Top Secret Echelon

5 07 2008

Echelon is part of a global communications tracking and spying system. It now operates across the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia and can be used to monitor phone conversations, Internet browsing, satellite up-links and just about any form of electronic communication in existence across the globe.

The system, nicknamed Echelon (pronounced esh-a-long). began operating in the 1970s. Since then, it has become one of the biggest and most secret government operations in the history of this planet. The actual system itself is by definition one of the largest and most powerful networks of super computers ever to exist.

Echelon’s super computers can simultaneously monitor all communications in every corner of the world including your own home phone, mobile (cell) phone, and Internet communications. Since Echelon’s existence, the government has been using the technology to secretly tap into every known electronic communication medium in the world for inter/national intelligence and national security purposes.

In order to gain access to all this information, the NSA (National Security Agency, which leads the operation) works closely with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other telecos (telecommunication companies) in the U.S. and other parts of the world to secretly gain access to fibre optic lines and install a giant packet sniffer (specifically equipment such as the Narus STA 6400) on all inbound/outbound electronic communication.

These packet sniffers are then used to filter through and access any Internet data packets bound for domestic and international destinations and interpret and organize the information so it can be easily analyzed for intelligence purposes. In addition to this, the Echelon project comprises of several outposts positioned around the world which pick up microwave and radio communications (including mobile phones, wireless broadcasts and transmissions, Wireless Internet devices, etc.) for monitoring. Last but not least, the U.S. has a comprehensive system of orbiting/geostationary satellites that also offer a substantial amount of information and communications to aid in international surveillance and intelligence programs.

How can they possibly listen into every single phone conversation and communication all the time? That’s where the amazing computer software comes in. Since the 1970s, several advanced speech and vocal recognition algorithms (built well before their time and restricted to internal government use) have been developed and deployed across the worldwide Echelon network. In addition, Echelon is comprised of advanced filtering systems which can very quickly sift through tons of e-mail and other written electronic communications (such as Instant Messaging and SMS messages) to identify suspicious activity.

Echelon can then take advantage of these powerful technologies to actively and automatically scan phone calls and communications for keywords and phrases such as “bomb” and “terrorist”, as well as identify speakers by cross referencing voice samples stored in a database. The system is so powerful that all this can be done in practically realtime, and in several different languages! When the system picks up suspicious activity, it then logs and relays more information about the communication to the appropriate authorities for further investigation if necessary.

As much as the system invades our privacy and what we stand for as free nations with the right to free speech, Echelon still has many advantages. For instance, several terrorist plots and attacks over the past decade have been foiled. So why don’t we hear about them in the news? The public is hardly ever told of any uncovered plots. This is mainly due to two reasons, firstly it would cause panic amongst the public if the full extent of the Echelon project was realized, and secondly, it would let terrorists know they are being watched so they can take further steps to avoid monitoring in the future.

The mission itself is and has been so top secret that its supercomputer network and head operations centre is located in one of the most heavily guarded buildings in the U.S. To have authorized access, one would have to pass through several layers of physical barriers, security guards and guard dogs; not to mention biometric identification systems including (but not limited to), finger print scanning, eye/iris scanning, and facial recognition detection.

Do realize however, Echelon does not just operate out of one operations centre, there are several other outposts around the globe. Some of these are remote and automated (such as microwave listening devices), but other outposts exist right under our noses so to speak. Over the years the NSA has been forming ‘alliances’ (read as forced partnerships) with telcos such as at&t to lend out space and access to network communications in the telcos’ own buildings to be used by the NSA to monitor and analyze communications for intelligence reasons.

You would think they need a warrant to have Echelon constantly monitoring your every move.. right? The answer is no. Even without the president’s attempted successful plot to rid the warrant requirement and award telecom immunity across the states, Echelon has been and still will monitor every form of electronic communication every minute of every day of every year (a part from system down time, which does inevitably happen even for Echelon, the most notable case being at the start of the century when the whole system was inoperable for an entire three days).

There is however a general rule that whenever a country uses Echelon to spy on one of their own citizens, they are not allowed to use the information they obtain against that individual and are required to delete any records immediately. This however does not stop one of the other countries involved (which also have access to Echelon) from obtaining such information and passing it on to their country’s government, or from simply breaking the ‘rule’ (which in the U.S. refers to the Constitution) and listening in without a warrant anyway.

So who uses Echelon? Well, not your local police station that is for certain. In fact, most government workers are blissfully unaware that such a system exists even today. Echelon has been so high-up on the top secret scale for so long that the only organizations or clients that actively involve themselves in the project are generally national/federal agencies (such as the FBI & NSA) and more commonly foreign intelligence programs such as the CIA (USA), CSIS (Canada), MI5 (UK), MI6 (UK), and ASIS (Australia).

Tips: How do I protect myself? Unfortunately, this is not that easy. As previously stated, Echelon pretty much covers the full world map, but there are still ways to get around the system. Here are some tips to protect your privacy:

1) Talk in code. When you use ordinary words to replace suspect keywords, Echelon will have trouble spotting your hidden agenda. There are also not enough government officials involved in the Echelon project to constantly monitor for common everyday keywords. That being said, Echelon discovered communications pre-911 that used code phrases similar to “the garbage truck will be delivered on Friday”, so even in code the system might be able to see past what you’re saying.

2) Alter your voice or speak a different language. Even though Echelon can pick up keywords in several languages, when you speak in another language you tend to change speech patterns, sentence construction, and tonal intonations. By speaking in another language or altering your voice, you are making it difficult for the system to identify you based on a pre-recorded voice sample that might already be on file.

3) Use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone lines. VoIP phones do not protect you from monitoring however they are substantially more secure compared to traditional analog telephony. Traditionally, analog phone services can be tapped into easily anywhere between you and the telco simply by attaching a telephone receiver to the copper wiring. With VoIP thousands of small data packets with 1s and 0s are sent over wiring to your ISP and then to the VoIP service. The only way to monitor a VoIP line (under the assumption transmission is not encrypted) is by using a packet sniffing device which can piece together thousands of data packets to reassemble the transmitted audio. VoIP lines are also not easily traced back to a physical address like a traditional phone line. A tracer would have to obtain a court order and demand records from your ISP to retrieve your name and address from the IP address you used at the time.

The Echelon project is currently having some trouble keeping track of and monitoring VoIP lines. Keep in mind however the system is constantly expanding and improving and over time VoIP will be just as vulnerable to interception.

4) Use anonymous proxies. A proxy is a type of remote gateway that allows you hide anonymously behind your Internet connection or phone line. An Internet proxy works by gaining access to remote computer and having it download the information you request. The information is then sent to your local computer from the proxy. If for some reason the records of who accessed the original source of information are reviewed, the proxy server’s IP address will be recorded, not that of your local computer. If the proxy does not retain records of your access, the proxy can’t be traced back to you. A phone proxy works in a similar way. You phone into a gateway, and then dial the number you want to call. If the call is traced, it will be traced back to the location of the gateway (proxy) and not your actual location.

5) Use redundancy & concurrent communications. The best way to ensure your privacy is to make sure you don’t rely entirely on just one system. Always assume that one of your mediums of communications is being actively monitored. If you make a phone call with two mobile phones on both ends of the call and then each party talks into one mobile and listens to the other party on the second mobile, then someone tapping the call can only here one side of the conversation. Echelon will not be able to automatically piece together two separate concurrent calls and treat them as one.

6) Use encryption. Probably the most secure method of all, data encryption allows you to disguise data such as written emails under what appears to be random characters and bits of scrambled information that have no meaning. By using a unique ‘key’ in combination with a decryption algorithm a receiving party can then restore the original data from the “random” character string. Without access to the decryption algorithm and key, the information cannot be read. Warning: In the UK, a new law may force you to provide government agencies with the decryption platform and key if such agencies find it necessary.

Although Echelon’s super computers could be used to ‘crack the code’ for most sets of encrypted data over a period of time, such decryption could not be processed in realtime or a reasonable period of time for that matter even under the assumption that Echelon could dedicate enormous amounts of processing power to the task. Therefore unless a government specifically requests that an encrypted transmission be decrypted, the use of secure encryption algorithms is for the most part safe from automatic scanning from Echelon.

As a personal recommendation, I encourage readers to look into Quantum Cryptography. This type of encryption is the most secure available today and cannot be intercepted by Echelon. Even if a government agency specifically requested to have this type of communication decrypted, the laws of physics guarantee with probabilistic certainty that the information exchange will remain secure, even with the power of Echelon’s supercomputers.

Conclusion: The above article sums the system up reasonably well in my opinion. It is definitely amazing and somewhat scary technology and while I am sure many would agree that it invades our privacy, it is also useful in keeping this world a safer place to live in. I stand neutral on the project, I neither encourage governments to use the system, nor do I outright protest against such use. However, I do feel that as citizens of a free country you have the right to pursue the use of confidential and encrypted communications when and where possible. In other words, it should be legal to take efforts to secure your transmissions, and if you choose not to, that is a personal decision thereby allowing governments access to monitor such communications.

However If communications are being monitored, I strongly believe that the government(s) involved should obey both national and International law and not abuse the system to spy on citizens of their own country or citizens of another country that are not suspect of serious crimes or terrorism. As a final note, it is my belief that international diplomats and United Nation member’s governments should be exempt from such monitoring regardless of current diplomatic relations, or the current political or economical situation of the country.

Discussion: Is Echelon keeping this world safer, or is it invading your privacy? Do you feel it’s right to allow other countries (or even your own country) to spy on your telephone and internee communications without your permission or knowledge? Can governments really be permitted to spy on citizens who are not suspect to crimes or terrorism?

Extra: Here is a sample list of keywords that Echelon is most probably looking for right now. By saying a handful of them in one conversation, your communications will likely be flagged as suspect. Just posting them here has no doubt set-off the system and alerted the NSA of this blog post.
(note that some of the keywords below are actually two or more words in sequence such as “wire transfer”, independently those words would not usually be considered suspect)

NIJ blackjack ie.org Wu force Johohonbu Peering WSP PGP 2.6.2. AIEWS IWIS UXO ddnp TNT VNET Koancho Chicago Templar CIM Tools TEXTA unclassified JASSM Spetznaz RIT NTIS SEAL SACLANTCEN captain SC O/S ssa NATOA Goodwin Jatti SAW resistance SLIP VBS erco B.D.M. basement Montenegro Samford Road ANDVT Lexis-Nexis data havens Donaldson Secure Internet Connections Mavricks nuclear charges E-Bomb wojo UNCPCJ Manfurov SACS STU-III MDA SURVIAC MOIS osco Protection SAPM FBI XM KWT-46 Morse Rapid Reaction VOA JRSC WHCA Tarawa munitions Dictionary Minox ZL31 Leitrim MIR Gray Data president jya.com USS sneakers R1 picric acid Hollyhock SUN bullion Chicago Posse The Artful Dodger Aum CFD NAVELEXSYSSECENGCEN rhosts M5 Bess BAR Yukon PPP MD5 Delta Force Ronco assassination PCMT DOE SEAL Team 3 SVR CESID CSC High Security Cap-Stun CIA-DST tiger RPK74 NORAD PBX keebler FALN Bunker LLC impact fraud PGP garbage Posse finks MD4 AT blocks ANZUS NAIAG Fox MKULTRA ARC Merlin detonators Compsec DF orthodox RG STEEPLEBUSH unix Verisign DC7 Stephanie spies DCSS initiators RSA CUD subsonic rounds AMW Defensive Information wire transfer Kosovo Link 16 Aldergrove F-22 JRB Telex SAMF Walther WA2000 Steve Case DEVGRP USSS ASIC Macintosh Firewalls Ortega William Gates meta ELF Awarehouse Mayfly Wackendude LDMX Computer Terrorism the football 2EME REP rail gun Goldman DONCAF MILSATCOM VHF RPK AOL TOS Information Warfare Shaldag JPL CSE Waihopai FDM Keyhole GEBA NACSI STE LEETAC OC3 SIGDASYS World Trade Center FX Glock 26 Event Security DRA penrep SDF forcast Speakeasy Counterterrorism BIOLWPN Perl-RSA HALO Bellcore 355ml SWAT Wilma Ufologico Nazionale SDIS 50BMG PA598D28 Analyzer Monica honor TDR BLU-114/B KWR-46 MEU/SOC ISCS J-6 SEIDM SAPT PSAC JIC Investigation N-ISDN MSCJ Vinnell Tanzania NADIS SCIF NSWT Europol Kilo TRV JAVA TSCI Secert HK33KE Baranyi mailbomb

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8 responses

25 12 2009
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3 01 2010
sean_vn

By the USA’s own assessment more people die of bee stings in a give year than from terrorism. It is tilting at windmills as per usual and a testament to the extremity of human risk perception errors. But the technology is great and worth doing in itself.

22 11 2010
Socket Set

i like wireless internet because you can surf anywhere and you can avoid those ethernet cables ~:’

3 02 2011
Verizon FIOS Phone

Verizon FIOS Phone…

Top Secret Echelon ” LifeXplored Verizon FIOS Phone Thursday…

16 02 2012
Is our conversation on mobile or internet chat PRIVATE ?? « Kumar Vaibhav

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