Report: Echelon

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Source: http://www.gn.apc.org/duncan/stoa.htm

Subsea Cables:

They provided the first major reliable high capacity international communications systems. Early systems (copper) were very limited in their broadband capacities, modern optical fibber systems can carry up to 5 Gigabit per second of digital information. In the days of copper cables the US started cable tapping operations with specially designed submarines, such as the US Submarine Halibut or USS Parche. Deep sea divers wrapped tapping coils around the cables and laid high capacity recording pods next to the cable in the sea of Okhotsk, USSR. Optical fibre cables do not leak radio signals and therefor cannot be tapped. It is said that there are experiments with optoelectronic repeaters, but their use as a tapping device is not yet officially possible.

The main method of transmitting large quantities of public, business and government communications is still the combination of subsea cables across the oceans and microwave networks over land. After the undersea cables emerge from the water they are very vulnerable to interception.

Microwave Radio:

It was introduced in the 1950 to provide high capacity inter-city communications for telephony, telegraphy and television. Microwave radio relay communications utilize low power transmitters and parabolic dish antennas. Relay stations are required every 30-50km in line of sight, usually form hilltop to hilltop. Microwave radio signals are not reflected from the ionosphere, so long distance relay links may require intermediate stations to receive and retransmit the signals. Satellites are also used as relay stations. The worldwide network of interception facilities is still mostly undocumented, because the facilities don't use large aerials and dishes, which are difficult to hide. Interception only requires a building situated along the microwave route or a cable running underground. One of the biggest stations in this context is Menwith Hill, UK.

High Frequency Radio:

Prior to 1960 the HF radio system was the most common means of telecommunication, especially for diplomatic and military purposes. High-frequency radio communication signals travel to receivers over the horizon by bouncing off the ionosphere. A powerful HF radio transmitter can transmit around the whole planet, which is why it is still widely used by military forces, ships and aircraft, as well as diplomatic communications, such as embassies. HF radio transmissions are very vulnerable to reception and interception. VHF and UHF are used extensively for tactical military communications within a country. COMINT (Communication Intelligence) Units mainly used either directional (such as Rhombic Arrays)or omnidirectional antenna arrays for HF radio interception.

The AN/AX-16 PUSHER is a 2-band Wullenweber Circularly Disposed Dipole Array HF/DF system collection system which is a miniaturized version of the Navy's AN/FRD-10 antenna. Used primarily in the United Kingdom where space is a premium, the outer ring of elements is about 400 feet in diameter, half the diameter of the AN/FRD-10.

The AN/FLR-9 circularly disposed antenna array (CDAA), popularly known as elephant cages, have a nominal range between 150 to 5000 kilometers and are omnidirectional in 3 band. They are used to locate and intercept signals ranging from low band, (submarine traffic) to the high band (radio, telephone). AN/FLR-9 antennas were installed at interception stations at: Augsburg, Germany; RAF Chicksands, UK;Clark AFB, Phillipines; Elmendorf AFB, AK; Menwith Hill, UK; Misawa AFB, Japan; San Vito dei Normanni AS, Italy

Communication Satellites:

Satellite Communication Systems allow the high speed transmission of telephone calls, television pictures and news around the globe. This use of satellites was established at the same time as the development of weather satellites - from the 1960's onwards. Groundstations located near to commercial Satellite sites (Inmarsat, Comsat, ..) are perfect for intercepting telecommunications. During the 1970s only two stations were required to monitor all the INTELSAT communications in the world. The GCHQ station in Morwenstow, UK for example is located near to the British Telecom site at Goonhilly, had 2 dishes pointed at the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean INTELSATs (now there are 9 dishes and is also monitoring regional satellites.)and the NSA station at Yakima Firing Center, USA monitored the Pacific INTELSAT. When visited in 1995 the Yakima station already had 5 dishes, pointing westwards over the Pacific Ocean and via INMARSAT2 (for mobile satellite communications), eastwards to the Atlantic INTELSATs. But satellite technology evolved very fast, and the changes in the satellite design forced the construction of at least 2 new stations: Sugar Grove (USA; NSA) and Hongkong (UK; GCHQ) in the late 1970s. By the time INTELSAT introduced the 7th generation of satellite in the mid 1990s, the UKUSA alliance was busy opening more satellite interception stations throughout the world. The most important ones were: Waihopai, NZ; Geraldton, Australia; and upgraded Menwith Hill, UK.

The UKUSA alliance launched especially designed COMINT satellites to provide permanent coverage of selected targets as overhead signals intelligence collectors that can tap directly into land-based telecommunications, but also tap into other satellites. Those spy satellites are developed to intercept communications from orbit above the earth. They move either in orbits that are changeable or are fixated above the equator in geostationary orbit. CANYON and RHYOLITE are the names of typical US spy satellites.

The National Security Agency operates a global network of ground stations for the interception of civil and military satellite communications traffic.

Bad Aibling, Germany, conducts satellite communications interception activities, and is also a downlink station for geostationary SIGINT satellites.

Menwith Hill, located 13 kilometers west of Harrogate, UK, collects against Russian satellite communications under Project MOONPENNY, and is also a

downlink station for geostationary SIGINT satellites, such as VORTEX.

Misawa Air Base, Misawa, Japan, satellite communications intercept activities include collecting against Russian Molniya, Raduga and Gorizont systems under

project LADYLOVE at a facility 6 kilometers northwest of the main airfield, known as the "Hill."

Rosman Communications Research Station, near Rosman, NC, had twelve antennas for satellite communications interception, for communications connectivity with other intelligence facilities, and possibly also for downlinks from geostationary SIGINT satellites. Rosman Research Station, operated by NASA in the 60s as a tracking station and more recently by the National Security Agency of the Department of Defense, will become an astronomy education and

research facility called Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI).

Additional COMSAT intercept activities are conducted at Geraldton, Australia, and Bude, in Corwall, UK. The Bad Aibling and Menwith Hill facilities are also used for downlink of high altitude SIGINT satellite product, as are facilities at Pine Gap, Australia, and Buckley Air National Guard Base, Colorado.

Other NSA facilities, including: Clark AFB, Philippines; Sinope, Turkey; Heraulion, Greece; Berlin, Germany; and Eielson AFB, AK, have closed, and others, such as San Vito dei Normani, Italy, have transfered to other agencies (in this case, to Air Force Space Command).


Internet traffic can be accessed either from international communications links entering the United States, or when it reaches major Internet exchanges. Both methods have advantages. Access to communications systems is likely to be remain clandestine - whereas access to Internet exchanges might be more detectable but provides easier access to more data and simpler sorting methods. Although the quantities of data involved are immense, NSA is normally legally restricted to looking only at communications that start or finish in a foreign country. Unless special warrants are issued, all other data should normally be thrown away by machine before it can be examined or recorded.

Similar considerations affect the World Wide Web, most of which is openly accessible. Web sites are examined continuously by "search engines" which generate catalogues of their contents. "Alta Vista" and "Hotbot" are prominent public sites of this kind. NSA similarly employs computer "bots" (robots) to collect data of interest.

According to a former employee, NSA had by 1995 installed "sniffer" software to collect traffic such as e-mail, file transfers, "virtual private networks" operated over the internet, and some other messages at major Internet exchange points (IXPs). The first two such sites identified, FIX East and FIX West, are operated by US government agencies. They are closely linked to nearby commercial locations, MAE East and MAE West. Three other sites listed were Network Access Points originally developed by the US National Science Foundation to provide the US Internet with its initial "backbone".



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