Document:Paddies Join Global Spy Network
Paddies Join Global Spy Network
THE ABOLITION of Ireland's neutral status has been accelerated by a secret agreement with the American and British governments - without even a nod in the direction of the Oireachtas or the Irish public - to join a state-of-the-art, global telecommunications spying apparatus. This is revealed in a special European commission report on the Anglo-American integrated, world-wide network of electronic intelligence collection platforms (120 satellites and ground stations) code-named ECHELON. It produces military, political and economic intelligence by intercepting telecommunications and clandestinely plundering computer files.
In June, Ireland will become part of a secret alliance, joining Canada, Australia and New Zealand to help America's NSA (National Security Agency) and Britain's GCHQ (Government Communications HQ) communications spy systems to snatch computer secrets from all over the world.
Spy bosses in Washington and London sucked Ireland into ECHELON with fascinating ingenuity. First approaches came from the FBI in 1993 to Garda HQ and the Department of Justice to join a mysterious body called ILETS (International Law Enforcement Telecommunications Seminar). So closely involved has Ireland become with ILETS that in 1997 Dublin Castle was chosen as the venue for a meeting of ILETS and ECHELON experts. Information about ILETS is not made available on "security" grounds. So secret are the arrangements about ILETS that the European Parliament report describes it as "a previously unknown international organisation."
Ostensibly, ILETS is about co-ordinating international phone tapping by police agencies to combat organised crime and drugs smuggling. Most people are against crime - the way they are against sin - and claiming that ECHELON is about controlling crime is a clever ploy. But ECHELON is not a police surveillance system - it is run by the US and British intelligence services for military, political and economic reasons - as the mission statements of both the NSA and GCHQ make clear.
ECHELON uses the same basic technology as the Internet, enhanced by gigantic computers, to trawl through millions of phone calls, e-mail and faxes searching for key characteristics. It has been compared by experts in Brussels with a series of giant vacumm cleaners in space which suck up communications and re-transmit them to fixed points where they are monitored by super-computers and sifted for specific intelligence.
The ECHELON spies on friend and foe alike (Robert Maxwell and Tiny Rowland where among its targets). While the CIA claims it is used for monitoring the Russian Mafia or mad Muslim Osama Bin Laden and his embassy-bombing chums in Afghanistan the reality is that ECHELON is about keeping America great (and Britain hanging on its coat-tails) through stealing information from economic rivals by hidden electronic and non-traceable means.
ECHELON is the 21st century grandchild of a wartime radio monitoring network spawned by the secret 1941 agreement - the UK-USA Communications Intelligence Pact. During the Cold War the UK-USA Pact incorporated Canada, Australia and New Zealand using old technology to monitor multi-channel telegraph systems and short wave radio. But in a series of technological leaps, this scattered network used for spying on the Soviets and their allies metamorphosed into ECHELON.
Two things have created this super-spy web - the development of ultra-fast, huge-capacity computer systems and the now common use of microwave radio links to carry burgeoning telecommunications traffic throughout the world. It was once a "passive" system which merely monitored target traffic. But ECHELON now has an "active" component which allows NSA or GCHQ analysts to covertly "hack" into information on the hard disks of computers linked into any telecommunications system, including the Internet.
In June, Ireland will join ECHELON. Precisely why the Anglo-American intelligence alliance wants Ireland as a partner is a mystery. It may be that they hope to secretly use the Eircom satellite communications station at Middleton, Co. Cork, to extend the capability of the British spy facility at Morwenstow, Cornwall, further west. New Zealand was included in the Pact for geographical reasons - extending coverage in the Southern Ocean - just as Ireland may be needed to give a wider "footprint" in the eastern Atlantic. Or it could be that the NSA believes US or multinational software or other high technology companies are doing things in Ireland behind the backs of the defense establishment in Washington. The military interests of Uncle Sam and the economic interests of fast buck high tech firms have clashed many times in recent years.
Whatever the reason, from June onwards neutral Ireland will be part of the ECHELON Anglo-American military intelligence pact - an alliance which Germany, France and Italy now know is targeting their commercial secrets. The former head of the CIA asked about ECHELON in a Paris interview last month justified US electronic spying on France by pointing out that a French defence firm had used bribes to get a multi-million dollar contract in Brazil. When the CIA told the Brazilian government, the contract was awarded to a US defence firm, he said.
The fact that C3 (Garda Intelligence and Security) will get a few crumbs of information about Irish druggies in Amsterdam from ILETS/ECHELON should not obscure its real purpose. The Brussels report which identifies Ireland as ECHELON's new recruit says: "there is wide-ranging evidence that major governments are routinely using communications intelligence to provide commercial advantage to companies and trade."
Following the publication of the European Commission report (the catchy-named Scientific and Technical Options Assessment Vol.2/5 - get it at European Union House, Molesworth Street). The Department of Justice gave its standard answer to media queries about phone tapping. "Warrants are issued only in very exceptional circumstances under the 1993 Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages" ... blah, blah, blah.
Few people can credit that it is possible to monitor millions of phone calls around the world simultaneously. But it is - with computers of the sort used on the Enternet. Fewer still can comprehend that it is possible to sift out useful intelligence from such a vast flow of information. But that's where computers come in again. Much of the ECHELON "product" is derived from computer-read "peripherals" rather than human conversation. Peripherals are the destination, source and duration of a target communications.
In Northern Ireland, over the past 30 years, British intelligence was overwhelmed with information. It developed "knowledge management" software to handle the raw material from Operation Vengeful - the Big Brother network which produced a vast daily flow of facts on vehicle and personal movements from overt and covert observation posts, CCTV cameras, vehicle check-points and house raids.
More advanced forms of this "knowledge management" system have allowed vast expansion of the Enternet - allowing computers to translate information in a way formerly done by humans. In effect, the ECHELON computers are programmed to "think" - interpreting things like changes in call patterns or increased or decreased communications use by specific targets.
The biggest secret of ECHELON is that it is more that just a passive communications interception network - it's also an active "hacking" system which allows British and American intelligence to covertly examine and copy computer files all over the world. In effect, it provides a key to open the 21st century equivalent of filing cabinets - computer hard disks with their confidential stores of information data - justifying its Enter-net name.
It doesn't require any technical knowledge to understand this. If a teenage nerd in a Welsh pit village can break into high security computers in the US - as happened last month - then the reverse can and does happen. Thus Caymen and Swiss bank records are as easily accessible to ECHELON as Third World state secrets or private information on a home computer linked to the Internet.
It must have caused teeth-grinding annoyance to the Enternet bosses when they learned that their French and German counterparts - annoyed at the blatant way the Anglo-Americans are spying on their former Cold War allies - had co-operated to produce the Brussels paper which not only made ECHELON secrets public but revealed the existence of ILETS - the covert organisation of which Ireland is a member.
The Scientific and Technical Options Assessment Vol 2/5 Euro paper explains how collection platforms (eavesdropping satellites) detect all radio transmissions within their "footprint" (the area of earth within their view). These include all LF, MF, VHF, UHF, and SHF (microwave) broadcast and point-to-point transmissions. In short, anything that moves in the entire radio spectrum.
Back on the ECHELON system, selected transmissions picked up by satellite are re-transmitted by secure down-link to receiving stations like Menwith Hill and Morwenstow in England or to Australia or the US, depending on the satellite's position. This is an important fact for the Irish. Ireland is on the eastern edge of the Atlantic from whence can be "seen" satellites in certain orbits. This may explain why little Ireland, like New Zealand, has been cunningly coaxed into the Big Boys Spy Club.
What the Brussels experts didn't mention and what Irish ministers may not concede, is the real purpose of the system. A contemporary ECHELON briefing paper given to GCHQ recruits and which has fallen into Goldhawk's hands, reads as follows:
"It's hard for an outsider to imagine the immense size and sheer power of GCHQ's super-computing architecture. When you come to GCHQ you'll encounter the latest state of the art Cray systems. Tandem based storage and high end work-stations. D-RAID (Distributed Redundant Aray of Inexpensive Disks) architectures are used for the storage of very large amounts of data. Indeed, GCHQ has one of the largest long-term bulk near line storage systems in the world...
"All GCHQ systems are linked together on the largest local area network in Europe - which is connected to other sites around the world via one of the largest wide area networks on earth.
"GCHQ employs the best. And rewards them accordingly. But if you're really right for us, you're driven by much bigger goals. You want the chance to work with vital impact on the political, military and economic well-being of our nation."
Last year, Robin Robinson an officer with the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in Downing St resigned his position after claiming that both British and foreign companies routinely had their telecommunications intercepted for reasons unconnected with national security.
In January of this year, Robin Cook assured David Andrews that the UK (which employs 12,000 personnel in 20 eavesdropping locations throughout the country) would never spy on a neighbour for commercial purposes.