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Project ECHELON, the CRS, and disinfo (Wikilieaks is your friend!)

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posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 07:51 PM
I have only recently discovered the wonderland that is Wikileaks.

Shameful tardiness, I know, but there it is.

What an embarrassment of riches. What a richesse of embarrassments. Where to begin? At random, I'm afraid. I found my attention drawn inexorably to a billion dollars' worth of Congressional reports...

The 6,780 reports, current as of this month, comprise over 127,000 pages of material on some of the most contentious issues in the nation, from the U.S. relationship with Israel to the financial collapse... The release represents the total output of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) electronically available to Congressional offices. The CRS is Congress's analytical agency and has a budget in excess of $100M per year.

Open government lawmakers such as Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) have fought for years to make the reports public, with bills being introduced--and rejected--almost every year since 1998. The CRS, as a branch of Congress, is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

No ****, Sherlock.

But here's the thing. On the one hand, you have people who really want this stuff released because it's highly regarded as

non-partisan, in-depth, and timely


One might think that the CRS, as an agency of the Library of Congress, would institutionally support having a wider audience. But an internal memo reveals the CRS lobbying against bills (S. Res. 54 and H.R. 3630) which would have given the public access to its reports (Project on Government Secrecy, FAS, 2003)[5].

The primary line pushed by the CRS is the one that appeals most to Congressional members--open publication would prevent spin control. The memo states this in delicate terms, referring to such spin failures as "Impairment of Member Communication with Constituents".

Of course the CRS doesn't really care about politicians facing much needed voter discipline, but it does have reasons of its own to avoid public oversight. Institutionally, the CRS has established an advisory relationship with members of Congress similar to the oversight-free relationship established between intelligence agencies and the office of the President.

Free from meaningful public oversight of its work, the CRS, as "Congress's brain", is able to influence Congressional outcomes, even when its reports contain errors. Arguably, its institutional power over congress is second only to the parties themselves. Public oversight would reduce its ability to exercise that influence without criticism. That is why it opposes such oversight, and that is why such oversight must be established immediately.

So I thought I'd have a look at some of these reports to see if I could spot any obvious attempts to influence policymakers... and bingo! I noticed this report about the ECHELON system, which proved to be rather interesting.

Briefly, the ECHELON system, for the many noobs out there, is the sophisticated eavesdropping system that allows the US to hoover up ALL electronic communications and pick through it looking for keywords. As of 2000, the year of this report, it had voice recognition capabilities and state-of-the-art monitoring software. I suspect it's been upgraded since then. Just a guess.

Anyway, what can we glean from this report?

Perhaps a little bit of context might be useful from this BBC article. One of the criticisms levelled at ECHELON is that it's been used to give US firms a commercial advantage.

Journalist Duncan Campbell has spent much of his life investigating Echelon. In a report commissioned by the European Parliament he produced evidence that the NSA snooped on phone calls from a French firm bidding for a contract in Brazil. They passed the information on to an American competitor, which won the contract.

"There's no safeguards, no remedies, " he said, "There's nowhere you can go to say that they've been snooping on your international communications. Its a totally lawless world."

...[US] Colonel Dan Smith told the BBC that while this is feasible, it is not official policy: "Technically they can scoop all this information up, sort through it, and find what it is that might be asked for," he said. "But there is no policy to do this specifically in response to a particular company's interests."

The alert among you may have noticed that this is not a denial, though it might look like one at a casual glance.

So how does the Congressional report handle this? While US lawmakers might privately condone the use of this kind of Big Brother technology (which, after all, is supposed to be keeping us safe from the likes of Osama Bin Laden and the Axis of Evil), it might seem a bit de trop to be okay with using it to give unfair advantage to US companies. Industrial espionage is generally frowned upon, and international versions of the same should logically be subject to the same censure.

As you would expect, the CRS report is pretty cautious and circumspect in its treatment of the subject:

There has been no official U.S. confirmation of the existence of Project Echelon, but the responsibilities of the National Security Agency (NSA) for signals intelligence (sigint) are widely known and reflected in statutory law and executive orders. Although there is no evidence that NSA has undertaken illegal sigint operations, some observers, in the U.S. as well as abroad, argue that electronic surveillance efforts, even if sanctioned by domestic laws, undercut universally guaranteed human rights. Others counter that a robust signals intelligence is essential to protect the Nation and its allies against hostile foreign governments, terrorists, and narcotics traffickers. This report will be updated as additional information becomes available.

Yeah... don't hold your breath for those updates. Nine years and apparently no new info has come to light. To quote Fight Club: "I am John's lack of surprise".

Translation: no-one's admitting anything, but we know what the NSA does. Pinko wimps think this sucks, manly men know we have to stand tall against... well, everyone really.

And what of the accusations that ECHELON's used to unfairly advantage US firms? (Apologies to those who deplore, as I do, the new-fangled habit of turning nouns into verbs at the drop of a hat.)

Apprehension about NSA is found among European observers who suspect that U.S. intelligence agencies might be supporting U.S. corporations competing for international business–a suspicion not shared by most U.S. observers because of the complications that would be involved in transferring government intelligence to corporations in a highly competitive environment.

Such as?

Many major U.S. corporations are not wholly U.S.-owned and in those cases there would be no way to provide sensitive intelligence without revealing it to non-U.S. persons.

Phew! That's ok, then... no, hang on... "Many US corporations..."? What about the others? And are you sure about that "no way"? And if it's a corporation that's not whollu US-owned but has really cosied up to the NSA for whatever reason - or to influential Government interests - would people care?

U.S. intelligence agencies do, however, collect economic intelligence based on an established requirement to provide information to senior U.S. policymakers regarding unfair or illegal activities of foreign governments and corporations.

Ok... no, hang on a minute! What d'you mean, unfair?

I think, by now, you should be starting to get my drift. This report is reassuring to the casual reader, while leaving holes big enough to sail an aircraft carrier through. And as if that weren't enough, we have George Tenet (ah, remember him?) popping up with this lovely little nugget:

“We do not spy on foreign companies for the economic gain of American companies. We don’t do this. It’s our policy, it’s our regulation, we do not do this.” On the other hand, Tenet noted, “...if we find that an American company is being robbed, cheated and stolen or somebody is bribing and disenfranchising an American company, we will go to the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Commerce and say `we have this
information, you figure out how to deal with it."

This is casuistry worthy of the Jesuits at their height. If anyone can reconcile those two statements, they must be mentally impaired.

It's perhaps worth noting that the author of this report is

Richard A. Best, Jr., Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division


[edit on 12-2-2009 by rich23]

posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 08:03 PM
reply to post by rich23

Eschelon was around during the Clinton years, too.
I remember being careful about what I said on the phone!
Also, that report link is in pdf and it nearly shut my computer down. Mine's an older one.

Good find!!!

[edit on 12-2-2009 by Clearskies]

posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 08:18 PM
Let's look at the language of the report.

The word "observers" crops up no fewer than 12 times in the course of this document. Never, funnily enough, in conjunction with the phrase "not-particularly-careful".

The word is used to delineate points of view, and those points of view which are either to be approved or glossed over are dignified with the phrase "most observers". If "most observers" think something, there's nothing to see here, move along now, ladies and gentlemen. And in fact, throughout, the word suggests detachment to the point of Olympian omniscience. Observers. You can trust them. They, after all, observe things. They don't make things up.

Actually, they do: in the sense of "making observations" - this suggests the selection of a point of view from a bewildering variety of information. But this sense of the word is not present.

Let's re-examine one short phrase:

Apprehension about NSA is found among European observers who suspect that U.S.intelligence agencies might be supporting U.S. corporations competing for international
business–a suspicion not shared by most U.S. observers

Note that there don't appear to be ANY European observers who think the NSA's just a bunch of cuddly guys who are there to protect us from Those Who Hate Us For Our Freedoms. Most US observers, obviously, know better, and those that don't are probably unpatriotic.

But of course what would this document be without a final call to arms, or, at least, to wallets? Yes, budgets and appropriations are the perennial punchline, and no matter how big and spiffy ECHELON gets, it can never be big and spiffy enough to outdo the bad guys...

The major issue with regard to sigint, they suggest, is broader–namely, that the widespread dissemination of sophisticated intelligence and expansion of communications are creating a signals environment from which warning of armed attacks, terrorist activities, or narcotics smuggling can be gleaned only with enormous difficulty and greater costs. A number of observers believe that NSA, in particular, must be radically restructured if it is to continue to support national security objectives–an effort that will take years and require a substantial increase in budgetary authority.

Well, I'm sure 9/11 got them all that and the proverbial bag of chips.

posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 08:27 PM
ECHELON ahh yes the megga computer we in the UK have most of the tech over near me At a place called RAF MENWORTH HILL, What a place its huge and full of golf balls with transmitters and receivers, its like a small town totally self sufficient and you are not getting near the place, huge security,USA and UK presence, And has been reported to have links to insider trading.

But yes key words, go ahead give em a wake up call and get ya phone tapped with the word SEMTEX ha ha.oh and dont forget the "jam ECHELON day" where you just send out or phone as many key words possible to put the system off line.

posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 08:33 PM

Originally posted by Clearskies
Eschelon was around during the Clinton years, too.

Oh for sure. My main point with this thread is to show how Congressional reports are there to put Congresspersons back to sleep by telling them what they want to hear. A few ground rules:

  1. don't actually lie
  2. for God's sake don't tell the truth either
  3. above all, don't shatter the illusion that the US is about freedom and democracy because
  4. you have to remember, these people, however stupid, control the purse strings.

I remember being careful about what I said on the phone!

I'm afraid I used to put as many trigger words in as I could followed by a rude message to stay the **** out of my private mails. To quote They Might Be Giants, "I was young and foolish then... I feel old and foolish now".

Also, that report link is in pdf and it nearly shut my computer down. Mine's an older one.

In that case, be careful which reports you look at - that's one of the shorter ones.

posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 08:40 PM
reply to post by rich23

That reference to "European Observers" refers to European Commission's Report on Eschelon. Handily, available online!

The US intelligence services do not merely gather general economic intelligence, but also intercept communications between firms, particularly where contracts are being awarded, and they justify this on the grounds of combating attempted bribery. Detailed interception poses the risk that information may be used as competitive intelligence, rather than combating corruption, even though the US and the United Kingdom state that they do not do so. However, the role of the Advocacy Center of the US Department of Commerce is still not totally clear and talks arranged with the Center with a view to clarifying the matter were cancelled.

posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 08:41 PM
reply to post by stealthyaroura

Thanks for reminding me:

Mark Thomas tells a great story of a protest, I'm pretty sure it was at Menwith... there were a number of habitual plane spotters who used to take up a position that afforded them a good view not only of a local airport, but also of the assembly point for the protestors.

Assuming these people to be anoraks who, loving military aircraft, would therefore be anti-protest, Menwith Hill people approached them and suggested they keep an eye out for troublesome leftie types and, if they saw a crowd assembling for a protest, they should ring a number which was of an extension actually inside the base itself, in fact in the security centre.

Imagine their chagrin when they found that one or another anorak actually made sure that the number was widely distributed amongst the protestors. The switchboard was jammed, although some people did get through. Mark Thomas himself did so, but he was walking in the crowd next to a formidable elderly lady, and he handed her the phone. Her end of the conversation went something like...

"Are you American? WHAT are you doing in MY COUNTRY?!"

posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 08:48 PM
reply to post by Ian McLean

Absolutely. Thanks for the link - I was going to link it (it's available from one of the links I posted) but forgot. I also at some stage would like to find a link to the evidence Duncan Campbell presented about the industrial espionage case in Brazil. It might have to wait though. As I say, the main purpose of the post is to show that the information presented to Congress is heavily filtered and skewed. The ECHELON thing is almost secondary - it's just a convenient and tinfoil-hat peg to hang the real point on - which is why this thread is in the disinfo section.

posted on Feb, 12 2009 @ 09:10 PM
Just a few extra bits and bobs I noticed... Source is the Concressional Report cited in the first post:

...In addition, terrorism and narcotics trafficking, formerly considered law enforcement matters, have been elevated to national security concerns, thus justifying the employment of intelligence resources.

Translation: Now we can get on with smuggling drugs without having to worry unduly about the flatfoots.

Seeking to clarify statutory authorities, the FY1997 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 104-293) authorized intelligence agencies, including NSA, to collect information outside the U.S. about individuals who are not U.S. persons at the request of U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Translation: we can spy on anyone in the world and it's ok. Plus, just getting a request from a "US law enforcement agency" is enough, we don't have to worry about a warrant or any of that ludicrous nonsense like the special courts.

It's worth looking at page 5 in this context: plenty of spurious hand-wringing about spying on US citizens: but, nope, non-US citizens are entirely fair game.

Remember, this is technology that can hoover up ALL communications, retain it, search it for codewords, and present condensed versions for human operators to peruse.

Anyway, I think that's enough for the moment. If anyone spots anything else in the report, please bring it to the party.

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