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Date: 2001-01-14

ECHELON & ein Phantom/satellit

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Ein Spionagesatellit namens "Rhyolite" als Teil von
ECHELON mit nachgerade ungeheurem Abhörpotential
geistert wieder einmal durch die britischen Medien. Wie
beinah alle ECHELON-Geschichten ist diese erstens alt,
zweitens völlig übertrieben dargestellt und spielt damit den
Interessen der Dienste in die Hände, denen jede falsche
Nachricht recht ist. Auf der UK-Crypto List stellt ein
geduldiger Duncan Campbell essentielle Dinge klar.

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Date sent: Sat, 13 Jan 2001 01:19:01 +0000 To: From: Duncan Campbell
<> Subject: Commentary on the
evdidence for Echelon Send reply to:

A number of comments have been made recently about the
question of the evidence for Echelon, coupled to some odd
speculation. I would hope that the outlook of subscribers to
this list generally would be to look for evidence, test its
robustness, look for corroboration, and assess it all
intellectually and scientifically. That is my approach,
anyway, and I will try and help. This is a long posting, but it
provides eno ugh facts and references, I hope, for readers to
make a sensible assessment of their own answer to the
question “does ECHELON exist”.

With that in mind, I first offer a comparison between two
alleged NSA projects commonly reported in the press;

Here is a recent UK source for RHYOLITE, which claims that
it’s a top secret spy satellite with almost unbelievable
capabilities. The quote comes from UK Eyes Alpha, by Mark
Urban (1996), at page 58.“RHYOLITE was placed in a
geosynchronous orbit - positioned 24,000 miles from earth
with its spee d exactly matching the turning of the globe … It
was equipped with a large parabolic dish so that the feeble
fragments of microwave energy could be refocused on its
receiver. Each microwave circuit could carry hundreds of
The possibilities of RHYOLITE were, says one Sigint insider,
'mindblowing'. Under the Anglo-Saxon Sigint arrangements,
GCHQ was a full party to the product of this satellite. Owen
Lewis, then an Army officer working in Sigint and now a
communications security consultant in industry, remembers,
"When RHYOLITE came in, the take was so enormous that
there was no way of hand ling it. Years of development and
billions of dollars then went into developing systems capable
of handling it."

NSA’s response to the explosion of information coming from
space included passing large amounts of it over to GCHQ for
transcription and analysis. The USA developed two types of
geostationary sigint payloads: one descending from
RHYOLITE was used mainly to gather interesting UHF
signals such as m issile telemetry and various forms of
communications; the other specifically targeted microwave
traffic. Each type required three satellites continuously in
geosynchronous orbit over the Equator to provide global
coverage. The NSA found that the amount of information
being picked up from microwav e circuits was so large that it
had to be immediately beamed down to an earth station
within line of sight.”

The problem with RHYOLITE is that there is no documentary
evidence that it ever existed. True, a Californian drug dealer
was once accused by the FBI or persuading an old
schoolfriend who happened to get a job in a unbelievably top
secret defence contractor's black vault where they used the
docu ment shredder to mix cocktails is supposed to have got
hold of a Rhyolite system manual and other goodies and
thrown it over the fence of the Soviet embassy in Mexico
City. Hollywood made a film about all this (The Falcon and
the Snowman), which certainly ought to raise the credibility
of the R HYOLITE story to equal with the splendid recent
NSA paranoia epic, Enemy of the State. And there’s a
British Sigint type who once made claims about RHYOLITE
to Mark Urban. But no documentation. No one has ever
reported that they have seen a RHYOLITE satellites.
Descriptions have been publis hed,

(Point of information : the Owen Lewis above who used to
work for the GCHQ Sigint organisation is the same Owen
(Lewis, not Blacker) who has written on the list on this

Now consider the claims about ECHELON stations. There’s
a large paper trail available, including official documents that
span from 1981 to date. They include a string of US
government operational instructions.

The first listing of ECHELON in an NSA document appears in
my European Parliament report, Interception Capabilties
2000. It is dated 1981 and refers to Menwith Hill.
2en.pdf At the time that was published, that was a fragment
rather than a full sheet. That was done to protect the source.
In January 2000, Margaret Newsham said she was willing to
identify herself as the source. A statement about this (by
me) appears on John Young’s site. It reveals that Margaret
wa s the main source for the original article about Echelon,
which was published in 1988. Later in 2000,
John Young published extensive technical details of the
original plan for the component parts of the Echelon system,
known as Project 377 or CARBOY II. According to the P-377
specifications and documents at, the project
provided for the “commonality of automated data p rocessing
equipment (ADPE) in the Echelon system” (my emphasis).

CARBOY includes all the units needed to that would break
down satellite links into component parts of telephone and
telegraph channels. The telegraphy components could be
either analogue or digital. Their output was fed to the
“telegraphy message processing subsystem”. Other
ECHELON component s were a “facsimile processing
subsystem“, a “voice processing subsystem”, a “voice
collection module” and a”[voice] Tape Production Facility”.

By the time my IC2000 report was published, the US
intelligence specialist Dr Jeff Richelson had located and
obtained US Navy and Air Force documents from the 1990s,
giving many details of US ECHELON sites. This material is
referenced carefully in the IC2000 report, which says that the
documents provide “original new documentary and other
evidence about the ECHELON system and its involvement in
the interception of communication satellites". They are
references 47-51.

Although these references were not on-line when IC2000 was
first published, Jeff Richelson has now put them and other
official documents on-line in the NSA section of the National
Security Archive.
3 They show, for example, that the first task of the
commander of the US Naval Security Group satellite station
at Sugar Grove, West Virginia is to “maintain and operate an
ECHELON site”. For the sake of the avoidance of doubt, this
does not mean “echelon” its military meaning of "formation".
Thi s is made clear by other documents referring to
ECHELON training departments and similar functions.
03.htm Other documents that Richelson obtained from the
US Air Force Intelligence Agency give further details of more
units, and scope out a plan developed in January 1995 for the
Air Force to post groups of its intelligence people into Sugar
Grove and other bases for the “activation of ECHELON units”.
03.htm One might reasonably ask - what are these
ECHELON units? What do they actually do? The last
mentioned URL refers to the US Air Force component of the
ECHELON stations. Its the 544th Intelligence Group, based
in Colorado Springs. Their 1995 reports describe Sugar
Grove as a COMSAT intercept station. That description is
still current in 2001, and is repeated on their web site.

You can click now, or read on. This is what it says:
“Detachment 3, 544th Intelligence Group is fully integrated
with Naval Security Group Activity, located at Sugar Grove,
W. Va. Its mission is to direct satellite communications
equipment supporting research and development for multi-
service nat ional missions. It provides enhanced intelligence
support to Air Force operational commanders and other
consumers of communications satellite information collected
by Navy-commanded field stations. This is achieved by
embedding personnel into field station operations and by
providing a trained ca dre of collection system operators,
analysts and managers for AIA.

Det. 3's vision is to provide AIA a highly trained cadre of
people to capitalize on emerging technologies to meet
consumer requirements and to establish itself as a leader in
the COMSAT environment by remaining on the cutting edge
well into the 21st century.

Det. 3 is comprised of four 1N2 signal analysts, a
superintendent and a commander. The personnel of Det. 3
are expected to be on the forefront of technologic advances in
communications.” Therefore,the ECHELON site at Sugar
Grove is a COMSAT intercept station which produces
intelligence and gives it to “consumers”. Perusing the rest of
the documents referred to in these sites shows that it is part
of a network including, for example, the NSA station at
Yakima, Washington state.

This is exactly the same account of what ECHELON is (and
isn’t) as was published by the original authors on this
subject, Nicky Hager (the author of the 1996 book, Secret
Power) and myself. More recently, Richelson has written an
article which neatly separates the wheat from the chaff,
distingu ishing the factual existence and capabilities of the
ECHELON stations from the torrent of inaccurate
enlargement which has marked most of the derivative
secondary reporting on the same subject. This appeared in
the March-April 2000 edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic
html This article makes it clear - and I unhesitatingly agree -
that much of what one reads about ECHELON in the press or
on TV is nonsense. But ECHELON is shown to be the still
extant name for the SATCOM intercept component of the US
SIGINT system, even though they could have opted to
change the nam e long ago.

Australia doesn't use that name, but admits running part of
the intergrated system under a different name. New Zealand
and Canada have ECHELON stations. References to the
Australian government’s confirmation that they participate in
the system as Hager describes it (but under a different and
as yet undisclosed name) appear in the IC2000 report. So
do references to government documents obtained in Canada
(under their FOI provisions), identifying the substantial mid
1990s budget expenditure on ECHELON by CSE, the
Canadian equivalent of CSE and GCHQ.

No-one knows if British SATCOM intercept stations now use
the name. We do know from the US that one US SATCOM
intercept station (Misawa, Japan) uses a different codename,

Sure, you have to do some reading to get all this. But that’s
wiser than hitting the keyboard in wilfull ignorance. To take
up just one other point, Owen asked rhetorically why no call
has been made on [EU] member states for authoritative
information. That is what the EP Echelon committee has
been doing since last September. To find out about this, you
can read their web side and/or the well-informed Germa n on-
line publication Telepolis. Unlike RHYOLITE satellites, you can
go and look at or see pictures of the alleged ECHELON
stations. Pictures of all of them, except Guam, are on the
web. They all have windowless buildings and arrays of
medium to large satellite dishes aimed at geostationery
positions along the Clark Belt. The y have double fences,
lots of security, and mean looking guards. They look exactly
like SATCOM intercept and intelligence stations.

Thus, in contrast to undocumented allegations about
RHYOLITE satellites that no one has ever seen, the
ECHELON system is (in the form described in the primary
reporting) robustly supported by authenticated and
authenticatable evidence, official documents, and physical
observation, as well as by n amed sources with proven
access to information on the subject.

I do believe that RHYOLITE once orbited our skies. What I
don’t believe in is bizarre theories of global illuminati sourced
in nothing at all and advanced in comprehensive disregard of
available evidence. When that is coupled to snide personal
remarks, it lowers only the public estimation of th e writer.

The above is offered in the interests of open evaluation of this
interesting issue.

Duncan Campbell

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published on: 2001-01-14
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