For more than two years, I’ve been chronicling the manifestations of
the Echelon global spying network. During that time, there have been
more than a few skeptics who suggested I had visited Area 51 one too
many times.

For those of you who don’t believe anything that can’t be confirmed
without official government sources, you now have your proof that
Echelon is real — that there really is a global spy network that can
eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the

The BBC (that’s the British Broadcasting Company, a semi-official
news agency in the United Kingdom) has just such confirmation from the
Australian government that Echelon exists and that officials in the U.S.
are beginning to call for an investigation. For the record, the
governments of Britain and the United States still officially deny its

With listening posts around the world, Echelon is controlled and
managed by the National Security Agency at Fort Mead, Md. Every
international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be
listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They
home in on a long list of key words,
or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international
crime, like terrorism.

Now, the man who oversees Australia’s security services, Inspector
General of Intelligence and Security Bill Blick, has confirmed to the
BBC that their Defense Signals Directorate does form part of the

But Echelon gathers up and analyzes far more information than just
terrorist and criminal threats. By its nature, the system is so
widespread all sorts of private communications, often of a sensitive
commercial nature, are recorded and processed.

It has taken awhile for this civil liberties threat to be
acknowledged, but finally it has been.

Among those in the United States taking it seriously is Rep. Bob
Barr, whose staff and constituency have made the congressman aware of
other stories first broken on About the BBC report
and the Echelon confirmation by the Australian government, he says,
“This statement by Australia’s intelligence service acknowledges the
operation of a system the existence of which has already become apparent
based on independent reports. It is disappointing that America, which
prizes its devotion to individual liberty and privacy, allowed another
nation to lead the way in publicly disclosing these activities.”

Amen to that.

“As a former intelligence officer, I support legitimate intelligence
activities. However, I also believe Congress has a duty to make
absolutely certain the massive capabilities our intelligence agencies
have developed, are allowed to be used only with adequate safeguards
against abuse. The massive technological changes that have occurred
since the last significant update of our foreign intelligence
surveillance laws, mean our existing legal structure is not adequately
protecting the privacy rights of Americans. My concerns in this area are
heightened by the reluctance of intelligence agencies to fully cooperate
with congressional oversight. This acknowledgment underscores the need
for open public hearings on the legal standards intelligence agencies
use when they intercept the communications of American citizens. If
these reports are accurate, the sheer power and potential for abuse
created by Project Echelon demands congressional attention.”

Of course, he’s right. The only problem is that this Congress has no
track record of successful investigations into matters of such
importance. Is this the abuse that will wake members from their
complacent slumber?

We can only hope. It’s good news that Barr is making inquiries and
issuing protests. He’s a former CIA official, as well as being a former
U.S. attorney who now serves on the House Judiciary and Government
Reform committees. Earlier this year, he successfully amended
intelligence legislation to require the NSA, CIA and Justice Department
to report on the legal standards they use to collect intelligence. This
legislation remains in a House-Senate conference committee awaiting

It’s also good news that Echelon, thanks to another major achievement
of the New Media, is now on the public’s radar screen when the public
has, for so long, been on Echelon’s.

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