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Second Thoughts: Snowden – why the outrage?

Tags: Features, Intelligence, GCHQ, Edward Snowden, NSA, ECHELON, Spying , World

Jim Ensom, Jul 15, 2013


In his regular Second Thoughts column, VoR’s Jim Ensom asks: why the outrage over former US surveillance operator Edward Snowden when everyone in Europe knew of the existence of a US/UK-led global spy operation well over a decade ago?


No fewer than 3 billion pieces of data were collected from individuals, institutions and businesses across the continent of Europe in the course of March 2013 alone, according to the National Security Agency (NSA) heat map revealed by former NSA system administrator, Edward Snowden.


Every European state was subject to surveillance, with the continent’s biggest economy, Germany, subjected to the most scrutiny by the US. Angela Merkel brought the matter up with President Obama at the G8 in June and many European leaders expressed outrage.


Outrage in Europe


But why this outrage? The European Parliament (EP) has known about the existence of an international surveillance system operated through the US for over a decade.


A report to the EP in 2001 (called On the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications) stated that the existence of the ECHELON interception system by the "US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand under the UKUSA Agreement, is no longer in doubt.”


“There can now be no doubt that the purpose of the system is to intercept, at the very least, private and commercial communications, and not military communications,” the report said.


“It is surprising, not to say worrying, that many senior Community figures, including European Commissioners, who gave evidence to the Temporary Committee claimed to be unaware of this phenomenon,” it reported in 2001 – 12 years ago.




The EP report was based on the Scientific and Technological Options Assessment (STOA) which the author, the veteran investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, had presented at a hearing of the Committee on Citizens Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs in 2000.


ECHELON (also known as AUSCANNZUKUS and Five Eyes) consists of a global system of satellite receiver stations and spy satellites in particular alleged to give it the ability to intercept any telephone, fax, Internet or e-mail message sent by any individual and thus to inspect its contents.


Ground stations are believed to include: Menwith Hill, Yorkshire, UK (believed to be the largest in the world); Yakima Training Center, Washington, US; GCSB Waihopai, New Zealand; and CFS Leitrim, Ontario, Canada.



Sigint and Comint

Sigint is signals intelligence and Comint is communications intelligence. Humint is human intelligence – what they see you doing.


Duncan Campbell's original document reports: "The United States Sigint System (USSS) consists of the National Security Agency (NSA), military support units collectively called the Central Security Service, and parts of the CIA and other organisations.


“Following wartime collaboration, in 1947 the UK and the US made a secret agreement to continue to conduct collaborative global Comint activities. Three other English-speaking nations, Canada, Australia and New Zealand joined the UKUSA agreement as second parties,” Campbell said.


“The UKUSA agreement was not acknowledged publicly until March 1999, when the Australian government confirmed that its Sigint organisation, Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) ‘does co-operate with counterpart signals intelligence organisations overseas under the UKUSA relationship’. The UKUSA agreement shares facilities, tasks and product between participating governments"


Around the world, you are not alone


Campbell went on to say (in his 2000 report) the ECHELON system is by no means alone. He says: "Besides UKUSA, there at least 30 other nations operating major Comint organisations.


"The largest [was] the Russian FAPSI [now dissolved into the Federal Security Service, FSB, and Foreign Intelligence Service, SVR, as well as the Spetssvyazkk], with 54,000 employees.


"China maintains a substantial Sigint system, two stations of which are directed at Russia and operate in collaboration with the United States.


"Most Middle Eastern and Asian nations have invested substantially in Sigint, in particular Israel, India and Pakistan."




On 6 June 2013, The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed the existence – via Snowden – of an extensive external intelligence-gathering programme – called PRISM – operated by the US giving the NSA access to the emails, communications, documents, videos and web histories of vast numbers of non-US persons located outside the US including those resident in the UK.


Through PRISM, the NSA is able to obtain information from the servers of “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple," according to the slide-show presentation Snowden leaked.


According to the leaked slides PRISM thus gives access to non-US individuals’ “email, chat- video, voice, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferencing, notification of target activity – logins, online social networking details.”


The internet companies have all denied the allegations.


Operation Tempora


Snowden says that the UK government surveillance agency GCHQ has intercepted more than 200 fibre optic cables landing in the United Kingdom.


Extracted data is stored for at least 3 days for content, and 30 days for metadata and is automatically searched according to search terms.


Intercepted traffic includes internet usage and telephone calls.


It is reported that GCHQ has set over 40,000 search terms and the USNSA has set over 31,000 search terms which are used to determine which data should be extracted.


GCHQ is reported to collect more metadata than the NSA, and to collect vast quantities of data.


Under this programme, there is therefore bulk interception, storage and search of internet traffic of all users of intercepted fibre optic cables.


It has been reported that GCHQ has had access to the PRISM system since at least June 2010, and has generated 197 intelligence reports from the system in 2012.


The Guardian reported on 21 June 2013 that GCHQ captures content flowing through undersea cables that land in the UK and is sharing the information with the US.


Date: 2015-12-24; view: 1076

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