- WASHINGTON (States News
- Fearing that governments are misusing a global surveillance system to
eavesdrop on millions of people, Europeans are protesting a massive Cold
War security network known as Echelon.
- The government-operated security system -- meant to
terrorists, drug-traffickers and money-launderers by intercepting
between satellites and ground stations -- is now drawing protests by
- Next week, British privacy rights groups will protest
at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, England -- the world's largest spy base and
headquarters of the Echelon project.
- The groups' literature claims Menwith Hill will
a key role in the revival of Star Wars" and that the U.S.
to dominate space for its own interests."
- Shrouded in secrecy, Echelon is said to be able to scan
millions of phone conversations, e-mails, faxes and pages a day, searching
for particular words or phrases.
- Although the network's bases are operated by governments
in the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the
States and Britain have come under a flurry of criticism recently that
its agencies are sharing information with private companies seeking to
do business overseas. The information presumably would give those companies
a competitive advantage over competitors abroad.
- The European Parliament, which held hearings on Echelon,
is claiming that the United States and Britain already are spying on
companies and sharing corporate details with companies in their own
- British press reports allege that Echelon was being used
to help Boeing and the Raytheon Corp. gain advantage over European
in foreign markets.
- The frenzy reached a crescendo last week when British
newspapers reported that both Britain and the United States have
on the late Princess Diana, as well as Mark Thatcher, son of former British
prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
- While none of the allegations have been proven, experts
say the ability for ground-based stations to scan satellite communications
for key words is very real.
- "It's an immense effort in terms of interception
involved, in terms of developing systems to sort through all this
said Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archives,
a non-profit group that obtains declassified documents and publishes
- By most accounts, Echelon doesn't operate its own
but rather intercepts communication signals to and from satellites orbiting
Earth and ground stations.
- In the same way that more than one household can receive
the same television signal, powerful satellite dishes can pick up voice
and data signals merely by pointing at a particular satellite relaying
- Powerful computers sift through the data, much like an
internet search engine, looking for phrases, voices or key words such as
"bomb" or "terrorist."
- The concern over Echelon appears to be playing itself
out more subtly in the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union
launched a website last fall devoted to tracking Echelon and looking for
- While the claims are so far unfounded, said Steven
director of a project on government secrecy at the Federation of American
Scientists, the government clearly needs to come clean, at least partially,
on how Echelon is being used.
- "At the bottom of all this is a question of
Aftergood said. "The NSA (National Security Agency) has extraordinary
powers of surveillance and it is vital that those powers be used
for authorized national security purposes. Congress could and should do
a much better job of conducting at least part of its oversight activities
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