American Hacker Edward Snowden is best known for leaking sensitive information that confirmed the existence of global surveillance systems run by European governments together with telecommunication companies.
A former employee of the CIA and NSA, Snowden’s leaked files confirming the existence of ECHELON, a spying network that goes far beyond the capabilities of anything previously believed to exist.
ECHELON is a global system designed to intercept both private as well as commercial methods of communication. It is essentially a device that watches over everyone. According to reports, this worldwide tracking system has been in operation since as early as 1988.
The plans for the device however, were born as early as 1947 and involved the top countries in the world today: Canada, Australia, United States of America, New Zealand, as well as the United Kingdom. How much do we already know about such an intrusive and obviously illegal program?
Uncovering the Secret
The rumors of the existence of ECHELON have been going around for years but only a few gave the information credence. Through the efforts of investigative journalist Duncan Campbell and Edward Snowden, new evidence regarding this global spy network has finally surfaced.
ECHELON was first hinted at in 1987 by Campbell who was so intrigued by his findings that he continued to investigate for the next 27 years.
After Snowden’s revelations were revealed to the public, Campbell made sure that his leaked records were checked to see if there was any mention of ECHELON.
There was! ECHELON was simply a code name for something bigger: a massive way of monitoring private communications of practically every individual in the planet.
Origins of ECHELON
The first hint of ECHELON from Campbell started with his 1988 piece titled Somebody’s Listening. The investigative journalist who wrote for The Intercept reveals that the information was leaked to him by one Margaret Newsham.
Newsham was previously an employee of Lockheed Martin and had a contract with the NSA. According to Campbell, the main stress of Newsham was that so many “constitutional laws had been broken”.
Newsham herself was introduced to ECHELON after listening in on one of the conversations that the massive device managed to gather.
Working in one of the bases of ECHELON, Newsham was taken aback after recognizing the voice as those belonging to a prominent United States senator, verifying that the NSA managed to cross the line when it comes to protection as well as privacy.
It turns out that ECHELON is actually a sub-program of what is dubbed as FROSTING. FROSTING is basically an umbrella program that contains two other processes: ECHELON and TRANSIET. While ECHELON handles the collection of INTELSAT communications, the TRANSIET takes care of all the satellite targets of the Soviet.
How Does This Work?
The question of how ECHELON actually works is extensively technical, yet do not let this distract you from the importance of how it was set up or what it’s implications on our society will be.
Reports reveal that the facilities were actually installed and built in the UK because US laws are very restrictive and would prevent the NSA from actually building anything secretly.
Initial receivers were installed in Cornwall, Budge, Yakima, nearby Seattle and in various other strategic locations. By the time the year 1974 rolled in, ECHELON had managed to intercept private messages coming in and out of the Pacific.
However, one or two receivers are not enough considering the breadth of ECHELON’s coverage. Other likely locations for the receivers now include: Sugar Grove in West Virginia, Misawa Air Base in Japan, Yakima Training Center in Washington, as well as Pine Gap in Australia.
As of the year 2000, the existence of ECHELON was once again brought into question as former spy Mike Frost was interviewed and featured on 60 Minutes.
According to Frost, few people realize just how extensive the project happens to be, encompassing even the smallest information and essentially listing down individuals who are possible threats to the community. It is a viable way of protecting the different countries, but it can also be quite problematic in the way information is obtained and interpreted.
The Public Reaction
After the year 2000 airing of 60 Minutes, Europeans were obviously unhappy with the information they heard. The European Parliament attempted to move into action but not much came out of their efforts despite the widespread outrage from the people.
Aside from the fact that the ECHELON program was confirmed, nothing else was done by the UK government pursuant or against this.
Around 2005, ECHELON was once again reintroduced to the public after Bush’s highly publicized tapping controversy. During the administration of Bush, it was leaked that the US President allowed the tapping of mobile phones without due authority to do so.
It was pointed out that ECHELON may well be the device being used to make this tapping possible. After that however, we may have gotten too close to the truth as there have been no more forthcoming reports and the concept of ECHELON was consigned to the past – emerging only in the forums of conspiracy theorists.
What Does This Mean for the Common Citizen?
“Big Brother is Watching” is sadly not just a quote anymore – it is a reality if the existence of ECHELON holds true.
In a world where practically every person is moving towards owning a mobile phone, it has not been hard for the NSA to do some changes to the ECHELON and make sure that the surveillance captures and processes EVERYTHING in planet earth. Now all of our communication can be perfectly tracked and linked together by location.
The Five Eyes or the five countries involved essentially have a readily-tapped dossier on every person in the world. This gives the US and the United Kingdom a chance to monitor aliens and illegals as they travel inside and outside the country.
What the NSA Says
Until today, the NSA is denying the existence of ECHELON and attributes its popularity to rumors and speculations fanned by conspiracy theorists. With the Snowden files now confirming its presence however, it would be hard to once again bury this information in the dust.
Ultimately, the existence of ECHELON is becoming more and more concrete everyday as additional information becomes available and rises to the surface.
With the supposed authorities on the subject keeping silent, it is possible that they are hoping that the news will die out soon and that the investigative journalists will disappear.
The breadth of ECHELON however – and its potential to impinge on the privacy of EVERY PERSON ON EARTH, is actually something you have to be concerned about. We will continue to report on this as new information surfaces.