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Satellite Spy System

  • The National Security Agency has been accused of using a super-eavesdropping satellite system to spy on controversial public figures, activist organizations and foreign governments.
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By Mike Blair

What do the late Princess Diana, the late Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Amnesty International, Christian Aid and the environmental group Greenpeace have in common?

They have been the targets of Echelon, the ultra-secret electronic spy agency operated by the National Security Agency (NSA) around the world in cooperation with Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Now that the European Parliament has voted to undertake an investigation of the activities of Echelon, former intelligence officers have been coming forward to reveal various activities of the global ultra-sophisticated electronic eavesdropping system, including how it pried into the electronic communications of humanitarian efforts of Princess Diana, Mother Teresa and the pope.

"Anybody who is politically active will eventually end up on the NSA's radar screen," said Wayne Madsen, who worked for NSA for 20 years.

According to Madsen, the NSA has been monitoring charities operating overseas because they may have access to details about controversial regimes.

Princess Diana, as an example, was tied to an international effort to ban land mines, which continue to cause thousands of deaths and injuries in former battle zones all over the world, usually involving innocent civilians, including children.

Margaret Newsham, an American computer software expert who worked during the 1980s at Echelon's giant listening post at Menwith Hill in York shire, England, said of the spying effort: "I was aware that massive security violations were taking place. If these systems were for combating drugs or terrorism, that would be fine. But not for use in spying on individuals."

Echelon has the ability to monitor on a massive scale all telecommunications in the world simultaneously. The high-tech system uses supercomputers called "dictionaries" to process billions of communications. After picking up "trigger words," it red-flags them for further scrutiny by NSA analysts.

Electronic intelligence experts suspect that Echelon has eavesdropped on millions of conversations of Americans and citizens of countries believed to be U.S. allies.