are several technologies that take enable ECHELON. We will
look at them in the order that they take place.
are three main methods of interception of communications traffic.
Physical tap is exactly what the name implies. It is a physical
connection to a wire, fiberoptic cable or telephone switch.
This is the "low-tech" method. It can be either
a covert tap or a tap enabled by the phone company. More
and more, the ECHELON spies are relying upon the phone company
to provide taps into lines through their switching equipment.
For example, it was revealed in a British court recently by officials
at British Telecom (BT) that there are at least three high volume
fiberoptic cables, capable of carrying over 100,000 conversations
at once, serving the Menwith Hill Spy Station (pictured above)
in England. When the USA heard about the revelation, they
threw what could only be called a "Hissy Fit" and went
into damage control mode. Until the emergence of microwave
technology, most interception was achieved through physical taps.
today's world of modern communications, even a call to a town
20 miles away is as likely to go by satellite as by ground.
Modern telephone switching equipment always looks for the first
open route between the source and destination. A call between
Dallas and Fort Worth could just as easily be routed through a
microwave tower in Austin or to a satellite overhead, as it could
be routed direct by cable or direct microwave. A call to
a city 200 or 300 miles away is much more likely to go by satellite
than by any ground based method. Once your conversation
hits a satellite, all bets are off. When the satellite relays
the signal back down to the ground, it can be received across
a wide area (thousands of miles across). Any ground station
(satellite antenna) in that area can receive that signal if it
is pointed at that satellite. ECHELON has ground stations
pointed at virtually every communications satellite in earth orbit.
one is a little trickier. Much of our regional communications
travels through ground based microwave towers. You have
probably seen the towers along the highway, with a bunch of cornucopia
shaped antennas on them. Each of those antennas is a directional
link to another tower (usually about 25 miles away). Although
the signal is directional, that does not mean that 100% of the
signal is caught by the receiving antenna. In fact, much
less than 1% is usually received by the receiving antenna.
The rest of the signal continues on in a straight line into space.
The diagram below shows how a signal sent between two ground based
microwave towers can be intercepted by a satellite.
We know that any "commercial" satellite within 8 degrees
of the target can pick up enough of the signal to be useful.
Of course, ECHELON does not use "commercial" satellites.
We can only hypothesize on how sensitive their "spy"
satellites are. Even with only an 8 degree limit, just one
spy satellite can monitor hundreds of ground microwave towers
a signal is captured, computers break it up into thousands of
discrete communications. Computers route each communication
to the proper system, based upon what type of communication it
contains (voice, fax, data, etc.)
a particular communication happens to be digital data, like Internet
traffic, it is passed directly on to the Analysis computers.
However, voice and fax traffic require Translation.
traffic is passed on to high speed Optical Character Recognition
(OCR) computers which have the capability to recognize virtually
every language and every font on earth. There is no reason
to believe that their OCR software can read handwriting, but that
does not mean that they cannot. Once the OCR software has
digitized the fax, the digitized data is sent on to the Analysis
traffic is routed to high speed Voice Recognition computers.
Using a program called "Oratory," these computers digitize
voice communications to be sent to the Analysis computers.
Security leaks indicate that Oratory may, in fact, be capable
of some analysis, in that it may search for some "target"
words in every common language and dialect on earth, while it
is digitizing the voice. The digitized message is then sent
on to the Analysis computers.
data is sent to the Analysis computers which scan the data for
key words, using the ECHELON dictionary. When you use Voice
Recognition software on your desktop computer, it uses a built-in
dictionary to help it translate your voice into text. If
you are in the movie industry and use the word "gaffer,"
the voice recognition software might translate that as "gather,"
because gaffer is not in the dictionary. We know from documents
that have been liberated from ECHELON sites that the ECHELON dictionary
contains only words of interest to the spies. It includes
a certain number of fixed words, used by all ECHELON stations.
To that is added words of specific interest to the local station
and temporary words relating to a specific projects. The
ECHELON analysis computers are capable of recognizing any of these
words in virtually every language and dialect.
recent technological developments indicate that the data is then
sent on to a "Subject Analysis" computer. The
following is taken from the first two lines of the "Summary
of the Invention" section of US Patent #5,937,422, filed
April 15, 1997 and assigned to, "The United States of America
as represented by the National Security (Washington, DC)".
an object of the present invention to automatically generate
a topic description for a document that may include words
that do not appear in the document.
another object of the present invention to automatically generate
a topic description for a document, where the document
is text of any length, where the text may be derived from
speech, and where the text may be in any language.
to enable large scale automated monitoring of our personal communications
is not only available, but is being used against us on a daily
If your conversation,
fax or email triggers any one of the automatic mechanisms, it
is forwarded to a human analyst for determination. If you
have said anything in that communication that could remotely indicate
that you may be about to break or might have already broken a
law and that communication was received outside the USA, that
information is forwarded to the appropriate US agency for handling.
This effectively subverts the 4th Amendment's guarantee
unreasonable searches and seizures"