Dr. Bruce Henderson
November 20, 2006
Espionage has been popularized by spy fiction and secret agent personas
in pop culture today. The success of James Bond, both in novel and motion
picture forms, and the prevalence of spy fiction highlight the concepts of
confidential information and intelligent mass surveillance. These ideas and
“leaks” in the news have led to the uncovering of ECHELON, a massive
intelligence network designed to intercept and analyze telecommunications
The ECHELON system is serviced by the UKUSA Community, a
partnership between five English-speaking nations, whose purpose is gathering
intelligence via signals provided via the network. The alliance is led by the
United States and United Kingdom and includes Australia, Canada, and New
Zealand (Connolly). Each member of the alliance is allegedly responsible for
monitoring a specific area of the world (Richelson). The United States monitors
Latin America and Asia, while Britain monitors the Africa, western Russia and the
rest of Europe (Wikipedia). Canada watches northern Russia, Australia oversees
Indochina, Indonesia and mainland China, and New Zealand watches for
communications in the Pacific (Wikipedia).
The National Security Agency (NSA) is the largest U.S. government
communications-intelligence agency, responsible for the collection and analysis
of communication signals (National Security Agency). The NSA and UKUSA
organizations both cooperate in the operation of ECHELON’s network (EP
The network’s name has been confirmed by a woman named Margaret
Newsham, who worked for Lockheed Martin, a primary aerospace manufacturer
for defense worldwide (EP Report 71). Margaret claims to have worked on the
parts of the ECHELON network software, which Lockheed actually called P415
(Elkjaer and Seeberg). The software programs were codenamed SILKWORTH
and SIRE, and the network contained an important surveillance satellite named
VORTEX (Elkjaer and Seeberg). A job description containing the network’s
name as well as several of its integral program names have surfaced, confirming
Margaret’s claims (see: Figure 1).
Former NSA employee, Wayne Madsen, confirms the existence of
ECHELON, and believes that the U.S. Government uses collected
communications to give US companies an advantage in world economic affairs
(EP Report 71). He further tells that the NSA collected and archived extensive
knowledge about Princess Diana because her campaign against land mines ran
against US policy (EP Report 71).
ECHELON is rumored to have been created during the Cold War, where
intelligence agencies like the CIA and KGB played a major role in information
gathering (Cold War). It is believed that ECHELON is still used today in the
search for terrorism, drug dealing plots and political and diplomatic intelligence
(Wikipedia). The European Union, among other critics, are concerned with
ECHELON’s capabilities invading privacy and its potential to support large-scale
commercial theft. In fact, it was the elevation of public suspicion and concern
over the extent of espionage activity at the government level that commissioned
the 2001 European Parliament Report on ECHELON (EP Report 21).
ECHELON is generally understood as having the ability to intercept
communications from a wide variety of medium: radio, satellite, cellular, and
fiber-optics (EP Report 30). Satellite communications in the 1960’s has
decreased dramatically and has been displaced by communication over fiber
optics in the 21st century. Consequently, this means that the majority of
communications cannot be intercepted via satellite, and that ECHELON must be
capable of intercepting communication via radio signals or by tapping cables.
This can be done by affixing intercept apparatus at stations where fiber optic
communications are switched, and interestingly, there have been reports of such
sites in the United States. A series of computers process captured signals,
which have been programmed to search for key words, targeting specific words,
series of words or phrases, addresses, and even individual voices (Richelson).
In addition, ECHELON uses a number of databases containing key words
particular to each country (Richelson).
Little has been confirmed about the actual physical equipment in use by
the ECHELON system. However, Mark Klein, a former AT&T employee,
revealed that an appliance designed to capture and analyze communication via
fiber optic (called Narus STA 6400) was installed in an SBC Communications
building (Klein and Pontoniere). The equipment was supposedly installed in
Room 641A, which was previously occupied by AT&T before SBC purchased
AT&T. Room 641A (referred to as SG3 [Study Group 3] Secure Room by AT&T)
was rumored to be run for the NSA (Klein and Pontoniere).
Another important and confirmed base of the ECHELON network is at
Menwith Hill, England. Originally a British Royal Air Force facility, Menwith Hill is
credited as being the largest intelligence-gathering ground station outside of the
US (Campbell and Melvern). Lists of other likely, possible and former stations
exist and give rise to the speculation of how vast and extensive the ECHELON
network really is.
As a general understanding, government intelligence agencies are
restricted from spying on their own citizens, and such behavior would be viewed
as an invasion of privacy, however allegations exist that the UKUSA alliance
avoided the technical complications of these restrictions by having one country’s
intelligence agency spy on another citizens’ and then the two exchanging data
(EP Report 72).
Although supporters of ECHELON stress that the system is merely
another method of capturing and sorting data (in line with scanners at the airport,
or package tracking), adversaries are suspicious of political and industrial
espionage, and believe the U.S. Government is guilty of infringing on innocent
citizens’ privacy. The European Parliament Report supports the latter position
and made a suggestion to the American NSA in Europe: Scale down your
activities, or be open and accountable for them.
Figure 1 (http://www.ladlass.com/intel/archives/images/menwith.jpg)
Connolly, P.J. “Echelon Finds a Foe.” Infoworld 11 June 2001: 62, MasterFILE
Premier. EBSCO. Fullerton Coll. Lib., CA, 17 Nov. 2006.
Richelson, Jeffrey. “Desperately Seeking Signals.” Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists. Mar.-Apr. 2000: 47, eLibrary. ProQuest. Fullerton Coll. Lib.,
CA, 17 Nov. 2006. <http://elibrary.bigchalk.com>.
“UKUSA.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 16 Nov. 2006.
National Security Agency. The Columbia Encyclopedia Online. Sixth edition. 15
Nov. 2006 <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-NatlSecAg.html>.
“Report on the Existence of a Global System for the Interception of Private and
Commercial Communications (ECHELON Interception System).”
European Parliament. 14 Nov. 2006
Elkjaer, Bo and Seeberg, Kenan. “Echelon was my baby – Interview with
Margaret Newsham.” 15 Nov. 2006 <http://www.agitprop.org.au>.
Cold War. The Columbia Encyclopedia Online. Sixth edition. 15 Nov. 2006
“ECHELON.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 16 Nov. 2006.
Klein, Jeffrey and Pontoniere, Paolo. “Proposed Bills May Derail Wiretapping
Lawsuits.” National Catholic Reporter. 2006. eLibrary. ProQuest.
Fullerton Coll. Lib., CA. 18 Nov. 2006. <http://elibrary.bigchalk.com>.
Campbell, Duncan and Melvern, Linda. “America’s Big Ear on Europe.” New
Statesman. 06 Dec. 1999: 47, EBSCO. Fullerton Coll. Lib., CA, 17 Nov. 2006.