It seems a bit strange that Canadians and Americans show surprise when a whistleblower reveals that the U.S. government and its NATO allies are monitoring all of their communications. This has been going on for years. Does anyone remember Echelon?
Here is a very brief description of the extent of this monitoring, from a chapter in my book, Creating a Failed State: The US and Canada in Afghanistan (2008):
National Security Intelligence
Paired with its new military deployment is the U.S. government’s attempt to enhance its ability to gather and use intelligence. Under the Patriot Act and similar legislation in other countries governments have expanded their ability to acquire information through wire taps. The U.S. government even monitors what books people borrow from libraries and the web sites they access while doing research.
The U.S. military finances several key organizations which specialize in high tech intelligence-gathering, including the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency do work in this area as well. In contrast to past systems of surveillance, there is no longer an emphasis on focusing on individual suspects. Today, the entire population is constantly under surveillance.
Telephone calls, faxes, e-mails, Internet communications, telegrams and telexes are all sent by communication satellites under the control of Intelsat, which is ostensibly an international agency but actually controlled by Lockheed Martin Corporation. The National Security Agency monitors all of this traffic. Communications utilizing short wave and very high frequency radio waves are monitored by a series of U.S. bases. Additional surveillance is carried out by the National Reconnaissance Office, under the NSA, which operates a series of spy satellites. These also send back photo information. To this has been added the Space-Based Infrared System satellites which are part of the anti-ballistic weapons system.
Using all of these capabilities, the U.S. intercepts all messages going through the copper cable and high-capacity optical fiber networks. The interception of fiber optic messages is done by a series of nuclear submarines. The United States also uses signals intelligence bases (Signit) to monitor communications. These are fields of antennas, satellite dishes placed at over 100 U.S. bases around the world.
Many people who use the Internet are familiar with Echelon, which developed as part of the official Anglo-American political alliance that was founded at the beginning of the Cold War. The intelligence agencies of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have a classified agreement for the exchange of all security information. It is also known today as the “UKUSA signals intelligence alliance.” On a daily basis the Echelon program scans millions of conversations and messages for traffic patterns and key words, which are then tagged and sent for further analysis and surveillance. It is not only used for surveillance of potential foreign espionage or terrorism but also for domestic individuals and groups. Echelon operates and monitors around 120 intelligence satellites.
The five countries not only share intelligence information; the agreement gives member countries the right to spy on each other and their respective citizens. No special advance permission is required. In one well-known instance, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had the Canadian Communications Security Establishment monitor the telephone conversations of her political opponents in the Labour Party.
President George W. Bush told Bob Woodward that he was “fascinated” by the ability of the U.S. National Security Agency to listen to telephone conversations around the world and to intercept a whole range of other communications.