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  Echelon, Big Brother is watching? 
  Jun 04, 2001, 09:00am EDT 

Terrorism, Weapons, Economic Intelligence?

By: Sander Sassen

What is the system used for? Anyone listening to an official discussion of the purpose of intelligence could be forgiven for thinking that, since the end of the Cold War, the key targets of the massive UKUSA intelligence machine are terrorism, weapons proliferation, and economic intelligence. However recently many disturbing reports have surfaced that indicate that the NSA and their UKUSA allies don’t really abide by their, laws and actually use the Echelon network for political and economical gain.

R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director, gave examples, which include interfering in the awarding of contracts if the US learns one of the international parties is bribing local government officials. Such activity has earned US companies ‘billions of dollars.’ Naturally Europeans fear that the US and its English-speaking allies are using the worldwide eavesdropping network to vacuum up economic intelligence, which in turn is provided to American companies.

US officials have repeatedly denied that: ‘We’re not gathering intelligence for the benefit of US corporations,’ officials say, ‘but to ferret out information on how foreign companies are bribing Third World government officials to obtain lucrative contracts, particularly in the growing East Asian markets’. The information acquired is supposedly not turned over to US companies.

But an NBC News analysis of testimony, speeches and government reports, accompanied with interviews done over the past several years, shows that US companies have benefited when US intelligence redirected its Cold War assets towards economic intelligence. And according to senior US intelligence officials, the program is ongoing, but they were unable to estimate the value of the contracts won by US companies as a result of this intelligence since 1994.

In response to all of the criticism this practice was dubbed ‘leveling the playing field,’ by Woolsey. He noted how US companies, unlike their competitors, are prohibited by law from bribing government officials responsible for approving contracts. Beyond ‘leveling the playing field’ the CIA began doing other things in the area of economic intelligence. Economic intelligence is in fact one of the few growth industries at the CIA. With the Cold War over, the vast intelligence infrastructure of spy satellites, remote eavesdropping stations, and human agents was being, to some extent, redirected toward gathering economic intelligence.

A few months ago, the directors of the CIA and the NSA appeared before the US Congress intelligence committee. CIA director Tenet told the committee:

‘With respect to allegations of industrial espionage, the notion that we collect intelligence to promote American business interests is simply wrong. We do not target forgien companies to support American business interests. If we did this, where would we draw the line? Which companies would we help? Corporate giants? The little guy? All of them? I think we quickly would get into a mess.’

And by the looks of it that is exactly what is going to happen, as the European Parliament held hearings on Echelon recently openly discussing its existence and workings and is supposed to follow up with a decision in July whether to have an inquiry committee to investigate Echelon. One thing is for sure, though, Echelon exists, in what form and to what extent is yet to be established, but you’ll undoubtedly be hearing more of it in the near future. Big Brother is watching you!

Sander Sassen.

1. Introduction
2. Early Warning Initiative
3. Network Topology
4. Network Topology Continued
5. Terrorism, Weapons, Economic Intelligence?

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