NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY

Reportage in 1999

The Echelon Scare 

Since the late 1990s and probably associated with the publication of Nicky Hager's Secret Power: New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network (Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing, 1996), a cottage industry of conspiracists has grown up around the supposed evils of a global Sigint system, codenamed "Echelon" and jointly operated by NSA and the UK's GCHQ with the participation of Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand Sigint organizations, that is capable of tapping telephones, E-mail, and other electronic means of communication on a worldwide basis.

In the course of 1999, public interest in and comment on Echelon rose almost to the level of hysteria. On 16 November 1999, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched a new web site "designed to shed light on a global electronic surveillance system known by the code name 'Echelon' that reportedly allows the United States and other governments to eavesdrop on private citizens" (ACLU press release, dated 16 November 1999).

John Macartney, AFIO Weekly Intelligence Notes 46-99, 18 Nov. 1999, points to a contadictory aspect of the Echelon uproar: "[T]here's an interesting contradiction here. On the one hand, I keep hearing that NSA and the SIGINT business are being overtaken by the info tech revolution -- that is, the explosion in e-mail, faxes and other communications, coupled with fiber optics and the widespread availability of 'unbreakable' encryption, is making SIGINT as we knew it ineffective. On the other hand, we hear this hysteria about 'Echelon,' which allegedly hears everything."

Materials presented in chronological order.

Mathews, Brendan. "London Calling, the NSA Listening." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Mar. 1999, 9-11.

Discusses concerns that NSA and associated services are using the "Echelon" system to listen in on sensitive commercial and governmental communications.

Paterson, Tony. "US Spy Satellites 'Raiding German Firms' Secrets.'" Telegraph (London), 11 Apr. 1999. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk]

"Security experts in Germany have uncovered new evidence of a big American industrial espionage operation in Europe using satellite listening posts in Britain and Germany.... The main centres used for satellite tapping of millions of confidential company telephone calls, fax and e-mail messages are believed to be terrestrial listening posts run by the American National Security Agency (NSA) at Menwith Hill, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, and Bad Aibling, Bavaria."

Acey, Madeleine. "Report: U.S. Uses Key Escrow to Steal Secrets." New York Times, 18 May 1999. [http://www.nytimes.com/techweb/]

A report for the Scientific and Technological Options Assessment Panel of the European Parliament, released on 21 May 1999, "said the United States has tried to persuade European Union countries to adopt its key escrow or key recovery policies -- allowing backdoor access to encryption programs -- ... [so NSA can] intercept confidential company communications and give them to favored competitors."

Coulthart, Ross, reporter. "['Sunday' program:] Big Brother Is Listening." Channel 9 (Australia), 23 May 1999. [http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au]

Transcript of program focused on "the UK-USA alliance" that includes intelligence organizations in the UK, the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Participants are Mike Frost (former Canadian CSE), Nicky Hager (author), Bill Blick (Australian Inspector General of Intelligence and Security), Wayne Madsen (former NSA), Jeffrey Richelson (author), and Martin Brady (Director of Australian DSD). The latter is quoted as stating: "DSD does cooperate with counterpart signals intelligence organisations overseas under the UKUSA relationship." See also, Duncan Campbell, "Careful, They Might Hear You," The Age (Melbourne), 23 May 1999.

McKay, Niall. "Lawmakers Raise Questions About International Spy Network." New York Times, 27 May 1999. [http://www.nytimes.com]

HPSCI has requested that the NSA and CIA "provide a detailed report to Congress explaining what legal standards they use to monitor the conversations, transmissions and activities of American citizens." Concerns are focused on whether the NSA-British surveillance network, known as Echelon, "could be used to monitor American citizens."

Verton, Daniel. "Congress, NSA Butt Heads over Echelon." Federal Computer Week, 3 Jun. 1999. [http://www.fcw.com]

"According to an amendment to the fiscal 2000 Intelligence Authorization Act proposed last month by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.)," the DCI, NSA director, and attorney general "must submit a report within 60 days of the bill becoming law that outlines the legal standards being employed to safeguard the privacy of American citizens against Project Echelon."

Ford, Peter. "Friction Over 'Friendly' Spying." Christian Science Monitor, 3 Sep. 1999, 1. "What's a Little Spying between Friends?" 6 Sep 1999. [http://www.nandotimes.com]

"As details emerge of US intelligence agencies eavesdropping on the e-mail, faxes, and phone calls of European businesses, politicians [in Europe] are calling for better ways to safeguard industrial secrets. The most contentious source of trenchcoat contretemps among transatlantic allies: Internet encryption."

Bomford, Andrew. "Global Spy Network Revealed." BBC News Online, 2 Nov. 1999. [http://news.bbc.co.uk]

Australian Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Bill Blick "has confirmed to the BBC that [Australia's] Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) does form part of the [Echelon] network." The article also quotes journalist Duncan Campbell; a former U.S. army intelligence officer, Col. Dan Smith; U.S. Republican Congressman Bob Barr; and British Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker.

Loeb, Vernon. "Critics Questioning NSA Reading Habits: Politicians Ask if Agency Sweeps In Private Data." Washington Post, 13 Nov. 1999, A3. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

"Members of Congress, the European Parliament and civil liberties groups have begun to ask tough questions about the National Security Agency's interception of foreign telephone calls, faxes and electronic mail."

Bamford, James. "Loud and Clear: The Most Secret of Secret Agencies Operates under Outdated Laws." Washington Post, 14 Nov. 1999, B1. "The NSA's Limitless Reach: The Super-Secret Agency Operates Under Laws Out of Date in the Electronic Age." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 22 Nov. 1999, 21-22.

Menwith Hill on the Yorkshire moors in northern England "is the NSA's largest listening post anywhere in the world.... [R]ather than shrinking in the decade since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Menwith Hill has grown. People in Europe and the United States are beginning to ask why. Has the NSA turned from eavesdropping on the communists to eavesdropping on businesses and private citizens in Europe and the United States?"

Verton, Daniel. "Intelligence Bill Targets NSA, Echelon Upgrades." Federal Computer Week, 18 Nov. 1999. [http://www.fcw.com]

The bill to authorize appropriations for FY 2000 operations of the U.S. intelligence community "includes funding for infrastructure upgrades" at Menwith Hill signals intelligence listening post in England. Menwith Hill "is widely suspected of being one of the central European-based processing centers for the 'Echelon' system, an electronic surveillance network sponsored by the National Security Agency."

 

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