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TUCoPS :: Spies! :: p415.htm

Project P415, or Echelon
MD2600 | Article 1.1.4  
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by funtax
"The public should not have to justify why it needs privacy... Why do you need window blinds? Privacy is one of those fundamental human rights that ties into other human rights such as freedom of expression, the right to associate with who you want, the right to speak your mind as you feel like it... The question shouldn't be what do you have to fear, it should be 'Why are they listening in?'  With a democratic government with constitutional limits to democratic power, they have to make the argument they need to listen in, not the other way around." 
Project P415, or "ECHELON," as it has come to be known colloquially, was reportedly born out of the UKUSA treaty between The United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, some time after the second World War.  In essence, ECHELON is designed to circumvent troublesome privacy laws which prevented individual national intelligence agencies from monitoring their own people.  It allows participants to intercept email, faxes, phone conversations; basically, any electronic communications.  That information is then shared with the other member agencies, working in a "you spy on me, I spy on you- thenswap" fashion.

Intercepted data is pumped into a vast array of computers which subject it to various keyword, voice recognition and OCR (optical character recognition) screenings to pull out words or phrases that then cause the message to be "flagged" and sent out to the appropriate agency for analysis.  These "flag words" lie in the so-called "ECHELON Dictionary."  It is uncertain what words or phrases flag an ECHELON scan, but fair bets can lie with anything pertaining to active Allied enemies (Hussein, Milosovic, Bin Ladin, etc.), known terrorist groups, drug trafficking, threats against world leaders, and more.  In fact, if you were reading this file from my webpage, rather than this disk, you would likely have triggered an ECHELON flag!

The ECHELON surveillance process works somewhat like this:

  • Intercept stations, satellites primarily, are setup all over the globe to take in all microwave, cellular, fiber optic and satellite communications.
  • Data is processed, flagged and sent to "listening stations," where intelligence analysts use more specific keyword lists to determine the validity of a flag.
  • If a flag is deemed legitimate, the flagged data is then disseminated to appropriate agency(ies).
  • Those agencies subject the flagged data to their own set of internal scans and analysis.
The actual surveillance, as was mentioned before, is done by certain nations (but never by one nation on itself). For example, the UK covers central Europe, Africa and parts of the former Soviet Union.  The US covers parts of the former Soviet Union, most of the Americas.  Australia handles South East Asia and the South Pacific.  It is not known how (specifically) the individual member nations establish monitoring of their own people, but it assumed to be done on a constant basis, with all member nations surveilling all other member nations.  (As was mentioned earlier, the various intelligence agencies are forced to gather domestic information via this "trading" method because actual domestic surveillance would violate the operational charters of those organizations.)

Does this all sound a bit too Orwellian to be true?  While the ECHELON project has been discussed in numerous venues for some time, many people felt that it was little more than a paranoid fabrication; a fictional "plot," invented by the same people who bandied about tales of Freemasonic world domination and alien abduction.  Then, last year, facts came to light that backed up the ECHELON story like never before.

In early 1998, a study done for the European Parliament, entitled An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control, was released.  The ATPC was a 112 page document (available here) that detailed the scope and method of ECHELON in a more accurate fashion than had been previously available.  Its basic précis of the program goes like this:

The ECHELON system forms part of the UKUSA system, but unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the cold war, ECHELON is designed for primarily non-military targets: governments, organisations 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. Five nations share the results with the US as the senior partner under the UKUSA agreement of 1948, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are very much acting as subordinate information servicers.
-7.4.1 NSA Interception of All EU Telecommunications 
So what does this all mean?  In a basic sense, it means being careful what you say on the phone.  It means realizing that every minute of conversation on a cellular phone is being heard by more than you and the caller on the other end.  It means that individuals who are interested in protecting their own privacy must more actively embrace cryptographic software.  Open (Public) Key encryption is the only way to protect yourself. 

But on a larger level, it raises numerous questions about the role and methodology of intelligence community in Western, Liberal societies.  In a world of Timothy McVeigh's, Michigan Militias, lynchings, hate crime and other forms of domestic terrorism, is our safety worth the price of our privacy?  Also, in a potential future situation where such threats no longer exist, how does one go about "undoing" the presence of such surveillance?  Finally, if we decide that our privacy is more important than having a "watchful eye" monitoring the world we live in, how do we stop something like ECHELON?  

*This article may not be new to some of you.  It's from a collection of pieces I have on my webpage (although it's updated and expanded).  I added it because 1) I think it's a cool article and 2) we needed more content to make this newsletter bigger. 


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1.1.1                      MD2600 news                                                                       staff

1.1.2                      Xanadu, part 1                                                                       Graphix

1.1.3                      ATM hacking file compilation                                               evil deceiver

1.1.4                      ECHELON for dummies                                                       funtax


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