Microwave Made Monitoring Easy.
Computers made analysis of intercepted data so easy that the NSA is doing the unthinkable.
The NSA is monitoring us.


There are several technologies that take enable ECHELON.  We will look at them in the order that they take place.


There are three main methods of interception of communications traffic.

Physical Taps

A 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.

Downlink Interception

In 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.

Ground Microwave Interception

This 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 at once.


Once 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.)

Digital Data

If 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.

Fax data

Fax 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 computers.


Voice 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.


Digitized 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.

However, 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)".

It is 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.

It is 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.


The technology to enable large scale automated monitoring of our personal communications is not only available, but is being used against us on a daily basis.

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 "against unreasonable searches and seizures"



Copyright 2002 John Gaver - All rights reserved.