NSA and GCHQ have been spying on you for 50 years

Journalist reveals very first mass surveillance programme, Project Echelon

NSA data

A spy programme known as Project Echelon has been tapping into billions of phone calls a year for the last half-century, according to a campaigning journalist writing for The Intercept.

The scheme was jointly-run by US agency NSA and British agency GCHQ, and signalled the advent of mass surveillance by ushering in an age of "Big Brother"-style snooping, according to one source.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Starting in 1966, the project leapt into life when the NSA fronted the money for the GCHQ to build a station in Bude, Cornwall, capable of intercepting satellite communications from Intelsat, the first commercial communications satellite network.

Journalist Duncan Campbell and fellow reporter Jim Bamford located a second site in Yakima, America, that intercepted US-Asia communications.

Campbell wrote: "At the dawn of the era of mass surveillance, almost 50 years ago, the ECHELON stations at Bude and Yakima were the global mass surveillance system."

The Echelon system was automated, and able to sift through vast swathes of data from these satellites to sort and categorise it all.

Speaking to a former Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) employee in the late 1980s who was responsible for managing NSA databases at a new site in California, Campbell learned how Echelon was spying on politicians, and his source also shared plans for the IT system underpinning the project.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

He wrote: "The plans showed how ECHELON, also called Project P415, intercepted satellite connections, sorting phone calls, telex, telegraph and computer signals.

"Although the internet was then in early infancy, what was carried digitally was covered. The way ECHELON had been designed, she said, demonstrated the targeting of U.S. political figures was not an accident."

Campbell added that the scale of the operation had shocked him.

"The NSA and its partners had arranged for everything we communicated to be grabbed and potentially analyzed," he said. "ECHELON was at the heart of a massive, billion-dollar expansion of global electronic surveillance for the 21st century."

However, Campbell's expose of the spying programme in 1988 was ignored for 11 years, until the European Parliament commissioned an investigation in 1999.

Though the parliament mandated extensive action against mass surveillance in 2001, a few days later the Twin Towers were destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Advertisement - Article continues below

"Any plans for limiting mass surveillance were buried with the victims of 9/11," wrote Campbell.

Since Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA laid bare the extent of spying programmes against US and European citizens, public interest has spiked in privacy, and some of the documents leaked actually confirmed Campbell's reports.

Featured Resources

The case for a marketing content hub

Transform your digital marketing to deliver customer expectations

Download now

Fast, flexible and compliant e-signatures for global businesses

Be at the forefront of digital transformation with electronic signatures

Download now

Why CEOS should care about the move to SAP S/4HANA

And how they can accelerate business value

Download now

IT faces new security challenges in the wake of COVID-19

Beat the crisis by learning how to secure your network

Download now


ethical hacking

Developer scores $100,000 bounty from Apple for exposing a critical vulnerability

1 Jun 2020

Hackers are wreaking havoc on Google’s Cloud infrastructure

1 Jun 2020

K2View innovates in data management with new encryption patent

28 May 2020

ZLoader malware returns as a coronavirus phishing scam

27 May 2020

Most Popular

network attached storage (NAS)

Western Digital accused of sneaking inferior SMR tech into NAS drives

1 Jun 2020
data breaches

EasyJet faces class-action lawsuit over data breach

26 May 2020
Microsoft Windows

Microsoft warns users not to install Windows 10's May update

28 May 2020