Hackers Ascend Upper 'Echelon'10.06.99
Mossad. Bomb. Davidian. MI5.LCOS
If the hunch of a loose-knit group of cyber-activists is correct, the above words will trip the keyword recognition filter on a global spy system partly managed by the US National Security Agency.
The near-mythical worldwide computer spy network reportedly scans all email, packet traffic, telephone conversations -- and more -- around the world, in an effort to ferret out potential terrorist or enemy communications.
See also:Spying on the Spies
Once plucked from the electronic cloud, certain keywords allegedly trigger a recording of the conversation or email in question.
Privacy activists have used the words in their signature files for years as a running schtick, but on 21 October, a group of activists orginating on the "hacktivist" mailing list hope to to trip up Echelon on a much wider scale.
"What is [Echelon] good for?" asked Linda Thompson, a constitutional rights attorney and chairman of the American Justice Federation.
"If you want to say we can catch criminals with it, it is insane that anyone should be able to snoop on anyone's conversations."
"Criminals ought to be caught after they commit a crime -- but police are not here to invade all our privacy to catch that two percent [of criminal communications]," she said.
A 1994 report by the Anti-Defamation League described Thompson as "an influential figure in the militia movement nationally." The report says the American Justice Federation describes itself as "a group dedicated to stopping the New World Order and getting the truth out to the American public."
The Anti-Defamation League says Thompson claims to have contact with militias in all 50 states.
On 21 October, Thompson, along with Doug McIntosh, a reporter for the federation's news service, and members of the hacktivism mailing list community, invite anyone concerned about the system to append a list of intriguing words to their emails.
Specifically, they suggest the following keywords:
FBI CIA NSA IRS ATF BATF DOD WACO RUBY RIDGE OKC OKLAHOMA CITY MILITIA GUN HANDGUN MILGOV ASSAULT RIFLE TERRORISM BOMB DRUG HORIUCHI KORESH DAVIDIAN KAHL POSSE COMITATUS RANDY WEAVER VICKIE WEAVER SPECIAL FORCES LINDA THOMPSON SPECIAL OPERATIONS GROUP SOG SOF DELTA FORCE CONSTITUTION BILL OF RIGHTS WHITEWATER POM PARK ON METER ARKANSIDE IRAN CONTRAS OLIVER NORTH VINCE FOSTER PROMIS MOSSAD NASA MI5 ONI CID AK47 M16 C4 MALCOLM X REVOLUTION CHEROKEE HILLARY BILL CLINTON GORE GEORGE BUSH WACKENHUT TERRORIST TASK FORCE 160 SPECIAL OPS 12TH GROUP 5TH GROUP SF
The campaign has spread around the Net and has been translated into German. Organizers hope "gag Echelon day" catches on on a global scale as a means of raising awareness of the system.
Australia's Defense Signals Directorate, an agency allegedly involved in Echelon, recently admitted the existence of UKUSA, the agreement between five national communications agencies that reportedly governs the system.
Last fall, the Washington-based civil liberties group Free Congress Foundation sent a detailed report on the system to Congress, but the system was not debated.
The latest effort hopes to further boost public awareness of the system.
"Most people are angry about it," said Thompson. "When you find out it is not some science fiction movie, most people will be outraged."
But an Australian member of the activist community hopes that "jam Echelon day" will be about public awareness of technologies of political control, not about generating paranoia.
"Public awareness should empower -- not scare people aware from using the Net," the activist, who identified himself only as Sam, said.
Editor's Note: This Story has been corrected. The Jam Echelon Day project will be held 21 October, and coordinated by members of the Hacktivism mailing list. The article had incorrectly suggested that the American Justice Federation had organized the event. Wired News regrets the error.
Related Wired Links:
Big Brother Taps the Bitstream
Europe Is Listening
Spying on the Spies
Did EU Scuttle Echelon Debate?
Eavesdropping on Europe
CHECK IT OUT: SPYING ON THE SPIES
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