Big Brother Is
Big Brother Is Listening...Right Now
In the mid-1990s, Nicky Hager, author of "Exposing the Global Surveillance System", began to investigate reports of a world-wide telecommunications monitoring system. Investigations in his homeland of New Zealand eventually led him to a handful of disgruntled intelligence officers willing to talk. What he learned was so important that it made the Top 5 in Project Censored's Censored 1998: The Year's Top 25 Censored Stories. Here's what he contends:
The United States government has been able to spy on particular individual citizens for quite some time, using wire taps and the like. What's new about this system is its alleged ability to spy on all individuals, regardless of their status as criminals, suspects or citizens. According to Hager's expose, each and every communication which can be scanned is scanned, and all suspect communications are recorded and sent on to intelligence agents for further review.
As an official formerly with the UK's Government Communication Headquarters reported on a British television program, "It's nothing to do with national security. It's because it's not legal to take every single [communication]. And they take everything: the embassies, all the business deals, even the birthday greetings, they take everything. They feed it into the dictionary."
If true, the ECHELON system represents an impressive technological
achievement. What would it all be for? According to Hager,
|"There is quite a lot of intelligence collected about potential terrorists, and there is quite a lot of economic intelligence, notably intensive monitoring of all the countries participating in GATT negotiations. But by far, the main priorities of the intelligence alliance continue be political and military intelligence to assist the larger allies to pursue their interests around the world. Anyone and anything the particular governments are concerned about can become a target. With capabilites so secret and so powerful, almost anything goes."|
In his book, Hager says his goal was to accumulate so much information, in so much detail, that the believability of his account would be undeniable. There are two reasons you should be skeptical. First of all, you haven't read the damn book yourself, have you? How do you know for sure that I'm not lying to you and making the whole thing up? You don't. Fortunately, this situation can be corrected by reading the book yourself. The first two chapters of his book and an article featuring selections from the book are available online for your free and easy browsing.
Unfortunately, that doesn't take care of a second reason for skepticism. Why should we believe Hager's book is accurate? In an age when there are a whole lot of silly stories running around about Chupacabras and Ozark Howlers, who's to know what's real and what isn't? Maybe Hager just fabricated a grand story in grand detail. Maybe he's laughing at us right now for taking him seriously.
There are a few reasons to suspect Hager isn't snowing us. For one thing, he has a demonstrated past as an earnest human rights activist in New Zealand. At the very least, he isn't some college kid pulling a prank. In addition, there have been other reports which mesh with Hager's account:
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing for sure whether the ECHELON system really exists because the five alleged members of the UKUSA alliance - the United States, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia - all refuse to discuss allegations related to ECHELON. However, the existence of these independent sources of information, telling remarkably similar stories, gives some credence to Hager's account.
So if this story is true, what does it mean? It means that, according to anonymous British sources, terror-mongering organizations such as Amnesty International and Christian Aid can become regular targets of surveillance. It means that any individual or organization which one of these countries deems dangerous to their interests can be watched, surveyed and studied with the cold, calculating efficiency of a computer. It means that you or I or anyone we know or don't know can be recorded as we speak or write to our friends, our colleagues, our loved ones, our employers, our enemies.
This sounds trivial and far away at first. What's the big deal for most of us law-abiding, right-living citizens? Who cares if they're going to intercept secret fruitcake recipes shared between some lady in Sandusky and her nephew Cletus? Put that way, it sounds more like a big joke than anything else.
But if there is a joke, the joke's all on us. As Hager writes in his
Power, "the secrecy surrounding it makes it so
impervious to democratic oversight, that the temptation to use it for
questionable projects seems irresistible". Each and every one of us has
something in our lives about which we are not proud, something we would
like to keep others from finding out. Even the greatest of us, the
leaders and the inspirational among us, have something to hide. Imagine
the power of someone who can record those secrets and use them against us.
This is the power our governments may now hold.
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