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Govts abuse ECHELON on each other's behalf to skirt laws

We're shocked, shocked, to learn that spying is going on

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Government operators routinely gather and exchange intelligence on each other's citizens, thereby skirting laws meant to curtail domestic surveillance, former Canadian spymaster Michael Frost said during an interview with the popular American news programme "60 Minutes". Frost worked for two decades in Canada's national signals intelligence organization known as the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the Canadian counterpart of America's legendary National Security Agency (NSA), which is credited with developing and running the ECHELON programme. ECHELON's listening posts capture virtually every electronic conversation around the world, Frost claims. "The entire world, the entire planet....ECHELON covers everything that's radiated world wide at any given instant," he said. "Everything is looked at; the entire take is looked at, and the computer sorts out what it's told to sort out. Everything from data transfers, to cell phones, to baby monitors....Oh yes, baby monitors give you a lot of intelligence," he noted. We were more than surprised: we were shocked to learn of so many potential infant terrorists at large; but of course, in a world where multi-billion-dollar companies can be threatened with ruin by fifteen-year-old children with a better grasp of the technology sustaining them than their CEOs have got, pretty much anything is possible. It's "not only possible, not only probable, but factual" that ordinary citizens are routinely targeted by ECHELON," Frost claimed. The key to getting away with it is for government spy agencies to gather and trade data on each other's populace. It used to be a lot easier. The notoriously secretive NSA made headlines back in the Seventies when a shocked Congress learned it had spied routinely, and without restriction, on prominent Americans holding the 'wrong' opinions on such topics as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Act. Congress then hastily drafted legislation outlawing domestic surveillance. The current suspicion, that governments skirt laws such as those by merely filling in for each other, has gained popularity of late. In one celebrated example, last year the NSA was forced to admit that it had gathered intelligence on the late Princess of Wales. Some suspect that NSA leaks made during exchanges between US and UK station operators explain, finally, how it is that Her Highness' most intimate and embarrassing communications appeared so suddenly in the tabloid press during the early Nineties. The NSA station in Menwith Hill, Yorkshire, is a prime suspect. It is entirely an American operation, but is, of course conveniently located on English soil. Perhaps its entire function is to spy on British subjects on behalf of British spooks who would otherwise be prevented from gathering the information they so desperately desire. The Register just doesn't know. Menwith data, we are told, is sent directly to NSA Headquarters in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland (well within bicycling distance of The Register's Washington headquarters in the nearby and witheringly tony suburb of Chevy Chase). It doesn't take much imagination to picture Brit and Yank spooks trading their dirty little secrets with gusto. "Never....will governments admit that they can circumvent legislation by asking another country to do for them what they can't do for themselves. They will never admit it; but that sort of thing is so easy to do....it's so commonplace," Frost observed. Frost claims to have first-hand knowledge of this phenomenon. "CSE did some dirty work for Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister," he told CBS. "She had two ministers who, she said, weren't 'on side,' and she wanted to find out what they were thinking. So my boss, as a matter of fact, went to MacDonald House in London and did intercept traffic from those two ministers. The British [government] now have total deniability. They didn't do anything....we did it for them." No one with a brain should be surprised by any of this. Surely, if the capability exists, it will inevitably be abused. Still, no one with a brain should assume any of this to be fact. We note that supersleuth Frost offered not one infinitesimal shred of hard evidence to support his claims; that CBS offered not one infinitesimal shred of hard evidence to support its claims that Frost is an authority; and that in fact there is not one infinitesimal shred of hard evidence that the ECHELON system even exists. All right; ECHELON quite probably exists. Quite probably it is a very evil thing. And the NSA and those of America's allies privileged with access to it quite probably abuse it. And that's about all that anyone with a brain can reasonably say. End of story. ®

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