facts and legend about the global surveillance network
The European Union has recently risen the issue of privacy in communications.
Earlier, in May, European Parliament members investigating a suspected
U.S.-led global electronic eavesdropping system had abruptly cut
short their fact-finding mission to Washington. They were in town
to meet with various officials about reported U.S. spying on the
European Echelon surveillance network for the benefit of U.S. companies,
but left in protest over the Bush administration's apparent unwillingness
to meet with them.
Carlos Coelho of Portugal, chairman of a temporary committee investigating
the issue, said his team was "concerned and dismayed" that scheduled
meetings at the U.S. State and Commerce departments "were canceled
at the last minute without a satisfactory explanation." He also
said the committee was "very disappointed' that the CIA and National
Security Agency refused to meet with it "in spite of the advanced
preparations that had been made.
Apart from the allegations, how would that be possible ? Of course
most of this type of technology is classified, but needless to say
on the Web several hypothesis circulate. This article reviews some
of the most popular online.
Imagine a global eavesdropping network capable of intercepting most
of the world's telephone calls, faxes and emails, making them available
for computer search (eg by keywords) by agencies of the five member
UKUSA intelligence alliance. This is what (probably) is Echelon,
the supersecret organization created in the 1947 by the secret UKUSA
It is however very hard to separate the facts from the legend,
both because the project is secret and because several fantastic
rumors circulate - mostly on the interet - about it.
ECHELON is the term popularly used for an automated global interception
and relay system operated by the intelligence agencies in five nations:
the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New
Zealand (it is believed that ECHELON is the code name for the portion
of the system that intercepts satellite-based communications).
While the United States National Security Agency (NSA) takes the
lead, ECHELON works in conjunction with other intelligence agencies,
including the Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DSD). It is
believed that ECHELON also works with Britain's Government Communications
Headquarters (GCHQ) and the agencies of other allies of the United
States, pursuant to various treaties.
According to reports, ECHELON attempts to capture staggering volumes
of satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic traffic, including
communications to and from North America. This vast quantity of
voice and data communications are then processed through sophisticated
These countries coordinate their activities pursuant to the UKUSA
agreement, which dates back to 1947. The original ECHELON dates
back to 1971. However, its capabilities and priorities have expanded
greatly since its formation.
About its workings, there are only speculations.
It apparently collects data in several ways.
Two steps are crucial: capture of raw data and filtering of data
in search of relevant information. See boxes on left column.
According to reports, it is capable of intercepting and processing
many types of transmissions, throughout the globe. In fact, it has
been suggested that ECHELON may intercept as many as 3 billion communications
everyday, including phone calls, e-mail messages, Internet downloads,
satellite transmissions, and so on.
The ECHELON system gathers all of these transmissions indiscriminately,
then distills the information that is most heavily desired through
artificial intelligence programs. Some sources have claimed that
ECHELON sifts through an estimated 90 percent of all traffic that
flows through the Internet.
U.S. Intelligence Community
by Jeffrey T. Richelson
This book provides a detailed overview of America's vast intelligence
empire-its organizations, its operations (from spies on the
ground to satellites thousands of miles in space), and its
management structure. Relying on a...