New Echelon Disclosures


"Black programs," in which technology is covertly developed and deployed, have long been standard fare for the government of the United States. The term has almost become synonymous with the aerospace firm Lockheed-Martin, whose "Skunk Works" facilities undertook the "black programs" that brought us such revolutionary aircraft as the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, and, most recently, the F-117 Stealth Fighter. But the U.S. has not confined its black programs solely to the development of aircraft. That fact is becoming abundantly clear as Echelon, perhaps the blackest program of all, is dragged kicking and screaming into the light.

Echelon is the name given to the super-secret SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) collection network allegedly operated by the most secretive of all U.S. agencies, the National Security Agency (NSA). But it is not simply an American endeavor. Also taking part in the massive eavesdropping scheme through a diplomatic construct known as the UKUSA Alliance are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Together they operate a system that is reputedly capable of recording every digital transmission relayed throughout the world each day, including telephone, FAX, and e-mail messages. According to the International Herald Tribune, the system has the capacity to "record up to 2 billion telephone messages daily." What’s more, using "dictionary" computers, the system can search all the collected messages for keywords, easily and quickly identifying those messages with intelligence implications.

The system’s capabilities, and the uses to which they are alleged to have been put, have raised hackles in Europe. According to a report commissioned by the European Union, entitled Development of Surveillance Technology and the Risk of Abuse of Economic Information, the system has, since the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, been partially dedicated to industrial espionage. According to the New York Times, the report claims that information gleaned through Echelon helped U.S. aerospace firm Boeing win a lucrative Saudi Arabian contract away from a European competitor, and that Echelon was used to help the American company Raytheon "win a bid for a $1.3 billion surveillance system for the Amazon forest away from Thomson-CSF, a French company."

More troubling is the use of Echelon to surveil individuals in the style of Orwell’s "Big Brother." The London Times for February 27th reported that the system has already been used to spy on such people as Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark, and Pope John Paul II, as well as Mother Teresa. According to former NSA employee Wayne Madsden, "anybody who is politically active will eventually end up on the NSA’s radar screen." But Echelon’s wide net targets much more than just the "politically active." According to CBS Market Watch, former Canadian intelligence agent Mike Frost "said one woman ended up in Echelon’s database as a possible terrorist because she told a friend on the phone that her son had ‘bombed’ in a school play."


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