Commercial Espionage - the Multi $Trillion Iceberg Beneath the Tip of Snowden's Recent Revelations

"It is bewildering to witness the excessive media frenzy surrounding the recent “leaks” from whistleblower, Edward Snowden.  The fact that an extensive and advanced global surveillance network has been in place for decades seems to have eluded both the public and media alike." says Alexandra Valiente in her article 'ECHELON, Exposing the NSA's Global Spy Network'. In it she explains why Edward Snoden's recent NSA leaks and the ongoing cyber spying scandal in which the US, UK, Canadian, Austrailian and New Zealand's surveillance agencies have been accused of intentionally spying on one another's citizens and willingly sharing the collected information with each other, allegedly circumventing laws preventing each agency from spying on its own citizens is only the tip of the iceberg. Information from the Echelon network and other parts of the global surveillance system is used by the US and its allies for diplomatic, military and commercial purposes.

UKUSA Agreement, also known as Five Eyes (FVEY), is a multilateral agreement for cooperation in signals intelligence between the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.was first signed in March 1946. The alliance of intelligence operations has since WW!!, then throughout the cold war and since, monitored the signals and broke the codes of allies and friends, as well as of civilians and commercial communications around the world. It's a long story, the well documented report by Duncan Campbell titled 'The History, Structure and Function of the Global Surveillance System Known as ECHELON' provides a valuable and excellent overview.

Ironically the first global wide area network (WAN) was not the Internet, but the international network connecting FVEY's stations and processing centers. The original network was connected over transoceanic cables and later space links. Most of the capacity of the American and British military communications satellites, Milstar and Skynet, was and is devoted to relaying intelligence information. It was not until the mid 1990s that the public Internet became larger than the secret Internet that connects surveillance stations.

None of this was kept 'secret', there were numerous leaks. For instance, the New York Times article on 7 September 1960.was about two NSA analysts, Bernon Mitchell and William Martin who told the world what NSA was doing when they said, "We know from working at NSA [that] the United States reads the secret communications of more than forty nations, including its own allies ... NSA keeps in operation more than 2000 manual intercept positions ... Both enciphered and plain text communications are monitored from almost every nation in the world, including the nations on whose soil the intercept bases are located."

Then on 8 August 1975, NSA Director Lt General Lew Allen admitted to the Pike Committee of the US House of Representatives that the "NSA systematically intercepts international communications, both voice and cable" He also admitted that "messages to and from American citizens have been picked up in the course of gathering foreign intelligence". [sound familiar]

And on 3 Dec. 2000 former CIA Director James Woolsey confirmed in Washington that the US steals economic secrets "with espionage, with communications [intelligence], with reconnaissance satellites", and that there was now "some increased emphasis" on economic intelligence. There were many others as well, but none ever gained the attention of Snowden's recent leaks perhaps because of Glen Greenwald's spirited presentation of them or perhaps because the mall shoppers weren't quite as hypnotized as usual this summer.

Throughout the decades thousands of analysts worked on these mostly unencrypted communications using NSA ’watch lists’ - weekly key word lists of people, companies, commodities of interest for the NSA watchers to focus on. Among the regular names on the watch lists were the leaders of African guerrilla movements who were later to become their countries’ leaders. In time, many prominent Americans were added to the lists including actress Jane Fonda, Dr Benjamin Spock and hundreds of others who were put under surveillance because of their opposition to the war in Vietnam. Black-power leader Eldridge Cleaver and his colleagues were included because of their civil rights activities in the US.

Information from the Echelon network and other parts of the global surveillance system was and is used by the US and its allies for diplomatic, military and commercial purposes. Although routinely denied, commercial and economic intelligence has become a major target of ECHELON's activity. Under a 1993 policy colloquially known as 'levelling the playing field', the United States government under President Clinton established new trade and economic committees and told the NSA and CIA to act in support of US businesses in seeking contracts abroad. In the UK, GCHQ’s enabling legislation from 1994 openly identifies one of its purposes as to promote "the economic well-being of the United Kingdom in relation to the actions or intentions of persons outside the British Islands"

As an article in the Baltimore Sun reported back in 1995 the European aerospace company Airbus lost a $6 billion contract with Saudi Arabia in 1994 after the US National Security Agency reported that Airbus officials had been bribing Saudi officials to secure the contract. This issue, commercial and economic intelligence is the multi trillion dollar iceberg who's tip we are only now waking up to.

The media's focus on Edward Snowdon's travel plans and the protection of whistleblowers will soon be seen as spin intended to deflect scrutiny away from the real problems posed by this phenomenon. Look for the next round of spectacular exposes by Greenwald et.al., and the next mud reports, to focus on ECHELON and its evil offspring's abuses in the arena of commercial espionage. Turns out that instead of protecting us from terrorism the NSA and its FVEY partners are protecting their corporations from competition.