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Event.png ECHELON (Mass Surveillance)  History Commons SourcewatchRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Looking NW over Echelon integrated GCHQ Bude (Formerly CSOS Morwenstow)
Hat-tip to 'Secret Bases UK'
Exposed byDuncan Campbell, Perry Fellwock, Mike Frost, Margaret Newsham


ECHELON is the catch-all name used to refer to the signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated on behalf of the five signatory states to the UK–USA Security Agreement (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States; AUSCANZUKUS), later to be known as Five eyes.

The system has been researched and reported on in a number of public sources. Its capabilities and political implications were investigated by a committee of the European Parliament during 2000 and 2001 with a report published in 2001,[1] and by author James Bamford in his books on the National Security Agency of the United States.[2]

European Parliament Inquiry

The European Parliament commissioned an inquiry largely in response to allegations that Echelon was being used for personal, commercial and industrial espionage purposes to the advantage of participating state economies at the expense of other EU members.[3] The report agreed that, not only did the, code-named 'Echelon' exist, but that it was indeed being put to such uses. It's full title is:

"Report on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system) (2001/2098(INI))"[4]

Paragraph 1 of it's conclusions reads:

That a global system for intercepting communications exists, operating by means of cooperation proportionate to their capabilities among the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand under the UKUSA Agreement, is no longer in doubt. It may be assumed, in view of the evidence and the consistent pattern of statements from a very wide range of individuals and organisations, including American sources, that the system or parts of it were, at least for some time, code-named ECHELON. What is important is that its purpose is to intercept private and commercial communications, and not military communications.

Analysis has revealed that the technical capabilities of the system are probably not nearly as extensive as some sections of the media had assumed. Nevertheless, it is worrying that many senior Community figures, in particular European Commissioners, who gave evidence to the Temporary Committee, claimed to be unaware of this phenomenon.

Whilst questioning the technical sophistication and capabilities attributed to Echelon by sections of the mass media, it nevertheless concedes that, on the basis of information presented, ECHELON is capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally through the interception of communication bearers including satellite transmission, public switched telephone networks and microwave links.

In May 2001, as the committee was finalising its report on ECHELON, a delegation was sent to Washington, D.C. to investigate the surveillance network, with planned trips to meet U.S. officials from various government bodies including the CIA, DOC and the NSA. All meetings were cancelled by the U.S. government and the committee was forced to end its trip prematurely. According to a BBC correspondent the Americans: "deny the very existence of the network".[5][6]

The report made a number of anodyne recommendations, with nods in the direction of the "legitimate interests of national intelligence services" and was very soon forgotten after the September 11th 2001 attacks. The chairmen of the investigation committee, Carlos Coelho, remarked that "everyone has chosen to forget this report and its conclusions".[7]

With the constant drumbeat of "global security" concerns an the relentless propaganda of "the war on terror" since its publication, it would have been naive to assume that, at the very minimum, Echelon's capabilities have not continued to increase at the pace of computing and communications technologies generally. The revelation of technical details by Edward Snowden on the global surveillance grid in 2013 has basically confirmed all speculation and shown the system to be massive and extremely sophisticated.

In November 2014 the European Parliament released a historical study about the affair which according to it's abstracts "is echoed in the revelations of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange and in other cases of spying on a grand scale".[8]

Likely satellite intercept stations

The following stations are listed in the EP report (p. 54 ff) as likely to have a role in intercepting transmissions from telecommunications satellites:

  • Hong Kong (since closed)
  • Ayion Nikolaos. Cyprus (UK) - Map
  • Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station. Geraldton, Western Australia. Map
  • Menwith Hill. Yorkshire, UK. - Map
  • Misawa Air Base. Japan. - Map
  • GCHQ Bude, formerly known as GCHQ CSO Morwenstow. Cornwall, UK. - Map
  • Pine Gap. Northern Territory Australia - close to Alice Springs. - Map
  • Sugar Grove. West Virginia, US. Map
  • Yakima Training Center. Washington, US. Map
  • GCSB Waihopai - Satelite intercepts. New Zealand. - Map
  • GCSB Tangimoana - Radio intercepts. New Zealand. - Map


Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Echelon News April 2000article30 March 2000Jacques Isnard
Document:GCHQ and Me: My Life Unmasking British EavesdroppersArticle3 August 2015Duncan CampbellNo one at the May 2015 conference on intelligence, security and privacy argued against greater openness. Thanks to Edward Snowden and those who courageously came before, the need for public accountability and review has become unassailable.
Document:Paddies Join Global Spy Networkarticle5 May 2000UnknownThe text of an article that appeared in an Irish news magazine, "The Phoenix", dated May 5th 2000, claiming that Ireland has become part of the ECHELON organisation.
File:British Bases in Cyprus and Signals Intelligence.pdfreport24 January 2012Giorgos Georgiou