around on
     the American people and no America would have any
     privacy left. There would be no place to hide. If this
     government ever became a tyranny, the technological
     capacity that the intelligence community has given the

     government could enable it to impose total tyranny.
     There would be no way to fight back, because the most
     careful effort to combine together in resistance to the
     government, no matter how privately it was done, is
     within the reach of the government to know. Such is the
     capacity of this technology.”  

     It is truly a difficult thing to admit that America ­ land of
     the free and home of the brave ­ may be behind the
     largest surveillance effort in the history of mankind. If
     we should become as outraged as the Europeans
     about the use of the NSA’s vast technological
     resources against US citizens, one could rightly ask
     what we could actually do about it. Sadly, the answer
     may be ­ not much. As Lord Acton’s dictum goes,
     “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
     As power goes, it does not get any more absolute than

     If you think that I’m smoking a little too much strange
     tobacco, I would encourage you to visit this site that
     has links to reprints of many of the mainstream
     European press articles and the European Parliament
     STOA report that discuss ECHELON:
     http://www.qainfo.se/~lb/echelon.htm . ***

     ©1998 Covenant Syndicate. Used with permission. 
     Patrick S. Poole is a columnist for USA Journal Online and
     the Assistant Director for Technology Policy at the Free
     Congress Foundation.