Spies like US

From: London Telegraph

A European Commission report warns that the United States has developed an extensive network spying on European citizens and we should all be worried. Simon Davies reports

Cooking up a charter for snooping

A GLOBAL electronic spy network that can eavesdrop on every telephone, email and telex communication around the world will be officially acknowledged for the first time in a European Commission report to be delivered this week.

The report - Assessing the Technologies of Political Control - was commissioned last year by the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament. It contains details of a network of American-controlled intelligence stations on British soil and around the world, that " routinely and indiscriminately" monitor countless phone, fax and email messages.

It states: "Within Europe all email telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency transfering all target information from the European mainland via the strategic hub of London then by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill in the North York moors in the UK."

The report confirms for the first time the existence of the secretive ECHELON system.

Until now, evidence of such astounding technology has been patchy and anecdotal. But the report - to be discussed on Thursday by the committee of the office of Science and Technology Assessment in Luxembourg - confirms that the citizens of Britain and other European states are subject to an intensity of surveillance far in excess of that imagined by most parliaments. Its findings are certain to excite the concern of MEPs.

"The ECHELON system forms part of the UKUSA system (Cooking up a charter for snooping) but unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON is designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations and businesses in virtually every country.

"The ECHELON system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and then siphoning out what is valuable using artificial intelligence aids like MEMEX to find key words".

According to the report, ECHELON uses a number of national dictionaries containing key words of interest to each country.

For more than a decade, former agents of US, British, Canadian and New Zealand national security agencies have claimed that the monitoring of electronic communications has become endemic throughout the world. Rumours have circulated that new technologies have been developed which have the capability to search most of the world's telex, fax and email networks for "key words". Phone calls, they claim, can be automatically analysed for key words.

Former signals intelligence operatives have claimed that spy bases controlled by America have the ability to search nearly all data communications for key words. They claim that ECHELON automatically analyses most email messaging for "precursor" data which assists intelligence agencies to determine targets. According to former Canadian Security Establishment agent Mike Frost, a voice recognition system called Oratory has been used for some years to intercept diplomatic calls.

The driving force behind the report is Glyn Ford, Labour MEP for Greater Manchester East. He believes that the report is crucial to the future of civil liberties in Europe.

"In the civil liberties committee we spend a great deal of time debating issues such as free movement, immigration and drugs. Technology always sits at the centre of these discussions. There are times in history when technology helps democratise, and times when it helps centralise. This is a time of centralisation. The justice and home affairs pillar of Europe has become more powerful without a corresponding strengthening of civil liberties."

The report recommends a variety of measures for dealing with the increasing power of the technologies of surveillance being used at Menwith Hill and other centres. It bluntly advises: "The European Parliament should reject proposals from the United States for making private messages via the global communications network (Internet) accessible to US intelligence agencies."

The report also urges a fundamental review of the involvement of the American NSA (National Security Agency) in Europe, suggesting that their activities be either scaled down, or become more open and accountable.

Such concerns have been privately expressed by governments and MEPs since the Cold War, but surveillance has continued to expand. US intelligence activity in Britain has enjoyed a steady growth throughout the past two decades. The principal motivation for this rush of development is the US interest in commercial espionage. In the Fifties, during the development of the "special relationship" between America and Britain, one US institution was singled out for special attention.

The NSA, the world's biggest and most powerful signals intelligence organisation, received approval to set up a network of spy stations throughout Britain. Their role was to provide military, diplomatic and economic intelligence by intercepting communications from throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

The NSA is one of the shadowiest of the US intelligence agencies. Until a few years ago, it existence was a secret and its charter and any mention of its duties are still classified. However, it does have a Web site (www.nsa.gov:8080) in which it describes itself as being responsible for the signals intelligence and communications security activities of the US government.

One of its bases, Menwith Hill, was to become the biggest spy station in the world. Its ears - known as radomes - are capable of listening in to vast chunks of the communications spectrum throughout Europe and the old Soviet Union.

In its first decade the base sucked data from cables and microwave links running through a nearby Post Office tower, but the communications revolutions of the Seventies and Eighties gave the base a capability that even its architects could scarcely have been able to imagine. With the creation of Intelsat and digital telecommunications, Menwith and other stations developed the capability to eavesdrop on an extensive scale on fax, telex and voice messages. Then, with the development of the Internet, electronic mail and electronic commerce, the listening posts were able to increase their monitoring capability to eavesdrop on an unprecedented spectrum of personal and business communications.

This activity has been all but ignored by the UK Parliament. When Labour MPs raised questions about the activities of the NSA, the Government invoked secrecy rules. It has been the same for 40 years.

Glyn Ford hopes that his report may be the first step in a long road to more openness. "Some democratically elected body should surely have a right to know at some level. At the moment that's nowhere".

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