by Nicky Hager
New Zealand’s Role in the
International Spy Network
Ten years later, on Saturday, 15 January
1994, technicians in satellite earth stations around the Pacific
were busy tuning their equipment to a new satellite.
The first of
the new generation of Intelsat 7 series satellites, it had been
launched several weeks before, from the European Kourou air base in
French Guyana, and then maneuvered into position far out in space
above the Equator at 174 degrees east, due north of New Zealand
The 20 Intelsat (International Telecommunications Satellite
Organization) satellites that ring the world above the Equator
most of the world’s satellite-relayed international phone calls and
messages such as faxes, e-mail and telexes.
The new satellite, Intelsat 701, replaced the 10-year-old
Intelsat 510 in the same
The changeover occurred at 10 pm New Zealand time that
At the GCSB’s station at Waihopai, near Blenheim in the north of the
South Island, the radio officer staff were just as busy that
evening, setting their special equipment to intercept the
communications which the technicians in legitimate satellite earth
stations would send and receive via the new satellite.
These specially trained radio officers,
who learned their skills at the Tangimoana station, usually work day
shifts, but on 15 January 1994 they worked around the clock, tuning
the station’s receivers to the frequency bands the GCSB wanted to
intercept, selecting the specific channels within each band that
would yield the types of messages sought within the UKUSA network
and then testing that the high-tech intelligence collection system
was working smoothly.
That satellite changeover was a very
significant event for the Waihopai station and the GCSB.
would always be only a small component of the global network, this
was the moment when the station came into its own.
There have been various guesses and hints over the years about what
the Waihopai station was set up to monitor - "sources" in one
newspaper said foreign warship movements; a "senior Telecom
executive" told another newspaper it was most likely "other
countries" military communications" - but, outside a small group of
intelligence staff, no one could do more than theorize.
established specifically to target the international satellite
traffic carried by Intelsat satellites in the Pacific region and its
target in the mid-1990s is the Intelsat 701 that came into service
in January 1994, and is the primary satellite for the Pacific
Intelsat satellites carry most of the satellite traffic of interest
to intelligence organizations in the South Pacific:
communications between embassies and their home capitals, all manner
of government and military communications, a wide range of business
communications, communications of international organizations and
political organizations and the personal communications of people
living throughout the Pacific.
The Intelsat 7 satellites can carry
an immense number of communications simultaneously.
previous Intelsat 5s could carry 12,000 individual phone or fax
circuits at once, the Intelsat 7s can carry 90,000. All "written"
messages are currently exploited by the GCSB. The other UKUSA
agencies monitor phone calls as well.
The key to interception of satellite communications is powerful
computers that search through these masses of messages for ones of
The intercept stations take in millions of messages
intended for the legitimate earth stations served by the satellite
and then use computers to search for pre-programmed addresses and
keywords. In this way they select out manageable numbers (hundreds
or thousands) of messages to be searched through and read by
intelligence analysis staff.
Until the Intelsat 701 satellite replaced the older 5 series, all
the communications intercepted at Waihopai could already be got from
two existing UKUSA stations covering the Pacific. But, unlike their
predecessors, this new generation of Intelsat 7s had more precise
beams transmitting communications down to the southern hemisphere.
The existing northern hemisphere-based stations were no longer able
to pick up all the southern communications, which is why new
stations were required.
Eleven months later, on 3 December 1994, the other old Intelsat
satellite above the Pacific was replaced by Intelsat 703. Since then
Waihopai and its sister station in Australia constructed at the same
time have been the main source of southern hemisphere Pacific
satellite communications for the UKUSA network.
Many people are vaguely aware that a lot of spying occurs, maybe
even on them, but,
How do we judge if it is ubiquitous or not a worry
Is someone listening every time we pick up the telephone?
Are all our Internet or fax messages being pored over continuously
by shadowy figures somewhere in a windowless building?
almost never any solid information with which to judge what is
realistic concern and what is silly paranoia.
What follows explains as precisely as possible - and for the first
time in public - how the worldwide system works, just how immense
and powerful it is and what it can and cannot do. The electronic
spies are not ubiquitous, but the paranoia is not unfounded.
The global system has a highly secret codename - ECHELON. It is by
far the most significant system of which the GCSB is a part, and
many of the GCSB’s daily operations are based around it.
intelligence agencies will be shocked to see it named and described
for the first time in print. Each station in the ECHELON network has
computers that automatically search through the millions of
intercepted messages for ones containing pre-programmed keywords or
fax, telex and e-mail addresses.
For the frequencies and channels
selected at a station, every word of every message is automatically
searched (they do not need your specific telephone number or
Internet address on the list).
All the different computers in the network are known, within the
UKUSA agencies, as the
ECHELON Dictionaries. Computers that can
search for keywords have existed since at least the 1970s, but the
ECHELON system has been designed to interconnect all these computers
and allow the stations to function as components of an integrated
Before this, the UKUSA allies did intelligence collection
operations for each other, but each agency usually processed and
analyzed the intercept from its own stations. Mostly, finished
reports rather than raw intercept were exchanged.
Under the ECHELON system, a particular station’s Dictionary computer
contains not only its parent agency’s chosen keywords, but also a
list for each of the other four agencies.
For example, the Waihopai computer has
separate search lists for
the NSA, GCHQ,
DSD and CSE in
addition to its own. So each station collects all the telephone
calls, faxes, telexes, Internet messages and other electronic
communications that its computers have been pre-programmed to select
for all the allies and automatically sends this intelligence to
This means that the New Zealand stations
are used by the overseas agencies for their automatic collecting - while New Zealand does not even know what is being intercepted from
the New Zealand sites for the allies. In return, New Zealand gets
tightly controlled access to a few parts of the system.
When analysts at the agency headquarters in Washington, Ottawa,
Cheltenham and Canberra look through the mass of intercepted
satellite communications produced by this system, it is only in the
technical data recorded at the top of each intercept that they can
see whether it was intercepted at Waihopai or at one of the other
stations in the network.
Likewise, GCSB staff talk of the other
agencies’ stations merely as the various "satellite links" into the
The GCSB computers, the stations, the
headquarters operations and, indeed, the GCSB itself function almost
entirely as components of this integrated system.
In addition to satellite communications, the ECHELON system covers a
range of other interception activities, described later. All these
operations involve collection of communications intelligence,<1>
as opposed to other types of signals intelligence such as electronic
intelligence, which is about the technical characteristics of other
countries’ radar and weapon systems.
Interception of international satellite communications began in the
early 1970s, only a few years after the first civilian
communications satellites were launched. At this time the Intelsat
satellites, located over the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans,
simply beamed all their messages down to the entire hemisphere
within their view.
Throughout the 1970s only two stations were required to monitor all
the Intelsat communications in the world: a GCHQ station in the
south-west of England had two dishes, one each for the Atlantic and
Indian Ocean Intelsats, and an NSA station in the western United
States had a single dish covering the Pacific Intelsat.
The English station is at Morwenstow, at the edge of high cliffs
above the sea at Sharpnose Point in Cornwall. Opened in 1972-73,
shortly after the introduction of new Intelsat 4 satellites, the Morwenstow station was a joint British-American venture, set up
using United States-supplied computers and communications equipment,
and was located only 110 kilometers from the legitimate British
Telecom satellite station at Goonhilly to the south.
In the 1970s
the Goonhilly dishes were inclined identically towards the same
Atlantic and Indian Ocean satellites.<2>
The Pacific Intelsat satellite was targeted by an NSA station
built on a high basalt tableland inside the 100,000-hectare
United States Army Yakima Firing Centre, in Washington State in
the north-west United States, 200 kilometers south-west of Seattle.
Also established in the early 1970s, the Yakima Research Station
initially consisted of a long operations building and the single
large dish. In 1982, a visiting journalist noted that the dish was
pointing west, out above the Pacific to the third of the three
Yakima is located between the Saddle Mountains and Rattlesnake
Hills, in a desert of canyons, dunes and sheer rock cliffs, where
the only vegetation is grass. The Army leases the land to ranchers
who herd their cattle in the shadow of the dishes.
When visited in
mid-1995 the Yakima station had five dish antennae, three facing
westwards over the Pacific Ocean and two, including the original
large 1970s dish, facing eastwards. Besides the original operations
building there were several newer buildings, the largest of them
two-storey, concrete and windowless.
Two of the west-facing dishes are targeted on the main Pacific
Intelsat satellites; the Yakima station has been monitoring Pacific
Intelsat communications for the NSA ever since it opened. The
orientation of the two east-facing dishes suggests that they may be
targeted on the Atlantic Intelsats, intercepting communications
relayed towards North and South America.
One or both may provide the
link between the station and the NSA headquarters in Washington.
The fifth dish at the station is smaller
than the rest and faces to the west. Given its size and orientation,
it appears to be the UKUSA site for monitoring the Inmarsat-2
satellite that provides mobile satellite communications in the
Pacific Ocean area. If so, this is the station that would, for
example, have been monitoring Greenpeace communications during the
nuclear testing protests in the waters around Moruroa Atoll in 1995.
The GCSB has had important links with the Yakima station since 1981,
when the GCSB took over a special, highly secret area of
intelligence analysis for the UKUSA network. Telexes
intercepted using Yakima’s single dish were first sorted by the
Yakima computers, and then subjects allocated to New Zealand were
sent to the GCSB for analysis.
The Yakima station had been using
Dictionary-type computers for this searching work for many years
before the full ECHELON system was operating.
Between them, the Morwenstow and Yakima stations covered all
Intelsat interception during the 1970s. But a new generation of
Intelsat satellites launched from the late 1970s required a new
configuration of spy stations. The Intelsat 4A and 5 series
satellites differed from earlier ones in that they did not transmit
only to the whole of the side of the world within their view; they
now also had "east and west hemispheric" beams that transmitted
For example, Intelsat 510, which operated above the
Pacific until its replacement in December 1994, had one "global"
beam covering the whole region, but all the other transmissions went
either to the east or to the west Pacific. Yakima was not within the
"footprint" of any hemispheric beams covering Australasia, South
East Asia and East Asia, making interception of these signals
difficult or impossible.
These changes to Intelsat design meant that the UKUSA alliance
required at least two new stations to maintain its global coverage.
Again the GCHQ provided one and the NSA one.
A new NSA station on
the east coast of the United States would cover Atlantic Intelsat
traffic beamed down towards North and South America (Morwenstow
covered the eastern Atlantic), and a GCHQ station in Hong Kong would
cover both the western hemisphere of the Pacific Intelsats and the
eastern hemisphere of the Indian Ocean Intelsats.
The site chosen for the new NSA station was hidden in the forested
South Fork Valley in the mountains of West Virginia, about 250
kilometers south-west from Washington DC, on the edge of the George
Washington National Forest, near the small settlement of Sugar
Grove. The site had been used in the 1950s and early 1960s for a
failed attempt to spy on Russian radio communications and radars by
means of reflections from the moon.
The current satellite
interception station was developed during the late 1970s, when a
collection of new satellite dishes (from 10 to 45 meters in
diameter) and the new windowless Raymond E. Linn Operations Building
were constructed. It also incorporated a two-storey underground
operations building already at the site. It started full operations
Like Morwenstow and Yakima, Sugar Grove is only 100 kilometers from
an international satellite communications earth station, making it
easy to intercept any "spot" beams directed down to the legitimate
stations. In this case it is the Etam earth station, the main link
in the United States with the Intelsat satellites above the Atlantic
The other new station, in Hong Kong, was constructed by the GCHQ
also in the late 1970s.
The station, which has since been
dismantled, was perched above the sea on the south side of Hong Kong
Island, across Stanley Bay from the British Stanley Fort military
base and right next to high-rise apartments and luxury housing. In
crowded Hong Kong the station’s anonymity was assured simply because
there are so many satellite dishes scattered over the island.
helped to give away this one was the sign, on the entrance to an
exclusive housing enclave across the bay, saying that taking
photographs is strictly forbidden.
When one of the Indian guards on
the gate was asked why it was forbidden to take photos of a housing
area, he pointed across the bay and said in serious tones,
"Communications facility - very, very secret".
The Hong Kong station had several satellite dishes and buildings,
including a large windowless concrete building (similar to the ones
at Yakima and Sugar Grove) and a collection of administration and
operations buildings running down the hill into the base from the
Intelsat communications intercepted at the station were seen
regularly by GCSB operations staff in Wellington.<6>
When visited in August 1994, the station fitted the requirements of
the Intelsat monitoring network. It had one dish pointing up east
towards the Pacific Intelsats, another towards the Indian Ocean
Intelsats and a third, for the station’s own communications,
pointing up to a United States Defense Satellite Communications
System satellite above the Pacific.
Other dishes had perhaps already
Dismantling of the station began in 1994
- to ensure
it was removed well before the 1997 changeover to Chinese control of
Hong Kong - and the station’s staff left in November that year.
News reports said that the antennae and equipment were being shipped
to the DSD-run Shoal Bay station in Northern Australia, where they
would be used for intercepting Chinese communications.
It is not known how the Hong Kong station has been replaced in the
One of the Australian DSD stations - either Geraldton or Shoal Bay
- may have taken over some of its work, or
it is possible that another north-east Asian UKUSA station moved
into the role. For example, there were developments at the NSA’s
Misawa station in northern Japan in the 1980s that would fit
well with the need for expanded Intelsat monitoring.<7>
Throughout the 1980s a series of new dishes was also installed at
the Morwenstow station, to keep up with expansion of the Intelsat
In 1980 it still required only the two original dishes, but
by the early 1990s it had nine satellite dishes:
towards the two main Indian Ocean Intelsats
three towards Atlantic
three towards positions above Europe or the Middle
one dish covered by a radome
The Morwenstow, Yakima, Sugar Grove and Hong Kong stations were able
to provide worldwide interception of the international
communications carried by Intelsat throughout the 1980s.
arrangement within the UKUSA alliance was that, while the NSA and
GCHQ ran the four stations, each of the five allies (including the
GCSB) had responsibility for analyzing some particular types of the
traffic intercepted at these stations.
Then, in the late 1980s, another phase of development occurred. It
may have been prompted by approaching closure of the Hong Kong
station, but a more likely explanation is that, as we have seen,
technological advances in the target Intelsat satellites again
required expansion of the network.
Two UKUSA countries were available to provide southern hemisphere
coverage: Australia and New Zealand. One of the new southern
hemisphere stations would be the GCSB’s Waihopai station and the
other would be at Geraldton in West Australia. (Both stations are
described in detail later.) The new stations were operating by 1994
when the new Intelsat 7s began to be introduced.
Waihopai had opened
in 1989, with a single dish, initially covering one of the older
generation of Intelsat satellites.
The positioning of the Geraldton station on Australia’s extreme west
coast was clearly to allow it to cover the Indian Ocean Intelsats
(they all lie within 60 degrees of the station, which allows good
reception). Geraldton opened in 1993, with four dishes, covering the
two main Indian Ocean Intelsats (at 60 degrees and 63 degrees) and
possibly a new Asia-Pacific Intelsat introduced in 1992. It also
covers the second of the two Pacific Intelsats, Intelsat 703.
The logic of the system suggests that, at the same time as the
Waihopai and Geraldton stations were added to the network, a
seventh, as yet undiscovered, station may have been installed in the
South Atlantic. This station, probably located on Ascension Island,
would complete the 1990s network by intercepting the Atlantic
Intelsats’ southern hemisphere communications.
New GCSB operations staff attend training sessions that cover the
ECHELON system, showing how the GCSB fits into the system and
including maps showing the network of UKUSA stations around the
world. The sessions include briefings on the Intelsat and the
maritime Inmarsat satellites - their locations, how they work, what
kinds of communications they carry and the technical aspects of
their vulnerability to spying.
This is because these are primary
targets for the UKUSA alliance in the Pacific.
But the interception of communications relayed by Intelsat and
Inmarsat is only one component of the global spying network
by the ECHELON system. Other elements include: radio listening
posts, including the GCSB’s Tangimoana station; interception
stations targeted on other types of communications satellites;
overhead signals intelligence collectors (spy satellites) like those
controlled from the
Pine Gap facility in Australia; and secret
facilities that tap directly into land-based telecommunications
What Waihopai, Morwenstow and the other stations do for satellite
communications, another whole network of intercept stations like
Tangimoana, developed since the 1940s, does for radio.
There are several dozen radio interception stations run by the UKUSA
allies and located throughout the world. Many developed in the early
years of the Cold War and, before satellite communications became
widespread in the 1980s, were the main ground signals intelligence
stations targeting Soviet communications.
Some stations were also
used against regional targets. In the Pacific, for example, ones
with New Zealand staff were used to target groups and governments
opposed by Britain and the United States through a series of
conflicts and wars in South East Asia.
A recent new radio interception station is the Australian DSD
station near Bamaga in northern Queensland, at the tip of Cape York.
It was set up in 1988 particularly to monitor radio communications
associated with the conflict between Papua New Guinea and the
secessionist movement in Bougainville.
GCSB staff are also aware of
Australian intercept staff posted in the early 1990s to the recently
opened Tindal Air Force base in northern Australia, suggesting that
an even newer - as yet undisclosed - DSD intercept station may
have been established there.
Most of this network of stations target long-range high frequency (HF)
A powerful HF radio transmitter can transmit right around the
world, which is why HF radio has been a major means of international
communications and is still widely used by military forces and by
ships and aircraft.
Other stations target short-range communications
- very high frequency and ultra high frequency radio (VHF and UHF) - which, among other things, are used extensively for tactical
military communications within a country.
There is a wide variety of these radio interception operations. Some
are very large, with hundreds of staff; others are small - a few
staff hidden inside a foreign embassy bristling with radio aerials
on the roof; others (like the Bamaga station) are unstaffed, with
the signals automatically relayed to other stations. Because of the
peculiarities of radio waves, sometimes stations far from the target
can pick up communications that closer ones cannot.
Each station in this network - including the GCSB’s Tangimoana
station - has a Dictionary computer like those in the satellite
intercept stations. These search and select from the communications
intercepted, in particular radio telexes, which are still widely
used, and make these available to the UKUSA allies through the
The UKUSA network of HF stations in the Pacific includes the GCSB’s
Tangimoana station (and before it one at Waiouru), five or more DSD
stations in Australia, a CSE station in British Columbia, and NSA
stations in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Japan, Guam, Kwajalein and
the Philippines. The NSA is currently contracting its network of
overseas HF stations as part of post-Cold War rationalization.
contraction process includes, in Britain, the closure of the major Chicksands and Edzell stations.
The next component of the ECHELON system covers interception of a
range of satellite communications not carried by Intelsat. In
addition to the six or so UKUSA stations targeting Intelsat
satellites, there are another five or more stations targeting
Russian and other regional communications satellites.
are located in Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany and Japan. All of
these stations are part of the ECHELON Dictionary system. It appears
that the GCHQ’s Morwenstow station, as well as monitoring Intelsat,
also targets some regional communications satellites.
United States spy satellites, designed to intercept communications
from orbit above the earth, are also likely to be connected into the
ECHELON system. These satellites either move in orbits that criss-cross
the earth or, like the Intelsats, sit above the Equator in
geostationary orbit. They have antennae that can scoop up very large
quantities of radio communications from the areas below.
The main ground stations for these satellites, where they feed back
the information they have gathered into the global network, are Pine
Gap, run by the CIA near Alice Springs in central Australia, and the
NSA-directed Menwith Hill and Bad Aibling stations, in England and
Germany respectively. These satellites can intercept microwave trunk
lines and short-range communications such as military radios and
Both of these transmit only line of sight and so,
unlike HF radio, cannot be intercepted from faraway ground stations.
The final element of the ECHELON system are facilities that tap
directly into land-based telecommunications systems, completing a
near total coverage of the world’s communications. Besides satellite
and radio, the other main method of transmitting large quantities of
public, business and government communications is a combination of
undersea cables across the oceans and microwave networks over land.
Heavy cables, laid across the seabed between countries, account for
a large proportion of the world’s international communications.
After they emerge from the water and join land-based microwave
networks, they are very vulnerable to interception.
The microwave networks are made up of chains of microwave towers
relaying messages from hilltop to hilltop (always in line of sight)
across the countryside.
These networks shunt large quantities of
communications across a country. Intercepting them gives access to
international undersea communications (once they surface) and to
international communication trunk lines across continents. They are
also an obvious target for large-scale interception of domestic
Because the facilities required to intercept radio and satellite
communications - large aerials and dishes - are difficult to hide
for too long, that network is reasonably well documented. But all
that is required to intercept land-based communication networks is a
building situated along the microwave route or a hidden cable
running underground from the legitimate network.
For this reason the
worldwide network of facilities to intercept these communications is
still mostly undocumented.
Microwave communications are intercepted in two ways: by ground
stations, located near to and tapping into the microwave routes, and
by satellites. Because of the curvature of the earth, a signals
intelligence satellite out in space can even be directly in the line
of a microwave transmission.
Although it sounds technically very
difficult, microwave interception from space by United States spy
satellites does occur.
A 1994 expos of the Canadian UKUSA agency called Spyworld,
co-authored by a previous staff member, Mike Frost, gave the first
insights into how much microwave interception is done.
It described UKUSA "embassy collection" operations, where sophisticated receivers
and processors are secretly transported to their countries’ overseas
embassies in diplomatic bags and used to monitor all manner of
communications in the foreign capitals.
Since most countries’ microwave networks converge on the capital
city, embassy buildings are an ideal site for microwave
interception. Protected by diplomatic privilege, embassies allow the
interception to occur from right within the target country.<13>
Frost said the operations particularly target microwave
communications, but also other communications including car
telephones and short-range radio transmissions.
According to Frost, Canadian embassy collection began in 1971
following pressure from
The NSA provided the equipment (on
indefinite loan), trained the staff, told them what types of
transmissions to look for on particular frequencies and at
particular times of day and gave them a search list of NSA keywords.
All the intelligence collected was sent to the NSA for analysis.
Canadian embassy collection was requested by the NSA to fill gaps in
the United States and British embassy collection operations, which
were still occurring in many capitals around the world when Frost
left the CSE in 1990.
Separate sources in Australia have revealed that the DSD also
engages in embassy collection. Leaks in the 1980s described
installation of "extraordinarily sophisticated intercept equipment,
known as Reprieve in Australia’s High Commission in Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea and in the embassies in Indonesia and Thailand.
operations are said to take a whole room of the embassy buildings
and to be able to listen to local telephone calls at will.<14>
There is good reason to assume that these operations, too, were
prompted by and supported with equipment and technical advice from
the NSA and GCHQ.
Of course, when the microwave route is across one of the UKUSA
countries’ territory it is much easier to arrange interception. For
example, it is likely that there is a GCHQ operation intercepting,
and feeding through Dictionary computers, all the trans-Atlantic
undersea cable communications that come ashore in Cornwall.
There are also definitely United States and possibly Canadian
facilities for this type of interception. By far the most important
of these is the NSA-directed Menwith Hill station in Britain. With
its 22 satellite terminals and over 2 hectares of buildings, Menwith
Hill is undoubtedly the largest station in the UKUSA network.
1992 some 1200 United States personnel were based there. British
researcher Duncan Campbell has described how Menwith Hill taps
directly into the British Telecom microwave network, which has
actually been designed with several major microwave links converging
on an isolated tower connected underground into the station.
station also intercepts satellite and radio communications and is a
ground station for the electronic eavesdropping satellites. Each of Menwith Hill’s powerful interception and processing systems
presumably has its own Dictionary computers connected into the
Menwith Hill, sitting in northern England, several thousand
kilometers from the Persian Gulf, was awarded the NSA’s Station of
the Year prize for 1991 following its role in the Gulf War. It is a
station which affects people throughout the world.
In the early 1980s James Bamford uncovered some information about a worldwide NSA computer system codenamed Platform which, he wrote,
"will tie together fifty-two separate computer systems used
throughout the world. Focal point, or 'host environment', for the
massive network will be the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. Among
those included in Platform will be the British SIGINT organization,
There is little doubt that Platform is the system that links all the
major UKUSA station computers in the ECHELON system.
involves computer-to-computer communications, the GCSB and perhaps
DSD were only able to be integrated into the system in the 1990s
when the intelligence and military organizations in the two
countries changed over to new computer-based communications systems.
The worldwide developments, of which construction of the Waihopai
station was part, were coordinated by the NSA as Project P415.
Although most of the details remained hidden, the existence of this
highly secret project targeting civilian communications was
publicized in August 1988 in an article by Duncan Campbell.
described how the UKUSA countries were
"soon to embark on a massive,
billion-dollar expansion of their global electronic surveillance
system’, with "new stations and monitoring centres ... to be
built around the world and a chain of new satellites launched’.
The satellite interception stations
reported to be involved in P415 included the NSA’s Menwith Hill
station, the GCHQ’s Morwenstow and Hong Kong stations and the
Waihopai and Geraldton stations in the South Pacific.
countries involved, presumably via the NSA, were said to be Japan,
West Germany and, surprisingly, the People’s Republic of China.
"Both new and existing surveillance
systems are highly computerised," Campbell explained.
on near total interception of international commercial and
satellite communications in order to locate the telephone and
other target messages of target individuals...<18>
There were two components to the P415
development, the first being the new stations required to maintain
More striking, though, was the expansion of
the NSA’s ECHELON system, which now links all the Dictionary
computers of all the participating countries.
The ECHELON system has created an awesome spying capacity for the
United States, allowing it to monitor continuously most of the
world’s communications. It is an important component of its power
and influence in the post-Cold War world order, and advances in
computer processing technology continue to increase this capacity.
The NSA pushed for the creation of the system and has the supreme
position within it. It has subsidized the allies by providing the
sophisticated computer programmes used in the system, it undertakes
the bulk of the interception operations and, in return, it can be
assumed to have full access to all the allies’ capabilities.
Since the ECHELON system was extended to cover New Zealand in the
late 1980s, the GCSB’s Waihopai and Tangimoana stations - and
indeed all the British, Canadian and Australian stations too - can
be seen as elements of a United States system and as serving that
system. The GCSB stations provide some information for New Zealand
government agencies, but the primary logic of these stations is as
parts of the global network.
On 2 December 1987, when Prime Minister David Lange announced plans
to build the Waihopai station, he issued a press statement
explaining that the station would provide greater independence in
"For years there has been concern about our
dependence on others for intelligence - being hooked up to the
network of others and all that implies. This government is committed
to standing on its own two feet."
Lange believed the statement. Even as Prime Minister, no one had
told him about the ECHELON Dictionary system and the way that the
Waihopai station would fit into it.
The government was not being
told the truth by officials about New Zealand’s most important
intelligence facility and was not being told at all about ECHELON,
New Zealand’s most important tie into the United States intelligence
The Waihopai station could hardly have been more "hooked up
to the network of others", and to all that is implied by that
The generally accepted
definition of communications intelligence is "technical and
intelligence information derived from foreign communications
by someone other than the intended recipient. It does not
include foreign press, propaganda or public broadcasts." It
generally refers to external intelligence and so does not
usually include governments spying on their own people.
Duncan Campbell, The Unsinkable
Aircraft Carrier, Michael Joseph Ltd, London, 1984, p.167.
Rick Anderson, Seattle Times, 19
September 1982, p.1.
M. Long, World Satellite
Almanac, second edition, Howard W. Sams & Company,
Indianapolis, 1987, pp. 206-208, 457-460.
James Bamford, The Puzzle
Palace, Sidgwick & Guildford, London, 1983, pp.167-171.
The station may not have been
initially targeted on Intelsat. Some photos of the station
taken by Des Ball in June 1983 show the two interception
dishes facing directly skywards, meaning either that they
were temporarily not being used or that they were targeted
at that time on satellites above East Asia (in the early
1980s there were no Intelsats there).
A US$29 million project
codenamed LADYLOVE at the station, for completion in
mid-1982, involved an "interim deployment" construction of
one dish and a "new operational electronic system" housed
initially in equipment vans. A US$21 million "major new
collection and processing complex with associated antenna
systems" followed in 1987.
Ascension Island is a 20-square
kilometre British territory, situated halfway between Brazil
and Angola in the middle of the South Atlantic. It has a
major radio interception station with joint GCHQ/NSA
staffing, a base for US anti-submarine Orion aircraft, six
separate radar and optical tracking stations for US
strategic missile tests and its large US-built airfield was
the main support base for the Falklands War (Richelson and
Ball, The Ties that Bind, Allen & Unwin, Boston, 1985, pp.
194, 201 and 220; Duncan Campbell, New Statesman, "Report
reveals island base, 21 May 1985).
Mary Louise O’Callaghan,
Melbourne Age, "PNG to investigate Australian spy claim", 26
November 1991, p.1.
For a full description of these
"overhead" systems, see Jeffrey T. Richelson, The US
Intelligence Community, Ballinger, Cambridge, 1989.
Information from Jeffrey
Mike Frost and Michel Gratton,
Spyworld, 1994, Doubleday, Toronto. The book describes in
detail how and where these operations occurred.
Mike Frost helped to arrange a
series of these operations, including investigating the
microwave routes through some cities while assessing the
suitability of the local Canadian embassy.
Brian Toohey and Marion
Wilkinson, The Book of Leaks, Angus & Robertson, Sydney,
Archie Hamilton, Minister of
State for the Armed Forces, Written Answers to Questions,
British Parliament record for 9 June 1992, p.97.
Duncan Campbell, op. cit.,
James Bamford, op. cit., p.102.
Internal Menwith Hill station papers from the early 1990s
still referred to a computer-based communications system
Duncan Campbell, New Statesman,
"They’ve got it taped’, 12 August 1988, pp.10-12.
1. The Waihopai station -
part of a super-secret global system called ECHELON -
automatically intercepts satellite communications for the
foreign allies. The Labour government that approved the station
was not told about these links. (Photo: Marlborough Express)
2. One of two dishes at a
British spy station in Cornwall that between them intercepted
all Atlantic and Indian Ocean satellite phone and telex until
the early 1980s. (Photo: Duncan Campbell)
3. Six UKUSA stations target the
Intelsat satellites used to relay most satellite phone calls,
internet, e-mail, faxes and telexes around the world. They are
part of a network of secret stations and spy satellites which,
between them, intercept most of the communications on the
4. The controversial
base in central Australia is a major ground station for United
States electronic spy satellites. It has kept expanding after
the Cold War; today there are 12 "golf balls". It plays a key
roll in United States military strategies.
5. Canada’s Leitrim station,
just north of Ottawa, appears to be used to intercept Latin
It was with some apprehension that I learned Nicky Hager was
researching the activity of our intelligence community. He has
long been a pain in the establishment’s neck. There are many
things in the book with which I am familiar. I couldn’t tell him
which was which. Nor can I tell you. But it is an outrage that I
and other ministers were told so little [yea NSA] and this
raises the question of to whom those concerned saw themselves
David Lange, Prime Minister of New Zealand 1984-89
Another aspect of the Second World War that carried over into
the Cold War era was the close co-operation between five
countries - the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand - formalized with the UKUSA Security
Agreement of 1948.
Although the treaty has never been made public, it has become
clear that it provided not only for a division of collecting
tasks and sharing of the product, but for common guidelines for
the classification and protection of the intelligence collected
as well as for personnel security.
New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, on June 12 1984,
admitted the GCSB (New Zealand’s Government
Communications Security Bureau) liaised closely with
Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States -
the closest the government has ever come to talking about the
secret five-nation signals intelligence alliance of which the
GCSB is part.
The New Zealand analysts have a high level of contact with the
overseas agencies, including overseas staff training, postings
and exchanges. In the early 1990s the GCSB began conducting its
own training courses, teaching them the special procedures and
regulations governing the production of signals intelligence
reports for the UKUSA network.
It is at these courses where the analysts are told about the
UKUSA agreement, which is described by senior staff as the ’foundation stone’ of all the arrangements with the
The GCSB introduces the new trainees to the world of
codebreaking by advising them to read two of the greatest
exposes of signals intelligence: James Bamford’s ’The Puzzle
Palace’ and David Kahn’s ’The Code Breakers’.
In 1984, Glen Singleton of the NSA was formally appointed GCSB’s
Deputy Director of Policy and Plans. Having an American inside
the GCSB serving as a foreign liaison officer would be one
thing: allowing an officer from another country to direct policy
and planning seems extraordinary.
[ Unless you think of the NSA as the New World Order. ]
Intelsat 7s can carry 90,000 individual phone or fax circuits at
once. All ’written’ messages are currently exploited by the GCSB.
The other UKUSA agencies monitor phone calls as well.
The key to interception of satellite communications is powerful
computers that search through these masses of messages for ones
The intercept stations take in millions of messages intended for
the legitimate earth stations served by the satellite and then
use computers to search for pre-programmed addresses and
In this way they select out manageable numbers (hundreds or
thousands) of messages to be searched through and read by the
intelligence analysis staff.
Many people are vaguely aware that a lot of spying occurs, maybe
even on them, but how do we judge if it is ubiquitous or not a
worry at all? Is someone listening every time we pick up the
telephone? Are all Internet or fax messages being pored over
continuously by shadowy figures somewhere in a windowless
building? There is almost never any solid information with which
to judge what is realistic concern and what is silly paranoia.
What follows explains as precisely as possible - and for the
first time in public - how the worldwide system works, just how
immense and powerful it is and what it can and cannot do. The
electronic spies are not ubiquitous, but the paranoia is not
The global system has a highly secret codename - ECHELON.
The intelligence agencies will be shocked to see it named and
described for the first time in print.
Each station in the ECHELON network has computers that
automatically search through millions of intercepted messages
for ones containing pre-programmed keywords or fax, telex and
email addresses. Every word of every message is automatically
searched: they do not need your specific telephone number or
Internet address on the list.
All the different computers in the network are known, within the
UKUSA agencies, as the ECHELON Dictionaries.
Computers that can search for keywords have existed since at
least the 1970s, but the ECHELON system has been designed to
interconnect all these computers and allow the stations to
function as components of an integrated whole.
Under the ECHELON system, a particular station’s Dictionary
computers contain not only its parent agency’s chosen keywords,
but also a list for each of the other four agencies. For
example, each New Zealand site has separate search lists for the
NSA, GCHQ [British], DSD [Australia], and CSE [Canada] in
addition to its own.
So each station collects all the telephone calls, faxes,
telexes, Internet messages and other electronic communications
that its computers have been pre-programmed to select for all
the allies and automatically send this intelligence to them.
This means that New Zealand stations are being used by the
overseas agencies for their automatic collecting - while New
Zealand does not even know what is being intercepted from the
New Zealand sites for the allies. In return, New Zealand gets
tightly controlled access to a few parts of the system.
The GCSB computers, the stations, the headquarter operations
and, indeed, GCSB itself function almost entirely as components
of this integrated system.
Each station in the network - not just the satellite stations -
has Dictionary computers that report to the ECHELON system
United States spy satellites, designed to intercept
communications from orbit above the earth, are also likely to be
connected into the ECHELON system.
These satellites either move in orbits that criss-cross the
earth or, like the Intelsats, sit above the Equator in
They have antennae that can scoop up very large quantities of
radio communications from the areas below.
A final element of the ECHELON system are facilities that tap
directly into land-based telecommunications systems, completing
a near total coverage of the world’s communications.
The microwave networks are made up of chains of microwave towers
relaying messages from hilltop to hilltop (always within line of
sight) across the countryside. These networks shunt large
quantities of communications across a country. Intercepting them
gives access to international underseas communications (once
they surface) and to international communication trunk lines
They are also an obvious target for large-scale interception of
domestic communications. Of course, when the microwave route is
across one of the UKUSA countries’ territory it is much easier
to arrange interception.
The ECHELON system has created an awesome spying capacity for
the United States, allowing it to monitor continuously most of
the world’s communications.
It is an important component of its power and influence in the
post-Cold War world order, and advances in computer processing
technology continue to increase this capacity.
The NSA pushed for the creation of this system and has the
supreme position within it. It has subsidized the allies by
providing the sophisticated computer programs used in the
system, it undertakes the bulk of the interception operations
and, in return, it can be assumed to have full access to the
On December 2 1987, when Prime Minister David Lange announced
plans to build a new spy station, he issued a press statement
explaining that the station would provide greater independence
in intelligence matters: "For years there has been concern about
our dependence on others and all that implies. This government
is committed to standing on its own two feet."
Lange believed the statement. Even as Prime Minister, no one had
told him about the ECHELON Dictionary system and the way the new
station would fit in.
His first experience of the UKUSA alliance was its security
’indoctrination’ (they really use this word). The indoctrination
was done by GCSB security officer Don Allan, and consisted of a
strict lecture about never, for the rest of his life, talking
about his job with anyone except other indoctrinated people.
GCSB workers are forbidden to say anything about their work,
even to their partners.
The indoctrination concluded with Holmes signing the two page
indoctrination form, which refers to New Zealand laws for
punishing infringements (in the Crimes Act) but which originates
primarily in UKUSA regulations. Equivalent forms must be signed
by staff throughout the UKUSA alliance.
In the middle of 1994 Holmes got his first overseas posting -
and a prestigious one at that. He is on a three-year posting to
the center of the UKUSA alliance, the enormous NSA headquarters
at Fort George G. Meade.
This posting was the first ever by a GCSB analyst to the NSA.
Before he left New Zealand his daily work, like that of all
analysts, revolved entirely around that most striking
manifestation of GCSB’s links with the NSA: the ECHELON
Each morning the signals intelligence analysts in New Zealand
log on at their computer terminals and enter the Dictionary
system, just as their equivalents do in the United States, the
United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
What follows is a precise description of how the system works,
the first time it has been publicly described. [Buy the book for
After entering their security passwords, the analysts reach a
directory that lists the different categories of intercept
available, each with a four digit code; 4066, for instance,
might be Russian fishing trawlers, 5535 Japanese diplomatic
traffic in the South Pacific, 4959 communications from South
Pacific countries and so on.
They type in the code for the category they want to use first
As soon as they make a selection, a ’search result’ appears,
stating the number of documents which have been found fitting
The day’s work begins, reading through screen after screen of
If a message appears worth reporting on, the analyst can select
it from the rest and work on it out of the Dictionary system.
He or she then translates the message - either in its entirety
or as a summary called a ’gist’ - and writes it into the
standard format of all intelligence reports produced anywhere
within the UKUSA network.
This is the ’front end’ of the Dictionary system, using a
commercially available program (called BRS Search). It extracts
the different categories of intercepted messages (known just as
’intercept’) from the large GCSB computer database of intercept
from the New Zealand stations and overseas agencies.
[I interrupt this book excerpt to bring you retrieval results
for "BRS Search" from the www.altavista.digital.com search
BRS/Search is designed to manage large collections of
unstructured information, allowing multiple users to quickly and
efficiently search, retrieve and analyze stored documents simply
by entering a word, concept, phrase, or combination of phrases,
in any length. The product offers the most powerful indexing
structure available today, with users able to pinpoint critical
information in seconds, even across millions of documents in
Hmmm. Sounds like the search engine I just used.
You give the search engine keywords to search for, and can
specify exclusion logic keywords. e.g. "digital AND NOT watch"]
Before anything goes into the database, the actual searching and
selection of intercepted messages has already occurred - in the
Dictionary computers at the New Zealand and overseas stations.
This is an enormous mass of material - literally all the
business, government and personal messages that the station
The computers automatically search through everything as it
arrives at the station.
This is the work of the Dictionary program.
It reads every word and number in every single incoming message
and picks out all the ones containing target keywords and
Thousands of simultaneous messages are read in ’real time’ as
they pour into the station, hour after hour, day after day, as
the computer finds intelligence needles in the
Telephone calls containing keywords are automatically extracted
from the masses of other calls and digitally recorded to be
listened to by analysts back in the agency headquarters.
The implications of this capability are immense.
The UKUSA agencies can use machines to search through all the
telephone calls in the world, just as they do for written
It has nothing to do with whether someone is deliberately
tapping your phone, simply whether you say a keyword or
combination of keywords that is of interest to one of the UKUSA
The keywords include such things as names of people, ships,
organizations, countries and subjects. They also include the
known telex and phone numbers and Internet addresses of the
individuals, businesses, organizations and government offices
they may want to target.
The agencies also specify combinations of these keywords to help
sift out communications of interest.
For example, they might search for diplomatic cables containing
both the words ’Suva’ and ’aid’, or cables containing the word
’Suva’ but NOT the word ’consul’ (to avoid the masses of routine
It is these sets of words and numbers (and combinations of
them), under a particular category, that are placed in the
The whole system was developed by the NSA.
The only known public reference to the ECHELON system was made
in relation to the Menwith Hill station. In July 1988, a United
States newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, published a story
about electronic monitoring of phone calls of a Republican
senator, Strom Thurmond. The alleged monitoring occurred at
Margaret Newsham worked at Menwith Hill as a contract employee
of Lockheed Space and Missiles Corporation. She is said to have
told congress staff that, while at Menwith, she was able to
listen through earphones to telephone calls being monitored.
When investigators subpoenaed witnesses and sought access to
plans and manuals for the ECHELON system, they found there were
no formal controls over who could be targeted; junior staff were
able to feed in target names to be searched for by the computers
without any check of their authorization to do so.
None of this is surprising and it is likely to be insignificant
compared with official abuse of the system.
The capabilities of the ECHELON system are so great, and the
secrecy surrounding it makes it so impervious to democratic
oversite, that the temptation to use it for questionable
projects seems irresistible.
In June 1992 a group of current ’highly placed intelligence
operatives’ from the British GCHQ spoke to the paper Observer:
’We feel we can no longer remain silent regarding that which we
regard to be gross malpractice and negligence within the
establishment in which we operate.’
They gave as examples GCHQ interception of three charitable
organizations, including Amnesty International and Christian
Aid. As the Observer reported:
"At any time GCHQ is able to home in on their communications for
a routine target request," the GCHQ source said. In this case of
phone taps the procedure is known as Mantis. With the telexes
this is called Mayfly. By keying in a code relating to Third
World aid, the source was able to demonstrate telex ’fixes’ on
the three organizations.
We can then sift through those communications further by
selecting keywords to search for.
Without actually naming it, this was a fairly precise
description of how the ECHELON Dictionary system works.
Note that it was being used for telephone calls.
Again, what was not revealed in the publicity was that this is a
UKUSA-wide system. The design of the ECHELON system means that
the interception of these organizations could have occurred
anywhere in the network, at any station where the GCHQ had
requested that the four digit code covering the necessary
keywords and exclusion logic for Third World aid be placed.
In a further misuse of ECHELON, a former intelligence employee
revealed that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had personally
ordered interception of the Lonrho company, owners of the
Observer newspaper, after that newspaper published a series of
articles in 1989 exposing events surrounding a multi- billion
dollar British arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
The newspaper said the deal had been pushed strongly by Mrs.
Thatcher, and it was alleged that massive bribes were made to
middlemen, including her son, Mark, who was said to have
received a 10 million Pound commission.
The former employee of the British Joint Intelligence Committee,
Robin Robison, broke his indoctrination oaths and told the
Observer that, as part of his job, which involved sorting
intelligence reports from the British intelligence agencies, he
personally forwarded GCHQ transcripts of intercepted
communications about Lonrho to Mrs. Thatcher’s office.
Intelligence is not just neutral information; it can be powerful
and dangerous. Intelligence gathering and military force are two
sides of the same coin. Both are used by countries and groups
within countries to advance their interests, often at the
expense of others. To influence or defeat an opponent, knowledge
can be more useful than military force.
The type of intelligence described in this book, signals
intelligence (SIGINT), is the largest, most secret and most
expensive source of secret intelligence in the world today.
Like the British examples, and Mike Frost’s Canadian examples,
these stories will only be the tip of the iceberg.
There is no evidence of a UKUSA code of ethics or a tradition of
respect for Parliament or civil liberties in their home
The opposite seems to be true: that anything goes as long as you
do not get caught. Secrecy not only permits but encourages
Three observations need to be made about the immense spying
capability provided by the ECHELON system.
The first is that the magnitude of the global network is a
product of decades of intense Cold War activity. Yet with the
end of the Cold War it has not been demobilized and budgets have
not been significantly cut.
Indeed the network has grown in power and reach. Yet the public
justifications, for example that ’economic intelligence is now
more important’, do not even begin to explain why this huge spy
system should be maintained. In the early 1980s the Cold War
rhetoric was extreme and global war was seriously discussed and
In the 1990s, the threat of global war has all but disappeared
and none of the allies faces the remotest serious military
The second point about the ECHELON capabilities is that large
parts of the system, while hiding behind the Cold War for their
justification, were never primarily about the Cold War at all.
The UKUSA alliance did mount massive operations against the
Soviet Union and other ’communists’, but other elements of the
worldwide system, such as the interception of Intelsat
communications, microwave networks and many regional satellites,
were not aimed primarily at the Russians, the Iraqis or the
Then, and now, they are targeting groups which do not pose any
physical threat to the UKUSA allies at all.
But they are ideal to use against political opponents, economic
competitors, countries where the allies may want to gain some
advantage (especially access to cheap resources) and
administrations (like Nicaragua’s Sandinista government) which
do not fit an American-dominated world order.
The third observation is that telecommunications organizations -
including the telephone companies - are not blameless in all of
These companies, to which people pay their monthly bills
believing that the phone calls they make and the faxes they send
are secure, should well be aware of the wholesale interception
of ’private’ communications that has been occurring for decades.
Yet they neither invest in encryption technology nor insist that
organizations such as the Washington-based Intelsat Corporation
They do not let their customers know that their international
communications are open to continuous interception. Wittingly or
unwittingly, this lack of action assists large-scale spying
against the individuals, businesses and government and private
organizations that innocently entrust their communications to
ECHELON is a staggeringly comprehensive and highly secret global
spying system. Around the world there are networks of spy
stations and spy satellites which can intercept communications
anywhere on the planet.
Over the last 10 years a lot has been heard in New Zealand about
the dangers of ’bureaucratic capture’, about senior officials
controlling their ministers rather than the other way around.
The area of government activity described in this book is the
ultimate example of bureaucratic capture.
Politicians, whom the public has presumed will be monitoring the
intelligence organizations on their behalf, have been
systematically denied the information required to do that job.
If a democratic society wants to control its secret agencies, it
is essential that the public and politicians have the
information and the will to do so.
Good encryption systems, such as PGP, developed privately by
American Phil Zimmerman, are publicly available, although they
are still used only by relatively few people in the know.
The UKUSA agencies have been attempting to curb the spread of
this technology, which is a major threat to their influence, so
far without enough success to stop it.
It remains to be seen how much the public can find a
technological answer to maintaining privacy in a world with
systems like ECHELON.
end of ’Secret Power’ excerpt