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[P]
Echelon station to close

By ahabel in MLP
Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 09:11:49 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

According to the BBC the US is closing its Bad Aibling spy station and alleged Echelon site. This is a result of pressure from the European Parliament and fear that the US may be stealing trade secrets. You can see pictures of the site here (German).


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Is Echelon a threat to personal or commercial privacy?
o Commercial 6%
o Personal 0%
o Both 61%
o None 1%
o Only on /. 30%

Votes: 59
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Echelon station to close | 15 comments (13 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
That's funny... (3.00 / 2) (#1)
by theboz on Tue Jun 12, 2001 at 09:13:07 PM EST

I could have sworn the other day that they are expanding one of them in the U.K. I am too lazy to look for the article but I believe it was on Yahoo news late last week or yesterday.

Stuff.

Likelihood? (4.66 / 3) (#4)
by scriptkiddie on Tue Jun 12, 2001 at 09:46:35 PM EST

I think it's definitely possible that the U.S. has a worldwide spy operation tracking all international information transfer. But I really hope people understand what would be necessary to implement something like that before they start ranting about U.S. spy tactics.

First of all, most information people are worried about goes by telephone. Other people have done the math, but you'd need something like a terabyte per second of data capacity to store all the information going between Europe and the U.S. alone. So obviously, you need to be able to filter in real time.

This raises the next question - how can you filter tens of thousands of voices in real time? You can't, not without a small city of supercomputers (and that might be noticed). But it IS possible to filter millions of calls based on their incoming and outgoing numbers - the phone company does it every day.

So now we've figured out that the U.S. has a signalling system that in all probability cost tens of billions of dollars and is about as useful as a police wiretap. Furthermore, it's a kind of wiretap that's completely illegal, which would make it very difficult to share information captured from it with the rest of the government, much less private firms.

So what, exactly, would Echelon be useful for? The NSA could be monitoring all our calls just to send news of business deals to competing U.S. firms, but most of the interesting stuff (industrial designs) is still done the old-fashioned way. The network could be a massive plan to ensure that the U.S. has an advantage in every war, but it's highly unlikely that we'll ever go to war against the countries where covert cable monitoring is most effective (Britain, France, Germany, etc.) What about across the other ocean? Well, if you're trying to monitor the Chinese army, tracking calls made on undersea fiber seems like a massively inefficient way of doing this. After all, you can just send an EP-3 over their airspace and have an army of mathemeticians and linguists figure out what they're saying....

If Echelon exists, it sounds like a terrible waste of money for the American taxpayers. My (unsubstantiated) theory is that the appearance of having an international sigint system is beneficial to the U.S. government, in that it encourages other countries to maintain alliances with us lest they be spied upon by the all-powerful Echelon.

Keep in mind that although I don't think the existence of Echelon is likely, I'm fully prepared to eat my words in 20 years when their's a big expose and it becomes obvious that the U.S. was spying on everyone else. In the meantime, I do encrypt all my e-mail...just in case....

Fort Huachuca (4.66 / 3) (#5)
by Speare on Tue Jun 12, 2001 at 10:21:50 PM EST

One of the Tom Clancy books made into a film, Sum of All Fears, has a very convincing sort of scene in it.

In that scene, cell phone conversations from Bogota, Columbia were analyzed, catalogued and stored in real time in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Yes, Fort Huachuca exists. It's a small city of supercomputers out in the middle of the sonora desert. The snippet was interesting to the computers because (1) cell phones in Bogota are/were used by a few rich Columbians, business moguls, and the cocaine cartels, and (2) cell phones are terribly insecure and easy to track.

It's not as easy to imagine that USA computers have the bandwidth or horsepower to do the same thing for seven billion nameless web pages changing daily, and one billion digital phone minutes per day. That's not what ECHELON is after. With a little specialization, a little snooping, the "interesting" conversation set is a lot smaller than the whole set of all conversations. It listens to those.

The issue isn't EVERYTHING out there, it's the IMPORTANT conversations out there, that are being snooped. It's also predominantly the traffic from other countries, where USA law has no bearing. And as a certain spyplane crew from Hawaii will tell you, the USA does a lot of snooping on other countries' cell phone and microwave traffic.
 
[ e d @ e x p l o r a t i . c o m ]
[ Parent ]

On the other hand... (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by _Quinn on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 03:48:24 AM EST

... when you're dealing with a ~$4,000,000,000 budget and ~20,000 people on payroll, you /are/ a small city, so hiding a small city of supercomputers shouldn't be all that hard. For speech recognition, the algorithms have been known for decades; the problem has typically been how to optimize for computers that fast enough to simultaneously handle (i) speaker independence (ii) large vocabularies (iii) and real-time / no... pauses... between... words. The phone companies use systems doing (i) and (iii) very effectively, and have for a while; consumer software tends to be (ii) and (iii), but (i) and (iii) are probably what Echelon is doing: a real-time filter based on the current keyword list (which I'm sure you've heard rumours about :)), followed by more passes not done in real-time to determine if the word is used in context, to generate the transcription, and so on.

-_Quinn
Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
When the US closes something like this down... (4.60 / 5) (#6)
by Xeriar on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 02:03:36 AM EST

You can probably bet it's because we're replacing it with something better.

As other comments mention, we aren't interested in all of the traffic, maybe only .1% of it. Large listening stations gather public scrutiny, people work on avoiding them, and so on.

But I doubt that outside pressure on these matters would make the US do anything more than 'show its support' and move operations elsewhere.

----
When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.

Bad Aibling... (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by ti dave on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 04:41:13 AM EST

Beautiful town, Small, but nice and friendly Military Installation.
Last time I was there was 1990.
Much Signal Intelligence going on there, even back then. Big Iron.
Shame to hear of it being closed down.

Cheers,

ti_dave
"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

Relocation not closure (5.00 / 3) (#9)
by idrach on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 05:08:02 AM EST

Due to the political pressure from EU and the German govt, the personnel from Bad Aibling are being relocated to Menwith Hill. Do we assume that, with the large demise of the Soviet / Russian threat that the need for short-range receivers along what used to be the Inner German Border has gone, therefore everything can be dealt with, quite happily, in the politically friendlier environment of Blair's Britain?

An interesting topic of debate (none / 0) (#10)
by jd on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 08:07:16 AM EST

First, from the sounds of it, it's more a relocation than a removal. Given that the US and the EU are not seeing eye-to-eye, right now, that's probably smart.

Second, the much-fabled Echelon is unlikely to exist. At least, as described. Keyword searches? Sorry, but whilst those are good enough for Altavista, they're barely usable even with very small data sets. They'd be useless for anything of any magnitude. Yet this system is supposed to be handling trillions of bytes worth of data, every day? Ummm.... Something not quite right, there.

Having said all that, a terrabyte of data is not that much. It's about what you could fit onto a single 3" wafer, at current densities, provided you could make a pure-enough wafer. Which shouldn't be difficult. Lob a thermos flask into space, filled with liquid silicon, and you're 99% of the way there. If you distilled the silicon first, or used AMS to seperate it out, that's the remaining 1%.

Really, when you get right down to it, computers today aught to be STARTING at a terrabyte of RAM, rather than considering that to be the absolute maximum, even when using secondary storage.

Keyword Searches (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by Bad Harmony on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 09:27:12 AM EST

Years ago (Sun 3 era) I read about a text searching chip that had been designed and fabricated by TRW. You could load a bunch of keywords into the chip and it would scan for them on a high-speed data link in real-time. By putting an array of these chips on a board, you could search for a huge number of keywords in real-time. The article didn't say who the customer was, but my guess is that it was the NSA.

5440' or Fight!
[ Parent ]

French (3.60 / 5) (#11)
by Signal 11 on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 09:11:55 AM EST

RANT

Why don't we ask the french about their stealing of US trade secrets, hmmm?

Specifically, why don't we ask IBM about the security measures they take when flying on international flights to France, or about paper shredders with cameras built into them that transmit over the 50hz carrier down the electrical lines such that many executives now bring their own paper shredders, rather than use the ones in the hotels. How about we play a little game... it's called my-sovereignty-is-bigger-than-yours-is ...

No, it seems popular lately to rip on the US. As our economy loses steam and we coast into what could be a recession, the EU has been more than happy to give us a few kicks on the way down in the form of political posturing.. and why not? If you were the French, wouldn't you be upset that all your grape vines died due to a mysterious plague almost 80 years ago and had to be imported from California? Or how about when your economy was bombed to hell by WWII and you had to basically beg the United States to help put humpty dumpty together?

But hey... politics had nothing to do with this, right? All in the name of the cizizens 'privacy', right? As if the United States gives a #$@! arse about foreign citizens... hell, they have a hard enough time being 'big brother' domestically!


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

EU (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by pallex on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 01:35:43 PM EST

"No, it seems popular lately to rip on the US. As our economy loses steam and we coast into what could be a recession, the EU has been more than happy to give us a few kicks on the way down"

For as long as i can remember, the UK has been the poodle of the USA. I think we are at the beginning of the end of that era. We may not have a written constitution, but we now have the European Human Rights Act, which could turn out to be the next best thing.

Europe is finding its feet, and its identity, and it is as a seperate entity which doesnt depend on the USA. America seems to be drifting to the right, and Europe seems to be pretty much left of centre and not moving much.

So its not so much a fashionable `get them while they are down` kicking, so much as a `thanks dad, but i`ll be ok on my own` gentle punch on the arm!


[ Parent ]
Calm down 11 (2.00 / 1) (#15)
by camadas on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 09:18:18 PM EST

You're a little too exalted today, vines ? WWII ? French ? I expected to see you posting in this story, but not like this. Tsk, tsk.

[ Parent ]
Spy station Twinning projects. (none / 0) (#13)
by plug on Wed Jun 13, 2001 at 11:33:46 AM EST

I wonder if America would allow Europe to set up it's own spy centre as big as Menwith Hill on it's own territory. I don't think so..

"In the U.S., you have to be a deviant or die of boredom." William S. Burroughs

Echelon station to close | 15 comments (13 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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