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This is a bit of an unusual Sat-ND as it contains no news. The following Echelon story maybe news to some of you, but the subject has over the past few months been covered by a few newspapers and magazines, and the following text is more or less a summary of all that.
I wrote most of it some weeks ago [Anmerkung für deutsche Leser: natürlich vor der recht tendenziösen Story in c't 5/98, die im übrigen auch einige grobe sachliche Schnitzer enthält] and then decided not to publish it because, as I said, it's not really news. If I remember correctly, the Echelon system was also covered by Dr Dish in his regular DIY Spy column in TELE-satellite International a dog's age ago -- much earlier than in the mainstream media, of course.
On the other hand, you may still be interested in all this -- especially as I couldn't find any interesting news today, not enough to warrant writing a regular issue anyway. And besides, we're having a bit of a discussion in this so-called newsletter about the U.S. of A and its satellite activities anyway.
Apart from that, or maybe even relating to that, there's some interesting feedback at the end.
By the way, the strange bits in today's header (you know, the second line and the daily motivation to unsubscribe) come from Marc Johnson who sent me loads of 'em -- one slogan better than the other. Watch out for more to come!
In almost every country, it is more or less common for law enforcement agencies to eavesdrop on your private telephone, fax and email communications. Conventional wisdom, I know. But apart from that, there's somebody who is listening in any time, any place-- Uncle Sam and his best buddies.
An interim report called "An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control" delivered to the European Union said that the United States of America operate a comprehensive global spy network that monitors electronic communications not only in Europe but in fact around the world -- especially that carried on satellites.
The report states that "within Europe all email, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency [NSA] transferring all target information from the European mainland via the strategic hub of London, then by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill."
The NSA, as London's Daily Telegraph put it, is one of the shadowiest of the shadowy U.S. intelligence agencies. Being the world's biggest and most powerful signals intelligence organisation, it received approval to set up a network of spy stations throughout Britain. "Their role was to provide military, diplomatic and economic intelligence by intercepting communications from throughout the Northern Hemisphere," the report said.
However, until recently it was not known that European citizens -- and their governments as well -- seem to be subject to an intensity of U.S. surveillance nobody had really expected.
It all started back in 1948 when a global information interception system called UKUSA was installed, providing the USA and some of their allies (the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) with intelligence information about the rest of the world. While UKUSA used rather primitive methods in the early years, the Cold War fuelled its growth in the following centuries. The target, however, had stayed the same. The system is not about tapping any special suspect's telephone line, it's about the systematic and automated gathering of information from as many calls as possible.
Echelon is a part of the UKUSA system, states the report for the EU, but in contrast designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organisations and businesses in virtually every country. The interception sites are based in
Sugar Grove and Yakima in the United States;
Waihopai in New Zealand;
Geraldton in Australia;
Morwenstow in the UK.
Their prime targets are the satellites operated by the International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (Intelsat.) In fact, all telecommunications traffic carried on Intelsat satellites is monitored by Echelon. Should you guess that targeting other satellites was child's play, then you're right. In fact, the Echelon system monitors them as well.
In addition to the UKUSA stations targeting Intelsat satellites, there are another five or more stations homing in on Russian and other regional communications satellites. These stations are
Shoal Bay, outside Darwin in northern Australia (targeting Indonesian satellites);
Leitrim, just south of Ottawa in Canada (possibly monitoring Latin American satellites);
Bad Aibling in Germany (likely to be eavesdropping on the CIS;)
Misawa in northern Japan (a nice position to monitor Asian satellites;)
Menwith Hill in Northern England (concentrating on Western Europe, I guess.)
Of course, when the UKUSA spy network was set up 50 years ago, there weren't any satellites. Even without them, the NSA's British field office in Menwith Hill had become one of the largest spy stations in the world. Its giant antennas were capable of monitoring vast chunks of the communications throughout Europe and the Soviet Union in the pre-satellite age. Data were also gathered from tapping microwave links and cables that ran to a nearby post office. Nowadays there are 22 satellite antennas on grounds that occupy almost 5 acres.
It's mainly the technological progress that rather incidentally enabled the U.S. and their closest friends to monitor almost all international phone traffic Several developments contributed to that:
telephone connections over satellite can be received by almost everyone;
modern computers allow large-scale voice processing (that involves sheer number-crunching rather than any "artificial intelligence".)
In addition, the end of the Cold War has freed up by a large number of highly qualified agents that are now available for other investigative missions, especially industrial espionage.
But the satellites are just the tip of the iceberg, says New-Zealand based author Nicky Hager who has done ground-breaking research on the Echelon system. He describes the function of the Echelon stations all over the world as follows: "Some monitor communications satellites, others land-based communications networks, and others radio communications. Echelon links together all these facilities, providing the U.S. and its allies with the ability to intercept a large proportion of the communications on the planet -- not just international traffic but sometimes within countries anywhere in the world.
"A group of facilities that tap directly into land-based telecommunications systems is the final element of the Echelon system," claims Hager.
You don't have to dig too deep to tap any cables, he says: "Microwave interception from space by United States spy satellites also occurs." Menwith Hill, claims Hager, serves as a ground station for U.S. electronic spy satellites that intercept microwave trunk lines and short range communications such as military radio and even walkie talkies.
Of course, the amount of data screened by the Echelon system is enormous so that it inevitably has to be processed automatically. A voice recognition system dubbed Oratory uses so-called artificial intelligence modules that monitor speech and look for certain keywords. Once the programme has detected such a keyword in a phone conversation, it would probably be recorded and then forwarded to some human being to deal with it.
Voice recognition isn't that complicated, by the way: even commercial off-the-shelf voice recognition programmes can recognise 70 percent of spoken words without training. Now imagine that you have two keywords that you're after. In that case, the probability that at least one of them will be recognised is already at 91 percent. For one out of three keywords it grows to 97.3 percent, and so forth.
Each country participating in the program, probably the UKUSA members as well as Norway [which chose not to become a member of the European Union, probably qualifying it as a close U.S. ally for exactly that reason] can respectively determine a specific set of keywords they are interested in. The same applies to email messages -- Echelon is capable of processing electronic mail as well. There, the recognition of catchwords is of course much easier -- unless it is encrypted with PGP.
"Keywords include all the names, localities, subjects, and so on that might be mentioned. 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," says Nicky Hager.
However, there is no data exchange between the agencies involved: "No one in New Zealand screens, or even sees, the intelligence collected by the New Zealand station for the foreign agencies."
In theory, you could use such a system for noble purposes, such as tracking down terrorists or drug traffickers -- if they were really stupid enough to openly talk about their business, in which case they would be caught sooner rather than later anyway. In real life, the system is probably used for industrial espionage and even intercepting the information exchange between European governments -- cheerfully ignoring the sovereignty of other states, industrial patents, and even basic human rights.
It is believed, for instance, that the U.S. eavesdropped on phone calls between various European governments during talks about the General Agreement of Trades and Tariffs (GATT.) Of course, the results of these talks in the end almost exclusively benefited the United States.
The British magazine Statewatch also claimed that the U.S. used the Echelon system to closely monitor negotiations on the Treaty of Maastricht -- almost in real-time. Statewatch concluded that Echelon constitutes a global threat over which there was no legal or democratic control.
So, what to think of all that? All that's known about the Echelon system more or less stems from a single source, and that is Mr Hager's book "Secret Power" which was published back in 1996. The report presented to the EU is no exception to the rule. Some headlines, including that of the Telegraph, were a bit misleading when they said that the existence of the system had been officially acknowledged by an EU report. [It was not a report by but for the EU.]
It is an undisputed fact, however, that there are quite a few U.S. military sites all over the world which obviously serve monitoring purposes that usually are not disclosed.
Cooking up a charter for snooping: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et?ac=000622842524332&rtmo=VmFxVZPx&atmo=luAPlSvt&pg=/et/97/12/16/ecspy116.html
An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control: http://jya.com/stoa-atpc.htm
The Campaign against the Menwith Hill U.S. Spy Base: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/dave_lesley/mhinfo.htm
National Security Agency: http://www.nsa.gov:8080
Useless fact: 314 Americans had buttock lift surgery in 1994.
Silly me wrote that "Intersputnik's part in [Lockheed Martin Intersputnik] is more or less to provide 15 orbital slots for the LMI satellites, and business contacts."
Tim Brewer, consultant to Intersputnik, remarked that this was not quite the truth: "Intersputnik has the responsibility to operate and market LMI-1, which [will be] located at 75 East, covers all of Russia and CIS, as well as Asia, Australia, and most of Africa and Europe."
Thank you for the correction. Actually, the last I received from Intersputnik was a Christmas card but not a press release or something like that, which may be an explanation but no excuse for my ignorance.
Useless fact: On 30 March 1867, Alaska was officially purchased from Russia for about 2 cents an acre. At the time many politicians believed this purchase of ' wasteland to be a costly folly '.
I start to have some sympathy for Al Gore. While his boss was having all the fun (Paula, Monica, Kathleen, etc.,) Mr Gore devised a satellite that would provided live pictures of the Earth. The idea isn't that bad! Not that it has any scientific value, but it does have at least some symbolic value. And it's practical: You can browse to the GoreCam Web site and check whether the Earth is still where it used to be ;-)))
Sotires Eleftheriou wrote in to list some technical problems:
"Just how stable would the orbit be at 1.6 million km? Bearing in mind that the earth's orbit is not circular, the distance to the sun varies, so the equilibrium point would vary too. The satellite would also have to be orbiting the sun at exactly the same angular velocity as the earth. They'll need to have some on-board orbit stabilising, just like geostationary satellites have.
"At that distance, the signal from the sat will be pretty week. At more than 40 times the distance of a geostationary satellite, the signal will be reduced 40 squared times as much. Even if all the power is concentrated into a single transmission frequency, it would be 1000 times (30 dB) weaker than a typical TV sat. You're going to need a pretty big dish on earth.
"With the satellite lined up between the earth and the sun, the [reception] dish is going to be pointed straight at the sun. Whatever signal it does pick up will be completely drowned out by solar noise."
To my knowledge, that's all true. However, there are satellites that already use the very orbit proposed for GoreSat. The point in space where it is to be positioned is called the Lagrangian point, or L1 for short. For example, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) makes use of the L1 point even though it is not exactly positioned there but actually in a halo orbit around it. In this way, the sun can be monitored almost permanently without being eclipsed by the Earth. So, I think all the obstacles mentioned can indeed be overcome, but the question is whether it's possible on a US$50-million budget.
Useless fact: In the year 2025, the number of americans over 65 will outnumber teenagers by more than two to one.
More or less on the same topic, Steve Liebler wrote:
"I know that you are based in Germany and I thoroughly enjoy your digs at Americans (we can be strange in the eyes of Europeans! (and vice versa as I work for a Swiss based company!!)).
"Because I can't see the value of current TV (LDTV), I rank GoreSat up there with HDTV -- I wonder what our government was thinking when an all out effort was made to BE FIRST IN HDTV. A big waste of bandwidth, not to mention resources."
Useless fact: 52 percent of Americans say they'd 'rather spend a week in jail' than to be President [despite Monica, Paula, Kathleen, etc. If they really went to prison, they may be surprised about what awaits them just as far as sexual intercourse is involved.]
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