For a detailed summary of how ECHELON works, check out this report to the European Parliament
archived at J. Orlin Grabbe's website. But basically, ECHELON is a creature of the UKUSA alliance, a pact between five English-speaking countries. The 1947 agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Austrailia, and Canada established an elaborate signals intelligence (SIGINT)-sharing program.
Virtually every phone call, fax, and e-mail message in the Western world, maybe over the entire planet, is picked up by an elaborate network of high-powered listening stations (the one pictured above is located is in Menwith Hill, England). The stations are operated by security agencies of all five countries, but most of the money, equipment and staffing is provided by the U.S. National Security Agency. All these captured bitstreams are searched for flagwords like, say, ECHELON, Al-Fayed, Mena, or what have you. Flagged reports are then forwarded to interested parties and security agencies. The penta-lateral nature of the agreement allows member countries to get around prohibtions on spying on their own citizens by having someone else do the spying for them.
As the ECHELON program has come to light recently, civil liberties groups like the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have called for a reevaluation and/or end to the 1984ish program. Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who also happens to be a former CIA analyst, has called for Congressional hearings on Project ECHELON.
So what does all that have to with this column? Well, we'll be touching on "underground" news here, the kind that involves shady operations like ECHELON. Additionally, I hope to take advantage of the ECHELON system. Any comments here could be of interest to those featured in them. It is my hope that the NSA guys in Ft. Meade will pass along any useful advice I may offer to the persons involved.
Example: "Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson is a horse's ass."
This is not a particularly useful piece of information, and it will probably stay in Ft. Meade.
Example: "Energy Secretary Bill Richardson should stop letting ChiComs run wild through U.S. nuclear labs feeding secret weapons specs to the PLA.
The NSA boys may find this a thoughtful piece of advice for the good Secretary, and subsequently pass it along.
Wasn't that simple?
Back to the latest memo.