3:00 a.m. 26.Jan.2000 PST
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References to a project Echelon have been found for the first time in declassified National Security Agency documents, says the researcher who found them.
After combing through declassified National Security Agency documents, Jeffrey Richelson, a researcher for the National Security Archives, has concluded that Echelon -- the purported name of the alleged international project for intercepting all forms of electronic communication -- does exist.
(The National Security Archive is an independent, non-governmental research institute and library at George Washington University, according to its Web site, and has no relation to the National Security Agency.)
"[The documents] provide government confirmation of the Echelon program," Richelson said.
At the same time, Richelson said the documents indicate that it may not have nearly the illicit scope and nature held by some of the more extreme conspiracy theories regarding Echelon.
"My research suggests that it's much more limited than the extreme cases make out," he said.
In fact, Richelson said he doubts the agency has overstepped any legal bounds in executing the Echelon program.
Intelligence watchdogs suspect that national agencies worldwide -- led by the NSA and others -- are intercepting and handing off private communications among citizens to each other.
Richelson found the telling information in a mountain of documents he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Some he obtained as recently as the last six months. Others he's had for years. He published his findings on the Web for the first time last week.
One of the documents Richelson highlights for its specific reference to project Echelon pertains to the functions of naval security group activity in Sugar Grove, West Virginia.
Richelson said documents make clear that a program called Echelon is associated with the Sugar Grove installation.
Echelon has been described by privacy groups as a global surveillance network that intercepts all kinds of communications for redistribution among the primary partners in a decades-old U.K.-U.S. alliance that also includes Australia and New Zealand. But Richelson said that the vision is probably far bigger than the reality.
"Echelon is a more limited program," he wrote on his site.
Those limitations, he said, include restrictions imposed on collection activities by the UK-U.S. allies regarding the citizens of those countries.
"Thus, the [Naval instruction document] also specifies that one of the responsibilities of the commander of the Sugar Grove site is to 'ensure [that] the privacy of U.S. citizens are properly safeguarded pursuant to the provisions of USSID 18."
The agency's public affairs office did not respond to email seeking comment on the findings. The office has consistently declined to comment on Echelon-related developments.
Last week, however, Michael Jacobs, deputy director for information systems security at the NSA, bristled at the notion that his agency would spy on U.S. citizens. Strict internal policies, he said, prevent the agency from doing such a thing.
"That is not our job," Jacobs said. "We take those restrictions very seriously."
Steven Aftergood, who edits the Secrecy & Government Bulletin Project on Government Secrecy Federation and has been following the Echelon story, accepts Richelson's findings and conclusions.
"Is this reference to activation of Echelon units a reference to what we have to come know and love as the Echelon network? I would say it appears so," Aftergood said. "That's what Richelson is asserting and I buy it."
So is it a big deal?
"It's interesting because I don't know of any other official government documents that make reference to Echelon by name," Aftergood said. "It's certainly interesting from that point of view."
But he, like Richelson himself, sees no smoking gun.
"I don't think this document in itself raises any significant questions. The fact that there is such a network with various stations around the globe ... that's entirely non-controversial," Aftergood said.
"It does not get into other aspects of the Echelon mythology such as its use for domestic surveillance, economic espionage, or other questionable activities. So from that perspective it doesn't create any new questions."
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Notice: TGS HiddenMysteries and/or the donor of this material may or may not agree with all the data or conclusions of this data. It is presented here 'as is' for your benefit and research. Material for these pages are sent from around the world. If by chance there is a copyrighted article posted which the author does not want read, email the webmaster and it will be removed. If proper credit for authorship is not noted please email the webmaster for corrections to be posted.