One of the major components of the Echelon network are listening stations specifically targeted at international telecommunications satellites, Intelstats, used worldwide by most telephone companies. A whole slew of Intelsats is positioned in geostationary orbits, each serving as a relay station for tens of thousands of simultaneous phone calls, faxes, and e-mail. Five UKUSA stations have been established to intercept the communications carried by the Intelsats.
The British GCHQ station is located at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Satellite dishes point toward Intelsats above the Atlantic, Europe, and, inclined almost to the horizon, the Indian Ocean. A NSA station at Sugar Grove, located 250 kilometers southwest of Washington, DC, in the mountains of West Virginia, covers Atlantic Intelsats transmitting down toward North and South America. Another NSA station is in Washington State, southwest of Seattle, inside the Army's Yakima Firing Center. Its satellite dishes point out toward the Pacific Intelsats and to the east.
The job of intercepting Pacific Intelsat communications that cannot be intercepted at the Washington State facility went to New Zealand and Australia. Their South Pacific location helps to ensure global interception. New Zealand provides the station at Waihopai and Australia supplies the Geraldton station in West Australia, which target both Pacific and Indian Ocean Intelsats.
The next component of the Echelon network intercepts a range of satellite communications not carried by Intelsat. In addition to the UKUSA stations targeting Intelsat satellites, there are another five or more stations homing in on Russian and other regional communications satellites. These stations are Menwith Hill in Northern England, Shoal Bay, outside Darwin in northern Australia, Leitrim, just south of Ottawa in Canada, Bad Aibling in Germany, and Misawa in Northern Japan.
A group of facilities that tap directly into land-based telecommunications systems is the final component of the Echelon system. Besides satellite and radio, the other main method of transmitting large quantities of public, business, and government communications is a combination of submerged cables in the oceans and microwave networks over land. Cables, laid across seabeds between countries, account for much of the world's international communications. After they come out of 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. Interception of them gives access to international undersea communications and to international communication trunk lines across continents as well as an obvious target for large-scale interception of domestic communications.
I realize that some of this information may not be accurate any longer as I had to go by information obtained from paper and online press as well as newspaper and TV coverage of the Echelon controversy and other intelligence projects. However, the above does give an accurate impression of the scale of the operation; not all government operated satellite dishes just download the daily weather reports, they do much more. Some of them might not even be distiquishable as listening stations, although I realize it is hard to find out which are indeed what they pretend to be and which are not.
Discuss This Article (1 Comments) - If you have any questions, comments or suggestions about the article and/or its contents please leave your comments here and we'll do our best to address any concerns.