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Scheme to crash US Echelon net snoop ops hatched

Unfortunately, it looks like the planners are barking up the wrong tree...

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The world is invited to overload the US National Security Agency's electronic eavesdropping network, known as Echelon, on 21 October. Place keywords which are believed to trigger a response from the system in your outgoing e-mail messages and faxes, and over it goes -- at least, that's the plan.

The jam-in is rumoured to be the brainchild of Linda Thompson, a constitutional rights attorney and chairwoman of the American Justice Federation, a dubious outfit with ties to several paramilitary groups in the US, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Should enough people participate, liberal sprinklings of such words as militia, weapon, manifesto, terrorist, bomb, Special Forces, Delta Force, Mossad, MI5, revolution, and the like sent out in millions of e-mail messages will bring the NSA temporarily to its knees. Or so the theory goes.

It sounds like great craic to us, but after following a tip posted at Hacker News Network, we're persuaded that the event is likely to be a flop. Not because we doubt Echelon's existence, but because the NSA appears not to track keywords at all.

According to an NSA fact sheet, their preferred method of information sorting and retrieval is "totally independent of particular languages or topics of interest, and relies for guidance solely upon examples provided by the user. It employs no dictionaries, keywords, stoplists, stemming, syntax, semantics, or grammar."

A patent-number graciously provided at the end of the document led us to more detailed information. "The present invention uses a pattern-recognition technique based on n-gram comparisons among documents instead of the traditional keyword or context-based approach," the patent information specifies.

We're not a hundred per cent sure what that all means, but we sense it spells bad news for "Jam Echelon Day". The mindless insertion of keywords being urged upon would-be participants looks like a mere exercise.

Unless a tremendous number of messages contain such linguistic "patterns" as, "the forty pounds of heroin you ordered is on its way via speed-boat," or "we're holding Chelsea Clinton at gun-point in a van parked beneath the Brooklyn Bridge," or "we will blow up a kindergarten tomorrow in protest of Northern Ireland's imminent occupation by Naval commandos of the Holy See," one's e-mail is unlikely to be honoured by interest from Echelon. Nuts... ®

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