The European Parliament published its report into the Echelon spying system last week in which it concluded it did exist, was against the law and that the UK had a lot of explaining to do.
We've sifted through about 100 of the 194 pages and decided that since no one had yet to officially admit its existence, you may be interested in how the European Parliament decided it was definitely out there.
The report admits from the outset that the existence of Echelon can only be proved by gathering together as many clues as possible so that it remains the only possible explanation. Since we are talking about an extremely secretive spying mechanism run by some of the most secretive (and powerful) organisations in the world, this is the only method at our disposal.
The report used three basic routes to gathering the clues together. One, physical evidence - all the listening stations dotted about the globe. Two, unclassified documents and other bits of information from the military, NSA and other bodies that run the system. And lastly, the testimony of investigative journalists who have concentrated on Echelon - including Duncan Campbell and Nicky Hager - and former employees of the security services.
Where's The Evidence?
Physical evidence consists of a study of twenty listening stations around the world - five in the US, three in Australia, two in the UK, then others in New Zealand, Germany, Puerto Rico, Japan, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Guam.
The question is: how do we know that the stations are listening stations and not kosher satellite bases? A bit of a giveaway is that they are all run by the military and you are not entitled to visit them - which you would be if they were normal dishes. That operatives and staff from different countries are also stationed at each station is a little peculiar too. Another clue is that many have normal satellite bases located very close to them - why would you need two stations for one satellite?
Then there are the different types of antenna in use. Various types of antenna, each with a distinctive shape, are used to pick up different sorts of signals. If you want to receive satellite signals you need a huge parabolic antenna - and these are the huge golf-ball like domes you see in pictures. The spherical covers not only protect the antenna but also hide which direction it is pointing in. That doesn't prove what sort of signals are being picked up though.
Nevertheless, if a station has two or more satellites with diameters greater than 18 metres, they are intercepting civilian communications. Which - tied in with the other information above starts making the case for a spy network.
One of the most important aspects to the whole Echelon issue is that it consists of an agreement between the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada to work together and share information. Without this agreement, it would be impossible for a global spying network to be built since no one country has territories all over the world. (This is also the reason why only the French and Russians could possibly be running effective spying networks as well.)
By finding evidence of unusually close ties between the security services in these different countries, the idea of Echelon is further supported. This comes in the form of the UKUSA agreement.
There is surprisingly little official evidence of the agreement's existence but there is enough to conclude it exists. The UKUSA agreement is an extension of the information-sharing agreement signed by the UK and the USA during the Second World War. Australia and New Zealand were also tied into this later thanks to the continuing war with Japan.
The report quotes several official documents that make reference not only to a UKUSA agreement but also Echelon. For example: the 1999/2000 annual report of the UK Intelligence and Security Committee - a parliamentary watchdog - explicitly states: "The quality of intelligence gathered clearly reflects the value of close co-operation under the UKUSA agreement." It then refers to when the NSA's equipment failed in that year, it ran it operations through the UK equivalent, GCHQ.
By piecing together this and other mentions in seven other official reports, a clear picture is built up. Then there are declassified US documents (in the UK we still maintain archaic laws which enable the government to keep things secret as long as they fancy). These refer to Echelon and also give the boundaries by which NSA operates.
It's safe to assume that if an organisation like the NSA is told it may do something then it will. This can be extended to: if the NSA isn't told it can't do something then it probably does. In its make-up, the NSA defines "foreign intelligence" as "any government communications in the widest sense (not only military) and all other communications which might contain information of military, political, scientific or economic value". So, basically, since the NSA can listen in on civilian communications, it will.
This ties in with the final aspect of evidence - journalists and ex-security service personnel testimonies. The report does point out inconsistencies with the various versions of what people believe Echelon to be but between them they make a strong case for Echelon's existence and basic functions - it's just the fine detail in which people vary.
What most concerns the European Parliament of course is the use of Echelon for economic reasons. Duncan Campbell has made various allegations in this sector, tracking what he says is evidence that important information has been picked up from European companies and relayed through the CIA, Advocacy Center and Department of Commerce to US firms.
The report makes a point of saying Mr Campbell's claims are not evidenced; nevertheless, after more testimony it concludes that there is a substantial risk that that is exactly what the US is doing and strongly advises all European companies to encrypt their emails as a matter of course.
The ex-security personnel's testimonies are quite interesting. Apparently while we all use Echelon as the name for the entire system, Echelon is in fact the name of the network. The software - which searches for key words - are called Silkworth and Sire. However a journalist says the network is called Platform and Echelon is the software. Ah well.
Anyway, this is only a small part of the report - which can be found here - but quite interesting we think you'll agree. ®