Spies like US: Spooks and Money Talk
By Diane Alden
The term for intelligence operations and snooping is aptly named the "The Black World." Searching through the murky depths for truth consists of looking for the point where justified national security concerns and unconstitutional and illegal prying -- diverge.
Critics of NSA and projects like Echelon are saying that a great deal of the intelligence gathering currently going on, consists of snooping into the private lives of citizens and corporations - nationally and internationally.
As in the case of federal police agencies such as the FBI, the world of spies including NSA, CIA and other alphabet agencies, seem to be hung up on their own mystique and bureaucratic inertia. Playing a dumb and dangerous game close to the chest, these agencies keep their secrets at the expense of divesting the citizens of the United States and around the world of certain freedoms.
Spending billions of dollars on top secret equipment and staff, these agencies, war with one another, with American civilians, companies, and people in the rest of the world.
On one hand they do a very good job when they keep to their original mission and tasks. On the other hand, they help create mistrust of government, and at the very least indulge in unethical and most likely unconstitutional behavior when they veer off course.
To find out what really takes place -- follow the money. Recently, President Clinton asked for a $1.84 trillion budget. Included in this monster budget are intelligence operations of one sort or another.
One of the heftiest increases, from $15 million to $240 million, will pay telephone companies to allow government snooping as they see fit. Declan McCullough of Wired Magazine says, "To rewire their networks and to facilitate federal and state wiretapping...Under the 1994 Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), Congress may "reimburse" phone companies for their efforts, but the controversial process is the subject of a lawsuit currently before a federal appeals court. Half of that money, $120 million, will come from the Department of Defense's "national security" budget -- a move that alarms privacy groups.
"The proposal to use thinly disguised intelligence agency money to fund CALEA confirms what we have suspected all along: The National Security Agency is a silent partner in the government's campaign to make our entire telecommunications system, including the Net, wiretap ready," says Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), conducts a running gun battle, so to speak, with NSA over privacy issues. They have numerous court cases against various agencies, including NSA.
In a recent statement EPIC is asking a federal court to order the release of controversial documents concerning potential government surveillance of American citizens. EPIC's lawsuit seeks the public disclosure of internal NSA documents discussing the legality of the agency's intelligence activities. NSA refused to provide the documents to the House Intelligence Committee, resulting in an unusual public reprimand of the secretive spy agency.
Rep. Porter Goss, chairman of the oversight panel wrote in a committee report in May, 1999 that NSA's rationale for with holding the legal memoranda was "unpersuasive and dubious." He noted that if NSA lawyers "construed the Agency's authorities too permissively, then privacy interests of the citizens of the United States could be at risk." Soon after the release of the Intelligence Committee report, EPIC submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NSA. Despite the FOIA's time limit of 20 working days, the agency has not respond to EPIC's request."
While NGOs such as EPIC battle the government for more information, some of the world's most well-known intelligence analysts are alleging that NSA is participating in unethical or illegal behavior which has nothing to do with finding Osama Bin Laden or keeping track of Russia or China.
They allege that NSA is passing on information about foreign companies and citizens in order to benefit America's Fortune 500. It also may be using its intelligence capability as a weapon against the political enemies of the leadership in various countries involved in the NSA network.
These critics also allege that NSA and the spy system known as Echelon or "Magistrand" are capable of a great deal more than the "official story" reported in the mainstream press.
In two recent articles, one in U.S. News and World Report and the other in The New Yorker by journalist Seymour Hersh, the new head of the NSA claims the agency is operating at a disadvantage. Though never specifically stating that Echelon does or does not exist, he claims NSA is way behind the times and needs much more money to upgrade technology.
NSA's military head is General Michael Hayden. All heads of NSA are in office for a three-year rotation. The journalists imply that it is in the entrenched bureaucracy where the real power lies and where NSA's problems exist.
According to the magazine articles, Hayden has undertaken a crusade to shake the institutional inertia from NSA. The upshot of both pieces purports that NSA's intelligence capabilities are being outstripped by business and individuals and possibly unspecified enemies around the world. That NSA needs much more money to upgrade and keep up with encryption technology.
Recently, NSA's computer system crashed for 72 hours and NSA and its defenders are using this as an example of how badly off the system and the agency have become. In addition, Alabama's Richard Shelby's congressional oversight committee maintains that NSA follows the law scrupulously in matters regarding giving business information to American companies or spying on American citizens.
It would appear someone is exaggerating, or the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing - or perhaps everyone is blowing smoke to cover up past and future sins of commission and omission. It would seem that the press is passing the official story to the public -- as the gospel.
The World in Real Time
Regardless of what American mainstream press is saying, many Europeans and Canadians believe that their countries are being used as guinea pigs for new types of surveillance, and that the instigator behind it is NSA. They contend that intelligence cooperation between the US and its allies allows the US plausible deniability. In other words, allowing the US to claim they are doing nothing illegal or against constitutional or international law. Meanwhile, intelligence operations, funded by NSA, deliver the information they would not otherwise be able to obtain without seriously bending the Constitution.
Bo Elkjaer and Kenan Seberg of the Danish Ekstra Bladet have done over 50 articles on NSA and Echelon and the international "Black World." (www.cryptome.org/echelon-dk3.htm).
According to the journalists, "On May 5 1977, the Office of Intelligence Liaison was set up in the US Department of Commerce after a meeting between NSA, CIA and the department of commerce. The office of liaison task was to handle "foreign intelligence" of interest to the department. This office was classified to handle TOP SECRET/SCI documents - which includes Communications Intelligence - COMINT " and Signals Intelligence - SIGINT - from the NSA. In 1993 the office changed name - but not purpose or classification - to the "Office of Executive Support". Also in 1993 the US set up the National Economic Council - paralleling the National Security Council.
Scottish physicist and journalist Duncan Campbell covers this in his report to the EU Parliament, "Interception Capabilities 2000". (http://www.cyber-rights.org/interception/stoa/ic2kreport.htm)
Campbell alleges: "The nature of this intelligence support has been widely reported. Former intelligence officials and other experts say tips basedon spying ... regularly flow from the Commerce Department to U.S. companies to help them win contracts overseas. The Office of Executive Support provides classified weekly briefings to security officials. One US newspaper obtained reports from the Commerce Department demonstrating intelligence support to US companies.
One such document consists of minutes from an August 1994 Commerce Department meeting [intended] to identify major contracts open for bid in Indonesia in order to help U.S. companies win the work. A CIA employee ... spoke at the meeting; five of the 16 people on the routine distribution list for the minutes were from the CIA."
A few examples of this have come out in the open over the years. You have the Enercon case from Germany. In 1993 the company Panavia was targeted. Panavia produces Tornado fighter-bombers, and the company was targeted because they were trying to sell the planes in the Middle East.
In 1994 NSA intercepted phone calls between Thomson-CSF in France and the Brazilian government over a contract for a rain forest monitoring system worth 1.3 billion dollars.
Eventually the deal was given to Raytheon Corp. "[w]ho announced afterwards that "the Department of Commerce worked very hard in support of U.S. industry on this project". Raytheon also provided maintenance and engineering services to NSA's Echelon satellite interception station at Sugar Grove."
Campbell goes on to say, "There's also a case where Airbus Company in Europe was targeted over a deal with Saudi Arabia for some civilian aircraft."
Additionally, EPIC's Wayne Madsen alleges,"The people at NSA and other intelligence agencies have been quite open with the fact that they say that if we find something that could benefit a US company we would have no problem in passing it along. But they usually confine that to Fortune 500 firms. "We will only deal with the big guys."
He say that, "Economic intelligence gathering is the number one priority and there's many different programs being introduced to help economic intelligence gathering The most important of which is the plan or program to restrict the use of cryptography around the world to make it easier for intelligence agencies to listen in on sensitive business type information that may be encrypted."
Furthermore he states, "Based on NSA intelligence, intercepts of Indonesian communications, it was discovered that Indonesia was going to award a contract to the Japanese firm NEC. Now the US telecommunications company AT & T was also bidding on that same contract. This prompted President Bush to contact General Suharto and Bush kind of mildly reminded the old General about the support the US had given Indonesia over the years, militarily, economic, support for East Timor and I think Suharto got the message because eventually it was announced that Indonesia was going to split the award 50/50."
Also noting that the most important aspect of NSA currently, is the plan or program to restrict the use of cryptography around the world to make it easier for intelligence agencies to listen in on sensitive business type information that may be encrypted.
From the International Woodwards and Bernsteins
In an interview on February 7, the Danish journalists maintained that they started writing about cryptography in Ekstra Bladet years ago. In 1998 they broke the story on the Wassenear Arrangement in which 33 countries, among these Denmark, adopted the US export regulations on strong encryption technologies. "Whenever the "foreign" agencies hear anything that might interest NSA, but which would be illegal to pick up for NSA - they simply copy it and send it to the network That's the really critical issue about Echelon. They circumvent local laws."
Bo Elkjaer and Kenan Seberg also discovered that NSA holds patents on analysis of FAX-documents (6,005,986), patents on text analysis (5,937,422) several communications intercepts patents and patents for analyzing fiber opticals, as in communications cables.
Adding to the criticism is former NSA employee Canadian Mike Frost, and author of "SPYWORLD - Inside The Canadian And American Intelligence Establishments" published in '94 by Doubleday. Frost related in an interview, "I was a SIGINT'er for 34 years before retiring in '92. Mostly NSA and their Super Secret SCS (Special Collection Service) trained me. I have been trying to alert Canadians from coast-to-coast about Echelon and all it's scary implications for some time now, but as you know it's a tough nut to crack."
Adding that "sorting through billions of communications per hour is NOT far off. As a matter of fact key word and voice recognition systems were first used some 10 years ago (these systems were designed by the SCS and used by them) and are most definitely in use today.)
To go one step further, in the late 80's "topic recognition" was being developed so even guarded conversations not containing any of the dictionary's key words would still be selected by the computer."
Frost has played spy games with NSA since he left its employ in 1992. Among the more vocal critics, he has appeared on a Discovery Channel special, and will be featured in an upcoming 60 Minutes look into the strange and spooky world of intelligence operations, specifically NSA.
Frost says about his experience: "A lot of the stuff we did for the Americans we didn't even know what the raw traffic was. We'd be asked to collect things in a wide band mode, in other words go there and just wide band record the certain frequencies back to them and then we'd send those recordings back to NSA and so we didn't even know what was on there because they would give us the equipment to do the recording but they wouldn't give us the equipment to do the demodulation and the demultiplexy."
Some of what he learned was regarding an economic related wheat deal which helped the American producers at the expense of the Canadians.
Plus the usual spying on government employees in the UK and on spouses of political kingpins such as former Canadian Prime Minister's wife, Margaret Trudeau.
When queried about NSA denials regarding Echelon or as it is now called "Magistrand", Frost maintains that there are resumes of NSA and other spy agency spooks listed on Internet job banks. In their work experience data they mention "Magistrand" and Echelon as part of that experience. Unless they are playing fast and loose with the truth it would indicate there is some fire where there is smoke.
Trying to sort through what is possible and what is mere speculation and "beam me up Scotty" type information is complex.
However, recently, a private sector intelligence expert informed me: "I was asked to help develop a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) for a company that wanted to use AI (artificial intelligence) to selectively sort all e-mail coming and going to the corporation, in order to capture corporate knowledge in a knowledge warehouse that they then hoped to query in what is called datamining operations. This has legitimate purposes but again this same technology is maturing to the point it can be used for all e-mail and for political ends."
Furthermore, "I can't imagine that NSA, NRO and others don't have the capability to scan e-mail at major Internet distribution hubs already and are very likely to be doing so on a routine basis without the benefit of any court order. The technology to sit on ones computer and spy on the file system wouldn't be hard to build. You may recall this (Clinton) administration's attempt to promote the "Clipper" chip back in his first administration. This was an encryption device that the government would hold the back door key to all computer systems."
He indicated that as a country we were moving away from freedom and privacy, as we are accustomed to experiencing. That this move is not just taking place because of government organizations such as NSA, but also at the behest of corporate America in their quest to be king of the information hill.
As far as NSA goes, the expert from the private sector stated that there was a huge logistics problem with capturing and cataloguing all the data. He doubted that much was being saved (at NSA) beyond that which is considered a threat to national security.
This person could not speak specifically of his work for the intelligence community because he could be liable and could be imprisoned under various laws forbidding the sharing of classified information with the public.
Ostensibly, intelligence gathering and technological eaves dropping is being done in the name of security. But at what price? The cost for some is personal and not just statistical or easily shrugged off as part of the spy game. For some it is a matter of life and death.
In the next installment of Spies like US: Former NSA employee and early participant in the development of Echelon, Margaret Newsham tells her story. Also in an exclusive interview, Representative Bob Barr talks about the direction of his committee hearing on NSA and Echelon.
Diane Alden is a research analyst and writer for numerous on line publications. She also writes for the western journal, Range Magazine, and does occasional commentaries for Georgia Radio, Inc. Reach her at Wulfric8@aol.com
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