Action Alerts | PMA's newsletter | What's on | Links | How PMA can help you
Help PMA grow | Petition forms | Site map | PMA main page


Action Alert picture

Communications 'Intelligence'? - Interception Capabilities 2000

10 October 1999

Interception Capabilities 2000 - everything you ever wanted to know about 'comint' from the Cyber-Rights and Cyber Liberties group.

1. Communications intelligence (Comint) involving the covert interception of foreign communications has been practised by almost every advanced nation since international telecommunications became available. Comint is a large-scale industrial activity providing consumers with intelligence on diplomatic, economic and scientific developments. The capabilities of and constraints on Comint activity may usefully be considered in the framework of the "intelligence cycle" (section 1).

2. Globally, about 15-20 billion Euro is expended annually on Comint and related activities. The largest component of this expenditure is incurred by the major English-speaking nations of the UKUSA alliance.(1) This report describes how Comint organisations have for more than 80 years made arrangements to obtain access to much of the world's international communications. These include the unauthorised interception of commercial satellites, of long distance communications from space, of undersea cables using submarines, and of the Internet. In excess of 120 satellite systems are currently in simultaneous operation collecting intelligence (section 2).

3. The highly automated UKUSA system for processing Comint, often known as ECHELON, has been widely discussed within Europe following a 1997 STOA report.(2) That report summarised information from the only two primary sources then available on ECHELON.(3) This report provides original new documentary and other evidence about the ECHELON system and its involvement in the interception of communication satellites (section 3). A technical annexe give a supplementary, detailed description of Comint processing methods.

4. Comint information derived from the interception of international communications has long been routinely used to obtain sensitive data concerning individuals, governments, trade and international organisations. This report sets out the organisational and reporting frameworks within which economically sensitive information is collected and disseminated, summarising examples where European commercial organisations have been the subject of surveillance (section 4).

5. This report identifies a previously unknown international organisation - "ILETS" - which has, without parliamentary or public discussion or awareness, put in place contentious plans to require manufacturers and operators of new communications systems to build in monitoring capacity for use by national security or law enforcement organisations (section 5).

6. Comint organisations now perceive that the technical difficulties of collecting communications are increasing, and that future production may be costlier and more limited than at present. The perception of such difficulties may provide a useful basis for policy options aimed at protective measures concerning economic information and effective encryption (section 6).

7. Key findings concerning the state of the art in Comint include :

Comprehensive systems exist to access, intercept and process every important modern form of communications, with few exceptions (section 2, technical annexe);

Contrary to reports in the press, effective "word spotting" search systems automatically to select telephone calls of intelligence interest are not yet available, despite 30 years of research. However, speaker recognition systems - in effect, "voiceprints" - have been developed and are deployed to recognise the speech of targeted individuals making international telephone calls;

Recent diplomatic initiatives by the United States government seeking European agreement to the "key escrow" system of cryptography masked intelligence collection requirements, and formed part of a long-term program which has undermined and continues to undermine the communications privacy of non-US nationals, including European governments, companies and citizens; There is wide-ranging evidence indicating that major governments are routine ly utilising communications intelligence to provide commercial advantage to companies and trade.

For the full report, go to

Link to main page on Spies and the SIS

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Action Alerts PMA's newsletter What's on where Peace links Help PMA grow Support PMA! Petition Forms Site Map