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  ECHELON Introduction

The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall marked the end of a whole fictional genre: the spy novel. But as writers such as John Le Carre and Frederick Forsyth have since moved their field of interest to issues such as Islamic fundamentalism or ethnic separatist struggles against Western superpowers, the legacy of the spy network which was allegedly built for military operations only throughout the Cold War period, promises to outdo all fictional blue prints of espionage thrillers.

Over the past decades and especially throughout the 90s, a series of facts have surfaced, providing considerable evidence that a network of spy agencies, IT industries, governmental officials and research laboratories have developed a vast network which today serves mainly the purpose of industrial espionage. It's name is ECHELON, a highly automated global system and surveillance network for processing data retrieved through interception of communication traffic from all over the world. In the days of the cold war, ECHELON's primary purpose was to keep an eye/ear on the U.S.S.R. In the wake of the fall of the U.S.S.R. ECHELON is officially said to being used to fight terrorism and crimes, but it seems to be evident that the main focus lies in political and economic espionage.

A few people have played key roles in the uncovering of the mechanisms behind the closed doors of Western military operations. And still today, the evidence that has been brought into the sunlight has not forced any official body to give an official statement acknowledging or denying the existence of ECHELON.

ECHELON had been rumored to be in development since 1947, the result of the UKUSA treaty signed by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Only in 1976 the British journalist Duncan Campbell published an article in London based magazine Time Out which was called 'The Eavesdroppers'. This article contained a detailed description of what the GCHQ was and did. Starting from this research, Campbell continued to publish many articles concerning illegal communication interception conducted by the secret services.

But these first suspicions and truths about the nature of the spy network raised little media attention across the world. It was only in 1996, when the New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager published his book 'Secret Power: New Zealand's Role In the International Spy Network' containing detailed notes of meetings and agreements of army officials and private industries, ECHELON began to raise interest and eyebrows of politicians mainly in Europe and the media, mostly in Europe and America.

However, the saga continues and until today, despite official reports, elaborate research and founded claims, the existence of ECHELON has maintained to be one of the secrets of Western superpowers. And on a European level, the subject matter seems to create a divide across most political parties and governments.

Even in 1998, the European Parliament keeps its head down. In the STOA report, Assessment of the Technologies of Political Control, Martin Bangemann sums up the fears and strategies of official bodies dealing with the subject in his closing statement: "I think that there is a difference between someone writing a book, or - if you allow me to say this - a member of parliament who voices a concern and a representative of an institution which can only act within a democratic system if he or she knows something for sure. That level of knowledge we do not have."

Campaigning for the disclosure of ECHELON has been coming a long way. Starting in the early 90s, mainly grassroots activists have been instrumental in raising the public awareness. The most prominent case today is still the American base in Menwith Hill, Yorkshire UK. The community around Menwith Hill, Yorkshire UK has played a central role in pushing for official enquiries concerning the activities of UK based American bases. As there seemed to be a very concrete threat, the "Provision of (...) hazardous storage buildings" [] pointing towards severe safety and heath dangers, the grassroots activists eventually managed to lobby for parliamentary enquiries within the UK. An official spokesman and driving force behind the development has been Glyn Ford, Labour Member of European Parliament for Greater Manchester. Eventually, the issue was taken up by the European Parliament, leading to the STOA report in 1995 and finalised in 1998. The report confirms the existence of the ECHELON system and calls for an investigation into the activities of the NSA in Europe.

The following report of World Information brings together various sources which on the whole indicate the extension and functioning of a network for industrial espionage under the cover of military and governmental operations which would seriously challenge any fictional writing of the cold war era.

browse Report:
-1   ECHELON Facts
0   ECHELON Introduction
+1   ECHELON UKUSA Alliance
+2   ECHELON Timeline
+3   ECHELON UKUSA Signals Intelligence Agreement Partners