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  Nuclear Free Scotland Ocotober 2005

WE ALL KNOW ABOUT YOU!

How America spies on all the world’s citizens

Today the United States stands at the centre of a vast and growing network of spy bases. Many of these bases are highly secret and are disguised as belonging to the country on which they are sited. They are mostly listening or retrieval posts that transmit raw material back to the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters at Fort George Meade, Maryland or to the NSA’s top spy base at RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire.

There are three main forms of telecommunications. The first consists of telephone calls, faxes, e-mail and internet connections which are sent and received via communications satellites owned by the International Telecommunications Satellite organisation (Intelsat). Intelsat is a treaty-based international organisation which currently maintains around 19 satellites in geostationary orbits, so that they maintain the same position in space relative to the earth. By 2002 24% of its stock was owned by Lockheed Martin. To eavesdrop on all these communications the NSA maintains a network of antennae at listening posts situated at strategic points across the globe. Not surprisingly the volume of messages intercepted is huge.

A second form of telecommunications is shortwave and VHF radio signals. Because of the the earth’s curvature these signals cannot be easily intercepted at ground level without large numbers of monitoring stations, but they can be intercepted from space. Thus the US National Reconnaisance Office maintains a network of spy satellites in geostationary orbits strung out along the equator. There they intercept and beam back to earth a wide range of messages including mobile phone calls and city to city microwave radio transmissions. In addition the satellites take photographs, survey the oceans, warn of missile launches, record nuclear tests and transmit highly encrypted messages back to earth. They also require an extensive network of antennae to receive their output and send it on for further analysis.

The main receiving points for all this information are RAF Menwith Hill, RAF Morwenstow in Cornwall, the air force base at Bad Aibling, near Augsberg, Germany, Pine Gap near Alice Springs, Australia, Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico, ‘summit communications’ in Taiwan and the Naval Air Facility at the air force base at Misawa in northern Japan. Pine Gap and Menwith Hill can also pick up signals from a new Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) of satellites which give immediate warning of missile launches anywhere on earth and are a key part of George Bush’s Missile Defence programme.

The third type of communication is via copper cables or high capacity optical fibre networks. These can be spied on only if a physical tap is placed on the cable itself. Since 1971 the United States has been placing taps on underwater copper cables but fibre-optic cables seems to be harder to intercept and probably remain the most secure form of communication. In 1999 the US Congress authorised $600 million to adapt a nuclear powered submarine the USS Jimmy Carter to enable it to tap underwater fibre-optic cables.

Since 1981, an informal arrangement for intelligence sharing between English speaking countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) was formalised under the code name ‘echelon’. Echelon operates 120 satellites worldwide. Each member of the alliance operates its own satellites and its own supercomputers that list key words, names, telephone numbers and anything else that can be made machine readable. They then search the huge downloads of raw information the satellites bring in each day and exchange their intake and analyses with the other countries in the alliance. Other nations such as France and Germany claim that this surveillance system has been used for commercial espionage and has enabled US companies to win contracts over their European rivals as a result of state sponsored information piracy.

It is not commercial companies, but ordinary citizens who have most to fear about this level of state spying. It is trade unionists, peace activists and active members of legitimate political parties whose everyday conversations and campaigning activities are being monitored and assessed on a regular basis. The growing militarisation of our society, largely hidden from the people, is now undermining the very civil liberties and right to privacy that it is supposed to defend.

 

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