To the Guardian – why PRISM? ECHELON has been around since 1948 supported by US, UK, Canada, Australia
It is not at all clear to me why everyone is so excited about PRISM and the apparently new ability to monitor private communications that the Guardian got all excited about last week. It took me a day or two to remember the name, but I have this piece (below) from 2003 which documents ECHELON which has been around since 1948. PRISM reads like an extension/ subset/ addition to ECHELON.
For the record I am not afraid of this kind of thing. Indeed we can’t on the one hand be happy to throw everything personal out there, and the on the other hand complain if someone reads it.
More importantly, communications are the root of detective work and while the authorities will have their work cut out reading everything because of the incomprehensible volume, new data analysis techniques will result and that will help. If you are not discussing terrorist or other criminal activity then you don’t have to worry. The intelligence services have had the right to apprehend mail at the Post Office pre 1948, so ECHELON and PRISM are merely more of the same that keeps us safe in my view.
Anyhow, here is the old ECHELON article. A quick search will turn up lots more.
To the folks at the Guardian etc, PRISM is old hat since 1948. Where were you in the 1950’s? It’s a bit late.
ECHELON: America’s Secret Global Surveillance Network — Patrick S. Poole
Copyright 1999/2000 Patrick S. Poole
In the greatest surveillance effort ever established, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has created a global spy system, codename ECHELON, which captures and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world. ECHELON is controlled by the NSA and is operated in conjunction with the Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ) of England, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of Canada, the Australian Defense Security Directorate (DSD), and the General Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) of New Zealand. These organizations are bound together under a secret 1948 agreement, UKUSA, whose terms and text remain under wraps even today.
The ECHELON system is fairly simple in design: position intercept stations all over the world to capture all satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic communications traffic, and then process this information through the massive computer capabilities of the NSA, including advanced voice recognition and optical character recognition (OCR) programs, and look for code words or phrases (known as the ECHELON �Dictionary�) that will prompt the computers to flag the message for recording and transcribing for future analysis. Intelligence analysts at each of the respective �listening stations� maintain separate keyword lists for them to analyze any conversation or document flagged by the system, which is then forwarded to the respective intelligence agency headquarters that requested the intercept.
But apart from directing their ears towards terrorists and rogue states, ECHELON is also being used for purposes well outside its original mission. The regular discovery of domestic surveillance targeted at American civilians for reasons of �unpopular� political affiliation or for no probable cause at all in violation of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution � are consistently impeded by very elaborate and complex legal arguments and privilege claims by the intelligence agencies and the US government. The guardians and caretakers of our liberties, our duly elected political representatives, give scarce attention to these activities, let alone the abuses that occur under their watch. Among the activities that the ECHELON targets are:
Political spying: Since the close of World War II, the US intelligence agencies have developed a consistent record of trampling the rights and liberties of the American people. Even after the investigations into the domestic and political surveillance activities of the agencies that followed in the wake of the Watergate fiasco, the NSA continues to target the political activity of �unpopular� political groups and our duly elected representatives. One whistleblower charged in a 1988 Cleveland Plain Dealer interview that, while she was stationed at the Menwith Hill facility in the 1980s, she heard real-time intercepts of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond. A former Maryland Congressman, Michael Barnes, claimed in a 1995 Baltimore Sun article that under the Reagan Administration his phone calls were regularly intercepted, which he discovered only after reporters had been passed transcripts of his conversations by the White House. One of the most shocking revelations came to light after several GCHQ officials became concerned about the targeting of peaceful political groups and told the London Observer in 1992 that the ECHELON dictionaries targeted Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and even Christian ministries.
Commercial espionage: Since the demise of Communism in Eastern Europe, the intelligence agencies have searched for a new justification for their surveillance capability in order to protect their prominence and their bloated budgets. Their solution was to redefine the notion of national security to include economic, commercial and corporate concerns. An office was created within the Department of Commerce, the Office of Intelligence Liaison, to forward intercepted materials to major US corporations. In many cases, the beneficiaries of this commercial espionage effort are the very companies that helped the NSA develop the systems that power the ECHELON network. This incestuous relationship is so strong that sometimes this intelligence information is used to push other American manufacturers out of deals in favor of these mammoth US defense and intelligence contractors, who frequently are the source of major cash contributions to both political parties.
While signals intelligence technology was helpful in containing and eventually defeating the Soviet Empire during the Cold War, what was once designed to target a select list of communist countries and terrorist states is now indiscriminately directed against virtually every citizen in the world. The European Parliament is now asking whether the ECHELON communications interceptions violate the sovereignty and privacy of citizens in other countries. In some cases, such as the NSA�s Menwith Hill station in England, surveillance is conducted against citizens on their own soil and with the full knowledge and cooperation of their government.
This report suggests that Congress pick up its long-neglected role as watchdog of the Constitutional rights and liberties of the American people, instead of its current role as lap dog to the US intelligence agencies. Congressional hearings ought to be held, similar to the Church and Rockefeller Committee hearings held in the mid-1970s, to find out to what extent the ECHELON system targets the personal, political, religious, and commercial communications of American citizens. The late Senator Frank Church warned that the technology and capability embodied in the ECHELON system represented a direct threat to the liberties of the American people. Left unchecked, ECHELON could be used by either the political elite or the intelligence agencies themselves as a tool to subvert the civil protections of Constitution and to destroy representative government in the United States.
Written by Colin Henderson Edit
18/12/2003 at 22:50
Posted in Echelon