Towards an Atlantic police state? (3) UKUSA, ECHELON, and the ‘Five Eyes’

The surveillance and spying infrastructure as we know it today dates from World War II. That war was not only a struggle against Nazism and fascism, but also a surreptitious one against the Left. At the time an Anglo-American structure was established for sharing wartime signals intelligence (‘SIGINT’, decoded military communication) and intelligence gained through communication interception (‘COMINT’). 

This was formalised in the UKUSA agreement of 1947-48 (in fact a series of agreements, exchanges of letters, and memoranda of understanding). Britain brought along its intelligence cooperation with the white Dominions: Canada, Australia and New Zealand, going back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Today’s collaboration between the NSA, GCHQ, and similar organizations of the other three, the ‘Five Eyes’, remains at the heart of Western intelligence gathering. 

In the Cold War intelligence cooperation of the Five Eyes was extended to a number of non-UKUSA, ‘third party’ NATO countries such as West Germany, Denmark and Norway, and of course the Netherlands. Outside NATO, collaboration was established with Israel, Japan, and many other allies.

In the 1970s it transpired that the US jointly with the Five Eyes allies had set up the ECHELON system to intercept foreign communications. British researchers found out about this mass collection of intercepts and the data transfer to the NSA and they were promptly arrested. However, their ‘ABC trial’ only worked to stimulate further research, which exposed the NSA interception programme of most of the world’s satellite phone calls, internet, email, faxes and telexes. ECHELON was formally established in 1971 (then still under the code-name Shamrock; it was renamed Echelon in 1975). By that time it had expanded into a global surveillance infrastructure targeting all electronic communication, primarily non-military targets: governments, organisations and businesses in virtually every country. By the 1990s the ECHELON system was indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and then siphoning out what is valuable using artificial intelligence like Memex, to find key words.

The information collected through these channels was not just stored but used for actual repression. In the US an emergency plan called Garden Plot foresaw two army brigades being held at the ready to deal with disturbances after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968. Scandal broke in 1970-71 when it turned out the Army had been collecting files on 7 million US citizens involved in anti-war and civil rights movements, which it transmitted to the NSA via ARPANET (the Pentagon’s precursor of the Internet) to be stored in the agency’s Fort Meade, Maryland headquarters. The NSA also spied on Frank Church, the senator who would lead the committee investigating these practices. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, meant to rule out domestic surveillance, through the exceptions it allowed in fact legitimated it. The ECHELON system would actual collect detailed information on the 9/11 attacks well in advance, but this information was not used to prevent them. So much for ‘fighting terrorism’.

Today the UKUSA structure continues to operate through the original First-Second-Third Party division (US the First Party, the four others of the Five Eyes the Second Party, other allies the Third Party). Importantly, both for the origin of the concept of a War on Terror and for actual repression, the NSA connection with Israel is now as close as between the Five Eyes (First/Second Parties, or ‘Tier A’). The NSA supplies Israel with bulk intelligence not yet sifted; legal requirements in that respect are dispensed with. Yet at the same time Israel is recognised as one of the most aggressive surveillance services acting against the United States. NATO/EU countries including the Netherlands, but also formal neutrals such as Switzerland, constitute ‘Tier B’ (or Third Party). In Asia and the Middle East, the Third Party/Tier B comprises South Korea and Japan, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE countries. These countries are sometimes paid for the surveillance required. But countries such as Germany, Brazil or India are also under US surveillance. That is the surveillance structure on which an Atlantic police state would be based.

Kees van der Pijl
For a complete text with full references see Surveillance Capitalism and Crisis

Artwork by Michiel Kassies.

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