This information about internet surveillance should not mean we stop
fighting for liberation. It's just a reminder that the internet has
evolved from within the US Dept. of Defense and technical structures of
capitalism. It helps to keep us focused and sharpened on the fierce
protracted antiracist/anticapitalist/antisexist battle at hand.
S. E. Anderson
By Stuart Millar, Richard Norton-Taylor and Ian Black
May 26, 2001 The Guardian
For years it has been the subject of bitter controversy,
its existence repeatedly claimed but never officially
At last, the leaked draft of a report to be published next
week by the European parliament removes any lingering
doubt: Echelon, a shadowy, US-led worldwide electronic
spying network, is a reality.
Echelon is part of an Anglo-Saxon club set up by secret
treaty in 1947, whereby the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and
New Zealand, divided the world between them to share the
product of global eavesdropping. Agencies from the five
countries exchange intercepts using supercomputers to
identify key words.
The intercepts are picked up by ground stations, including
the US base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, and GCHQ's
listening post at Morwenstow in Cornwall.
In the cold war, eavesdropping - signals intelligence, or
Sigint as it is known in the trade - was aimed at military
and diplomatic communications. Helped by increasingly
sophisticated computers, it has now switched to
industrial, commercial targets - and private individuals.
Echelon computers can store millions of records on
individuals, intercepting faxes, phone calls, and emails.
The MEP's report - which faced opposition from the British
and American governments and their respective security
services - was prompted by claims that the US was using
Echelon to spy on European companies on behalf of American
France, deeply suspicious of Britain's uniquely close
intelligence links with the US, seized on reports that
Echelon cost Airbus Industrie an œ8bn contract with Saudi
Arabia in 1994, after the US intercepted communications
between Riyadh and the Toulouse headquarters of Airbus -
in which British firms hold a 20% stake.
The MEPs admitted they had been unable to find conclusive
proof of industrial espionage. The claim has been
dismissed by all the Echelon governments and in a new book
by an intelligence expert, James Bamford.
More disturbing, as Mr Bamford and the MEPs pointed out,
was the threat Echelon posed to privacy. "The real issue
is whether Echelon is doing away with individual privacy -
a basic human right," he said. The MEPs looked at
statements from former members of the intelligence
services, who provided compelling evidence of Echelon's
existence, and the potential scope of its activities.
One former member of the Canadian intelligence service,
the CSE, claimed that every day millions of emails, faxes
and phone conversations were intercepted. The name and
phone number of one woman, he said, was added to the CSE's
list of potential terrorists after she used an ambiguous
word in an innocent call to a friend.
"Disembodied snippets of conversations are snatched from
the ether, perhaps out of context, and may be
misinterpreted by an analyst who then secretly transmits
them to spy agencies and law enforcement offices around
the world," Mr Bamford said.
The "misleading information", he said, "is then placed in
NSA's near-bottomless computer storage system, a system
capable of storing 5 trillion pages of text, a stack of
paper 150 miles high".
Unlike information on US citizens, which officially cannot
be kept longer than a year, information on foreigners can
he held "eternally", he said.
The MEP's draft report concludes the system cannot be as
extensive as reports have assumed. It is limited by being
based on worldwide interception of satellite
communications, which account for a small part of
communications. Eavesdropping on other messages requires
either tapping cables or intercepting radio signals, but
the states involved in Echelon, the draft report found,
had access to a limited proportion of radio and cable
But independent privacy groups claimed Britain, the US and
their Echelon partners, were developing eavesdropping
systems to cope with the explosion in communications on
email and internet.
In Britain, the government last year brought in the
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which allowed
authorities to monitor email and internet traffic through
"black boxes" placed inside service providers' systems. It
gave police authority to order companies or individuals
using encryption to protect their communications, to
hand over the encryption keys. Failure to do so was
punishable by a sentence of up to two years.
The act has been condemned by civil liberties campaigners,
but there are signs the authorities are keen to secure
more far reaching powers to monitor internet traffic.
Last week, the London-based group, Statewatch, published
leaked documents saying the EU's 15 member states were
lobbying the European commission to require that service
providers kept all phone, fax, email and internet data in
case they were needed in criminal investigations.
Guardian Unlimited c Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001
Report Urges More Encryption
Associated Press Writer
May 29, 2001 Los Angeles Times
BRUSSELS, Belgium--Europeans should make more use of
encryption software to protect themselves against a
U.S.-led spy network known as Echelon, according to a
European Parliament report released Tuesday.
The 108 -page report, prepared after seven months of
testimony from communications and security experts,
concluded the worldwide spy network does exist, despite
official U.S. denials.
But the Parliament's vice president, Gerhard Schmid,
conceded the committee had no solid evidence that
Americans were passing on European trade secrets to give
U.S. businesses a competitive advantage.
"What we cannot deny or prove is that information is
passed on to companies," Schmid said. "The problem is
there are no tracks or traces of interception."
He said the committee's investigation did come up with
evidence that Echelon, reportedly run by the United States
in cooperation with Britain, Canada, Australia and New
Zealand, is operating.
According to the report and testimony, Echelon was set up
at the beginning of the Cold War for intelligence
gathering and has grown into a network of intercept
stations across the globe. Its primary purpose, the report
said, is to intercept private and commercial
communications, not military intelligence.
"That a global system for intercepting communications
exists ... is no longer in doubt," the report concluded.
"They do tap into private, civilian and corporate
telecommunications," Schmid said. The report collected
testimony from Australia, Canada and New Zealand which
verifies the existence of a "very close alliance," he
U.S. officials have refused to acknowledge the existence
of such a system, and have denied American agencies engage
in industrial espionage. The EU committee went to
Washington this month to meet with U.S. officials and
agencies responsible for intelligence.
However, both the CIA and the National Security Agency,
believed to be responsible for Echelon, refused to meet
Former CIA director James Woolsey has acknowledged the
United States secretly collects information on non-U.S.
companies, but said it was only done in cases where
companies were suspected of violating sanctions or
offering bribes to gain business.
"We need to ensure the privacy of citizens are protected
and of course those of companies," said Elly Plooij-Van
Gorsel, vice-chairwoman of the committee, in calling for
Europeans to create software to protect their
The report also called on those who send sensitive
information by e-mail to start encrypting the messages.
The report called on Britain, a member of the 15 -nation
EU, to reconsider its link to Echelon, adding it could be
violating European human rights laws and its commitment to
its EU partners.
"The Brits have a special relationship with the U.S. ...
It could be a problem," said EU committee member Jan
The report, which now goes to the EU Assembly for review,
urged Washington to sign an international agreement on
civil and political rights, guaranteeing privacy
protection for citizens.
The report did deny that the spy network listens in and
intercepts "billions of messages per hour," including
telephone calls, fax transmissions and private e-mails, as
was concluded in a parliamentary study last year.
The report said "only a very small portion" of global
telephone, e-mail and fax communications were being