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Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 [CBS News, 2/27/2000] which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. [Washington Post, 12/22/1988] “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” [NineMSN, 5/23/1999]
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Greenpeace, Wayne Madsen, Glyn Ford, Echelon, Communications Security Establishment, Central Intelligence Agency, Amnesty International, Strom Thurmond, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Steve Kroft, Princess Diana, Mike Frost, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Newsham, National Security Agency, Robert “Bob” Barr, House Intelligence Committee, Porter J. Goss, Ilich RamÃrez Sanchez
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Newly released documents indicate that several FBI investigations have targeted—albeit peripherally—activist groups working on issues such as animal cruelty, environment, and poverty relief. One document reveals an FBI plan to monitor a “Vegan Community Project.” Another document speaks of the Catholic Workers group’s “semi-communistic ideology.” Other groups monitored include PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Greenpeace. An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) official says, “You look at these documents and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in FBI files that they’re talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology.” A Greenpeace official says, “The fact that we’re even mentioned in the FBI files in connection with terrorism is really troubling.” [New York Times, 12/20/2005]
The press releases a confidential, “sensitive” memo from the American Petroleum Institute (API) detailing a plan to create “Astroturf” rallies at which industry employees posing as ordinary citizens will urge Congress to fight climate change legislation. The memo was obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace and sent to several reporters. It urges oil companies to recruit their employees for events that will “put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,” and will urge senators to “avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill.” The campaign is funded by a coalition of corporate and conservative groups called the “Energy Citizens” alliance, which includes the anti-health care reform group 60 Plus, the industry “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), Grover Norquist’s Americans For Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union, and the National Taxpayers Union. API president Jack Gerard, who signed the memo, asks recipients to give API “the name of one central coordinator for your company’s involvement in the rallies.” And it warns, “Please treat this information as sensitive… we don’t want critics to know our game plan.” At least two major oil corporations, BP and Shell, are members of API and also belong to the US Climate Action Partnership, which supports the House legislation sponsored by Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA). API has spent over $3 million lobbying against that bill this year. API spokesman Bill Bush says his organization is not trying to deceive anyone. “I don’t think anyone’s hiding the ball about this,” he says. “I don’t think anyone’s trying to suggest that this doesn’t have anything to do with the oil and gas industry.” Greenpeace has asked API to reveal the member companies funding the Astroturf efforts. Shell Oil Company later informs reporters that it will not take part in the rallies. In a statement, the corporation says, “Shell’s position is not aligned with the consensus opinion of the API on Waxman-Markey, therefore Shell will not participate in the rallies.” [Gerard, 8/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/14/2009]
Entity Tags: British Petroleum, American Conservative Union, 60 Plus Association, American Petroleum Institute, Bill Bush, Greenpeace, National Taxpayers Union, Energy Citizens, FreedomWorks, Royal Dutch/Shell, Americans for Tax Reform, Jack N. Gerard
Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda
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