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1999 05 23 * Channel 9 (Australian) * Big Brother is listening* Ross Coulthart


In this Sunday investigation, Australia's spy-chiefs acknowledge for the first time this country's role in an international spying alliance that is monitoring the overseas phone, fax and email messages of every Australian indeed, everyone on the planet.

Ex-spy Mike Frost

This top-secret American operation, known as Echelon, spies on the rest of the world and, as Sunday reporter Ross Coulthart reveals, may even be used against Australia. Among the people Coulthart talks to is a former spy for Canada's Communications Security Establishment, the arm of the UKUSA intelligence alliance, which includes Australia, Britain, the US, Canada and New Zealand.

Reporter Ross Coulthart

Among the things Mike Frost, the former spy, says CSE was asked to do was to spy on two of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet -  the request coming from then British Prime Minister Thatcher -and bug the mobile phone of Margaret Trudeau, the wife of the then Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. Frost explains why he thinks the Echelon system is dangerous:
"I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon. Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organisations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don't think it can't happen in Australia. Don't think it can't happen in Canada, because it does."

Satellite over Australia

In an unprecedented statement to the Sunday program, the director of Australia's Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), Martin Brady, reveals what spying the DSD allows on Australian citizens and companies. DSD also officially acknowledges for the first time that it is a signatory of the hitherto secret UK-USA alliance, that endorses cooperation with counterpart intelligence organisations in the United Kingdom, the US, Canada and New Zealand.


The DSD documents are available here - just click on the following links:

Defence Signals Directive letter from Martin Brady to Sunday:

Page One * Page Two * Page Three

Additional information related to this story, can be found by clicking on the link to Full Transcript at the top right of this page. We have also compiled:

Echelon Frequently Asked Questions and Website Links and Duncan Campbell's piece on the European Parliament's report on Intelligence Gathering. For links to IGIS documents, please read on.

The DSD also details to the Sunday program, some of the checks DSD maintains over its extraordinary spying powers, which until now have all remained strictly classified in an internal DSD document called Rules on Sigint and Australian Persons.

As the program reveals, Australia is routinely monitoring any fax, phone or data communications passing through satellites over the Indian and Pacific Ocean. The interception of these communications is controlled by a so-called ""dictionary system"" that scans all communications simultaneously with the use of powerful super-computers that have been programmed with key words, key numbers and even specific voice patterns. Some of the intercepted messages (which do include communications by Australians) are sent to Australia's DSD but the bulk of the intelligence from Australia's important Geraldton base is sent automatically to America without scrutiny by Australian eyes. This complex computer surveillance system is known by the codename "Echelon".

Coulthart travelled to the United States to interview former spies with the American National Security Agency (NSA) and intelligence commentators. They warn that, with the end of the Cold War, the NSA is and has been using its intercept facilities around the world, including Australia, to procure valuable commercial intelligence. The program details a number of reported examples where the NSA has used the Echelon system to give American companies a trade advantage.

Sunday asks if, in the light of strong evidence from overseas, Australia is not being naïve in its relationship with its American allies they have been and continue to be our solid allies in defence but can we trust them not to abuse this extensive spy system to give their companies a trading edge. The program also raises concerns, including allegations from a former spy who worked for the NSA, that this powerful spy system has been abused and threatens the privacy of every citizen.

Australia's Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Bill Blick, tells the program that he is certain Australia can trust DSD and the American allies who spy with DSD on Australian soil through facilities such as Geraldton in WA and Pine Gap in the Northern Territory.

The IGIS' written statement to Sunday is available here by clicking on the following links:

Letter from Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security to Sunday:

Page One * Page Two * Page Three

DSD director Martin Brady also details how the classified Sigint Rules do provide mechanisms to permit DSD to monitor and report foreign communications involving Australians in some special carefully-defined circumstances such as the commission of a serious criminal offence; a threat to the life or safety of an Australian; or where an Australian is acting as the agent of a foreign power.

DSD tells the Sunday program that Australians are spied on infrequently and safeguards are provided to ensure that the privacy of Australians is not compromised. Indeed, the spy-chief reveals how the Sigint Rules generally prohibit the deliberate interception of communications between Australians in Australia; the dissemination of information relating to Australian persons gained accidentally during the course of routine collection of foreign communications; or the reporting or recording of the names of Australian persons mentioned in foreign communications.

But the program reveals how even inside DSD there is concern that these rules are not enshrined in legislation. Nearly half a decade after the inquiry into ASIS, Australia's overseas spy service, recommended all the spy services all be put under an act of parliament, DSD still only operates at the whim of a directive of politicians in cabinet.

And, in the light of evidence Sunday has obtained from overseas spies, can we trust our UK-USA allies?