Insight

They're Spying on Us

Our government spied on the Soviet Union for decades, but now that the cold war is over, theyre aiming their sights on us.

The April 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics reveals that two powerful intelligence gathering tools the U.S. created to eavesdrop on the Soviets are now being used to monitor Americans. One system, known as Echelon, intercepts and analyzes our phone calls, faxes and e-mail, looking for key words.

The other system, Tempest, can secretly read the displays on personal computers, cash registers and automatic teller machines. Whitley Strieber was personally warned by a government agent 15 years ago that the data on his computer was being read in this way.

The military was supposed to use these systems to spy on enemy defense contractors, but when the European Parliament began investigating Echelon, they discovered we had also used it to spy on two European companies. This angered them so much that they have revealed some of the details about these classified systems. Washington lawyer and former CIA director James Woolsey was authorized by the State Department to answer reporters questions about the charges of spying on our allies and acknowledged it was true, saying we were trying to discourage bribery.

Echelon is run by the National Security Agency (NSA) and is a multinational program that includes the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Turkey. The job of the NSA is to eavesdrop on the world and share its information with other member states. This involves things like intercepting radio signals and unscrambling encrypted messages. Its chief customer for this information is the CIA.

Echelon is composed of massive computers on the ground and is also based in space, since when telecommunications began to be transmitted by satellite, Echelon had to go there too. The need for ground-based listening posts that are spread throughout the world explains the need to enlist other countries in the project.

It is estimated that there is a 90 percent chance that NSA is listening when you talk to someone on the phone overseas. Echelon can identify individuals like Saddam Hussein by the sound of his voice, the moment he begins speaking on the telephone.

Echelon searches for key words in several different dictionaries. They U.K. version, for example, contains slang used by the Irish Republican Army.

But the incredible growth in internet traffic may be more than Echelon can handle. NSA has confirmed that its computers were shut down for three days last year, possibly due to system overloads.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a team of Southern California aerospace companies is secretly recruiting engineers for the National Reconnaissance Office to build a new generation of spy satellites under what is believed to be the largest intelligence-related contract ever. The project will require 5,000 engineers, technicians and computer programmers over the next 5 years, just for the initial design.

The supersecret project is estimated to be worth as much as 25 billion dollars over the next two decades. These new satellites will be equipped with powerful telescopes and radar and will be farther out in space and harder to detect. They will be able to fly over and photograph military compounds anywhere in the world, in darkness or through cloud cover.

The (NRO) remains one of the most secret government agencies. Even its logo, a space probe circling the globe, was a secret until 1994. This program is so secret that most of the people who work on it wont have a good sense of what they are doing, said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Arlington Institute.

The need for the new satellites is in part driven by problems identified during the Gulf War, when military commanders complained about inadequate intelligence photos. It will also be harder to predict where these satellites will be at any given time. U.S. army intelligence officers were alarmed recently when they found a large contingent of North Korean troops lined up near the demilitarized zone with South Korea. The troops were able to move there undetected by coordinating the operation with the gaps in the orbit of a U.S. military spy satellite.

Ever since we were surprised at Pearl Harbor, weve known that if we can anticipate what our enemies are planning, we can prepare and perhaps even negotiate. No American citizen would want to us not to develop the technology to do this. But how can we be assured that it wont be turned on us

The party and leaders in power during the period when the equipment is perfected that could monitor the words and actions of every American citizen would be in a position to become instant dictators. If they could monitor the flow of information within the media, we might not even realize we no longer lived in a democracy.

But it would eventually dawn on us, and then citizens would have to go underground and prepare to stage a new Revolution, all over again.

For the Los Angeles Times story, click here.

For a sample of NSA documents collected by Popular Mechanics, click here.

NOTE: This Insight, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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