12 - Notes on Surveillance

The United States and Britain work very closely to spy on their citizens and on foreign governments. This applies to all traffic: commercial, diplomatic and private communications. Nothing is sacred and nothing is beyond the reach of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) who are in a joint partnership to illegally monitor telephone, telex, fax, computer and voice transmissions on a massive scale.

These two agencies have the expertise to eavesdrop on anyone at any time. Every day 1 million communications are picked up by GCHQ listening posts in Menwith Hill in Yorkshire and Morwenstow, Cornwall, in England. These stations are run by the NSA in order to get around British laws that forbid national security snooping on its citizens. Technically, GCHQ is not breaking British law as the interceptions are carried out by the NSA.

The GCHQ/NSA computers look for trigger words which are flagged and stored. This is a simple procedure, given the fact that all communications come through as digital pulses. This applies to the written and spoken word alike. Then, the flagged messages are analyzed, and if there is anything that interests these agencies, further investigations are launched. The fact that the entire operation is illegal, does not stop either agency from their self-appointed task.

The NSA's "HARVEST" computers can read 460 million characters a second, or the equivalent of 5000-300-page books. Presently it is estimated by intelligence sources that the "HARVEST" computers used by GCHQ and NSA intercept more that 80 million calls per year, of which 2.5 million are flagged and stored for additional scrutiny. The two agencies have a large staff of specialists who scour the world, finding and evaluating new products that could be used to safeguard individual privacy, which they then find ways and means to breakdown.

A big challenge came with the advent of cellular phones. At present cellular phone traffic is "tapped" by listening to cell signals (which are designed for billing purposes) and the various cell codes which have their own identification, are backtracked so that the origin of the call can be traced. But the new generation A5 cellular phones pose a serious problem for government snooping.

These new phones have an A5 scrambling code which is very closely related to military scrambling systems, which makes it virtually impossible for government agencies to decipher messages and to trace the origin of the call. At present it would take surveillance teams at GCHQ and the NSA 5 months to unscramble messages transmitted via A5 cellular phones.

The government say this will seriously hamper its efforts to fight the drug trade and organized crime, a lame old excuse that few people accept. Nothing is said about the fact that in the course of such anticrime measures, the rights of citizens to privacy are grossly violated.

Now the NSA, the FBI and GCHQ are demanding that cellular phones with the existing A5 scrambler be recalled for "modifications." Although they do not say so, government needs to have the same accessibility to private transmissions that it has had up to the advent of the A5 scrambler system. So, government agencies in Britain and America are demanding that the A5 cellular scrambler system be replaced with an A5X system, giving them a "trapdoor" into formerly secure cellular phones.

Phone calls by landline (local calls) are easily intercepted by being "switched " to a clearing house run by the NSA and GCHQ. Long distance calls do not present a problem, as they are generally relayed by microwave towers and can readily be plucked out of the air.


In addition, the NSA also has its RHYOLITE satellites which have the capability to pick up every conversation being transmitted by telex, microwave, radiotronic wave, VHF and or UHF signals.


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