Echelon--US Spy Network Exposed

The US' double standard regarding "cyber vandalism" was underscored in February, when George Washington University researchers posted recently declassified Defense Department documents on the internet. For years, the US has denied the existence of a global electronic spying tool called Echelon but the documents establish that the system has existed since 1947. It is dominated by the US, and shared by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Echelon's spy satellites intercept private phone, fax and email messages around the world and send them to a UK spy base at Menwith Hill, where "dictionary computers" filter out messages with key words, names, addresses and phone numbers. This information is then forwarded to a massive US intelligence operation at Fort Meade, Virginia.

Echelon has been charged with engaging in serious acts of industrial espionage for the benefit of US corporate interests. On February 22, the European Parliament released a damaging report accusing the National Security Agency of using Echelon-acquired information to give US corporations an edge in winning lucrative contracts from French and German competitors. Echelon data also reportedly helped AT&T win a major trade contract that was set to go to Japan's NRC.

France has filed a class-action lawsuit against the US and Britain charging "theft of information." Judicial and parliamentary investigations now are underway in Germany and Italy and Rep. Bob Barr has called for congressional hearings. The US has denied the corporate-spying charges.

© Earth Island Journal, summer 2000 issue