Intelligence Gathering And its Implications.

A Brief Look At The ECHELON System- And the proposed South African Look Alike.

I've never heard about this operation so i though i would post it
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Unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON is designed primarily for not only military but more specific for non-military targets as: governments, organizations, businesses, e – commerce, the internet and individuals in virtually every country. It potentially affects every person communicating between (and sometimes within) countries anywhere in the world.

ECHELON is not a single entity, it is a complex system of which some portions monitor communications satellites, others land-based communications networks, others radio communications and more recently due to the end of the cold war, any activity as directed with what ever means. Together all these facilities spread all over the world enable the NSA (National Security Agency) and its partners to intercept a large portion of the world’s communication directly or indirectly.

ECHELON includes “programmes” as “CLASSIC BULLSEYE and PUSHER – HF Direction Finding, STEEPLEBUSH, RUNWAY and MOONPENNY – Satellite surveillance and VOICECAST – Voice recognition. There are many others, some old, some new to replace obsolete programs but altogether they makeup the ECHELON system.


system is not primary designed to eavesdrop on a particular individual’s e-mail, phone or fax link, (but can be so directed). Rather, the system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and using computers to identify and extract messages of interest from the mass of unwanted ones mostly in real time then sorting it for more detail analysis later. (5)

ECHELON apparently collects data in several ways. Reports and facts, suggest it has massive ground based radio antennae / satellite dish’s to intercept / eavesdrops on just about every electronic communication that crosses a national border—phone calls, faxes, telexes, and E-mail—plus all radio signals, including short-wave, airline, and maritime frequencies) even cellphone calls. In addition, some sites reputedly are tasked with not only, tapping surface - cable and microwave, and submarine traffic but business offices, political parties and even prominent figures. These sites are reportedly not only in the United States, England, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, but also in Japan, China, Turkey, Puerto Rico, Denmark, Italy, Germany, the Middle East, Africa and Hong Kong. Also rumoured are sites at Ascension Island (Atlantic Ocean) and in the Indian Ocean the Diego Garcia atoll.


For many years prior to WW II there has existed an informal agreement regarding intelligence gathering between the Americans and the British. This grew to a more formal alliance (BRUSA COMINT ratified in 1943) (12) during WWII and then formalized as the UKUSA agreement in 1947/8 to intercept radio transmissions, aimed, then, primarily against the “USSR” (5) – (Later redefined to intercept all traffic irrespective of nation, irrespective of purpose military or non military (read political and commercial)). (12)

The UKUSA partners are:

1 US - Main Partner ((now the NSA – National Security Agency) and provides most of the funding for the operation, maintenance, staffing, upgrades and new hardware worldwide.

2 UK - Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)

3 Canada - Communications Security Establishment (CSE)

4 Australia - Defence Signals Directorate (DSD)

5 New Zealand - Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)

For decades before the introduction of the ECHELON system, the UKUSA allies did intelligence collection operations for each other, but each agency usually processed and analysed the intercept from its own stations and then shared with the others. During 1952 President Harry Truman created the NSA (the present main USA Intelligency Agency) (12) (. Its mandate was the interception and analyst of all signal intelligence (sigint) from all over the world – from phone calls, telex to radar signatures to missile launches.

In the “late 1960 early 1970‘s” the NSA introduced the ECHELON system (Project P-415) - an ultra secret system, which is used to intercept telex, and telephone communications, fax, digital data and now e-mail, carried over the world’s telecommunications networks. Be it via radio, underwater / submarine cables, satellite transmissions, microwave links and fiber-optic communications traffic. (1)

The five UKUSA agencies are today still the largest intelligence organizations in their respective countries. With much of the world’s business occurring by fax, e-mail, and phone, spying on these communications receives the bulk of intelligence resources. The US being the main primary partner via the NSA gets to receive all collected data with the other partners (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – 2 nod tier) only certain relevant data and other nations (as Germany, Norway, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, China etc. –3 rd tier) only selected items of intelligence.

GCHQ at Cheltenham (Mostly staffed by NSA) is the co-ordinating centre for Europe, covering Europe, Africa and the Soviet Union (west of the Ural Mountains) as well as the western part of Asia. NSA covers the rest of the Soviet Union and most of the Americas (North and South) and the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, whilst Australia - co-ordinates the electronic monitoring of the South Pacific and South East Asia.

Although there are many more sites the most well know are the following: Includes Satellite, Radio and Land based Telecommunication intelligence collection centres -

1 New Zealand - Waihopai - Blenheim, South Island. (Satellite)

2 New Zealand - Tangimoana - North Island. (Radio)

3 Australia - Kojarena near Geraldton West Australia. (Satellite)

4 Australia - Pine Gap, near Alice Springs in central Australia. (Rec Satellite)

5 Australia - Shoal Bay, outside Darwin in northern Australia. (Satellite)

6 Australia – Bamaga, Cape York, northern Queensland. (Radio)

7 Australia – Tindal Air Force base northern Australia. (Radio)

8 Canada - Leitrim, just south of Ottawa. (Satellite)

9 Canada – British Columbia. (Radio ?) ?

10 Lackland Air Force Base San Antonio – Texas. ? (Radio ?)

11 NSA station at Sugar Grove, southwest of Washington, DC. (Satellite / Radio)

12 NSA Station Yakima in Washington State. (Satellite)

13 NSA Headquarters at Fort George Meade, Maryland. Only station with full access.

14 NSA Station Buckley Field – Denver Colorado. ? (Radio)

15 UK - Menwith Hill – Harrogate Yorkshire in northern England. Previously F83. (All))

16 UK - Chelteman headquarters of the GCHQ.

17 UK - Morwenstow, near Bude, Cornwall. (Satellite, Land)

18 Germany - Bad Aibling. Previously F91. (Rec Satellite)

19 Japan - Misawa in northern Japan. (Radio ?)

20 Denmark - Sandagergard located at Aflandshage on the island of Amager south of the capital, Copenhagen. (Radio ?)

21 Puerto Rico - Sabana Seca. (Radio)

22 China - Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Two sites ? (Radio)

23 Hong Kong - Chung Hom Kok. (closed downed 1994) ? (Satellite)

24 Ascension Island

25 Most Embassies and Consulates, irrespective of region or country have some method of monitoring and passing on relevant information. (Radio)

Note: Present Status of Sites and interception speciality with ? Are unknown by the author at this present moment. (Rec = All Other Satellites than, but could also include Intelsat / Inmarsat monitoring.)

NSA computer network codenamed Platform - "ties together 52 separate computer systems” used throughout the world. (5) The main command centre,' for this massive network, is the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland. (10)

How it works:

The computers at each station in the ECHELON network automatically search through the millions of messages intercepted for ones containing pre-programmed keywords. Keywords include all the names, localities, subjects, and so on that might be mentioned. E.G.: Every word of every message intercepted at each station gets automatically searched whether or not a specific telephone number or e-mail address is on the list. The computers in stations around the globe are known, within the network, as the ECHELON Dictionaries. E.g.: USA - Yakima site - COWBOY Dictionary, New Zealand’s satellite interception station at Waihopai - FLINTLOCK Dictionary, and in the UK - Menwith Hill SILKWORTH Dictionary ?


(The following is an extract from Exposing the Global Surveillance Systems by Nicky Hager). “A highly organized system has been developed to control what each station is searching for and who can have access to it. This is at the heart of ECHELON operations and works as follows.

The individual station's Dictionary computers do not simply have a long list of keywords to search for. And they do not send all the information into some huge database that participating agencies can dip into as they wish. It is much more controlled.

The search lists are organized into the same categories, referred to by the four digit numbers. Each agency decides its own categories according to its responsibilities for producing intelligence for the network. The agency then works out about 10 to 50 keywords for selection in each category. The keywords include such things as names of people, ships, organizations, country names, and subject names. They also include the known telex and fax numbers and Internet or e-mail addresses of any individuals, businesses, organizations, and government offices that are targets. These are generally written as part of the message text and so are easily recognized by the Dictionary computers.

The agencies also specify combinations of keywords to help sift out communications of interest. For example, they might search for diplomatic cables containing both the words "South Africa" and "intelligence", or cables or any other communication containing the word "South Africa" but not "consul" (to avoid the masses of routine consular communications). It is these sets of words and numbers (and combinations), under a particular category, that get placed in the Dictionary computers. (Staff in the five agencies (UKUSA) called Dictionary Managers, enter and update, the keyword search lists for each agency as and when needed by NSA.)

The Dictionary computers search through all the incoming messages and, whenever they encounter one with any of the agencies' keywords, they select it. At the same time, the computer automatically notes technical details such as the time and place of interception on the piece of intercept so that analysts reading it, in whichever agency it is going to, know where it came from, and what it is. Finally, the computer writes the four-digit code (for the category with the keywords in that message) at the bottom of the message's text. This is important. It means that when all the intercepted messages end up together in the database at one of the agency headquarters, the messages on a particular subject can be located again. Later, when the analyst using the Dictionary system selects the four- digit code for the category he or she wants, the computer simply searches through all the messages in the database for the ones which have been tagged with that number.

This system is very effective for controlling which agencies can get what from the global network because each agency only gets the intelligence out of the ECHELON system from its own numbers. It does not have any access to the raw intelligence coming out of the system to the other agencies.” (5)

Although through the proper channels, controls and checks, information can be requested and forwarded, from the archives and data banks of NSA Headquarters at Ford Meade at the NSA discretion.


Although the written and digital word is easy for ECHELON to deal with, the spoken word is a little more difficult for the network to handle. The primary means for intercepting voice communications is targeted towards watching and recording calls to or from certain numbers. The NSA also uses another method called "traffic analysis," which doesn't analyse the content, but just whom is talking with whom, by taking a voice sample for later matching and possible identification and by noting the telephone numbers dialled. But as speech becomes more digitally encrypted the easier it will be to monitor it (as voice recognization method's improves) despite more advanced encryption and security measures which, once captured, can just as easily be broken. (24)

Echelon Map from “They’re Listening To Your Call.” (11)

South African Look Alike.

South Africa, for many years has been involved in a similar manner – Look at all the activity in and around independence of the then Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, and South West Africa – now Namibia. Although with significantly less sophisticated equipment, techniques and resources.

Since post 1994 the establishment of NIA - (National Intelligence Agency), as the sole Intelligence agency with the absorption, amalgamation and integration, of those intelligence agencies of the former homelands and exiled movements with the existing ones. (This also includes Military and Defence Intelligence Agencies, SA foreign Secret Service, South African Police and other related organisations.)

South Africa plan’s to follow a similar framework. Although this interception would be mainly in the fields of analogue and digital communication, radio, data, telephone, cellphone, e-mail, faxes and satellite phone. Essentially to counter acts of terrorism, violence - be it taxi, faction (Zulu to Xhosa), political – ANC (African National Council), Inkata, PAC (Pan African Council) and PAGAD (People Against Gangs and Drugs) and of rising crime.

More recently, due to the ever growing sophistication and ease of communication, via the internet, e-mail and especially cellphones for the planning of terrorist attacks (Latest - Bomb blasts in the Cape Town - during December 1999), a need has been created to monitor communications intelligence gathering (commit) more effectively than previously, on a similar and more local, but far smaller scale than with ECHELON – thus the re establishment of the South African Parliaments Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and the redefinition of the NIA during the current fiscal year 2000, in addition to the normal daily comint gathering. (15)

This, with the present government enforced monopoly in the telecommunications arena - Telkom, the state run Telecommunications agency, will be a relative easy task. As at the moment, all parties (from Local to External users) have to go through Telkom's networks to connect to the outside world - (Monopoly extends until 2003) – By Law, according to the South African Telecommunication Act of 1996, all users, from the local telephone user, to ISP (Internet Service Providers), to Satellite Phone companies as Iridium, ICO, GlobalStar have to uses it services (be it Satellite, Microwave or Submarine / underwater cable).

Thus to set up a local monitoring agency at central points (Pretoria and Cape Town) will be easy, as most of the infrastructure, equipment and facilities exists, suitable trained staff is already on hand to perform the monitoring. Thus any phone call, including cellphones, fax, telex, Internet request and e-mail, where local, national or international will be intercepted, recorded and dissected for content with the minimum expense. In addition ISP, at there expense are being, “request to provide additional monitoring facilities and equipment“ for the intelligence agency.

In the South African context, Interception - will include all our neighbouring states as, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique Zimbabwe and Zambia. Those Countries in Central and West Africa - As Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Libya as well as the Islands of Madagascar and the Seychelles.

Politically it could (so it is claimed – as with Echelon) enable South Africa to achieve internal stability, increases its continental influence, as one of the most powerful nations in Africa, thus be more actively involved in enforcing regional security to help stabilize, or at least contain, conflicts on the continent in Southern Africa, as well as in Africa in general. (25)

For more detail and comparison to other countries legal positions regarding intelligence collection and civil rights: – See South African Law Commission – Discussion Paper 78 Project 105 (Review of Security Legislation – The Interception and Monitoring Prohibition Act) (Act No: 127 of 1992). (14)

If formally requested, the NSA, if so inclined, will or could provide the NIA, of relevant intelligence gained via ECHELON. But due to the different importance attached to a request of this nature much of the desperate intelligence, needed today, would only be available tomorrow, (much to late in the fast moving field of present date intelligence gathering.)

Likewise the French are rumoured to be trying to establish a similar system for Europe (with the exclusion of the Americans and UK whom have been suspected of ruining several major French contracts by releasing confident commercial details to US companies, allowing them to win these contracts (12)) France is looking for partners and are trying to woo the Swiss in joining them and not the present UKUSA alliance.

In Conclusion:

The ECHELON networks of the future faces a much harder task, (so it is claimed - but for every problem there is a solution) with the sheer volume of traffic, encryption, more security and more informed public about ECHELON and other countries methods of interception and detection. E.g. the Russians - System of Operative and Investigative Procedures or (SORM-2) -. By the Federal Security Service (FSB), The French - (DST - Direction de la Surveilance du Territoire), the Chinese (Ministry of State Security [MSS] Guojia Anquan Bu [Guoanbu]), the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to mention but a few.

New techniques and methods are being developed to assist as “TEMPEST” - NSA code name for the ability to eavesdrop on electronic equipment by intercepting and decoding their electromagnetic radiation.

Thus be warned, no matter where you are, no matter whom you are, there is some agency monitoring not just your physical movements, but nearly every written or spoken word which you entrust to what ever format, whatever the method or means of communication.