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Profile: Margaret Newsham
Margaret Newsham was a participant or observer in the following events:
Strom Thurmond. [Source: US Government]Former Lockheed software manager Margaret Newsham, who worked at the Menwith Hill facility of the NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance operation in 1979, says she heard a real-time phone intercept of conversations involving senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC). She was shocked, she recalls, because she thought only foreign communications were being monitored. Newsham, who was fired from Lockheed after she filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging fraud and waste, tells the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Louis Stokes (D-OH), of the overheard conversations. In July, Capital Hill staffers will leak the story to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Thurmond says he doesn’t believe Newsham’s story, but his office admits that it has previously received reports that Thurmond had been a target of NSA surveillance. Thurmond will decline to press for an investigation, and the reason for the surveillance has never been revealed. [CBS News, 2/27/2000; Patrick S. Poole, 8/15/2000]
The NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance system has eavesdropped on numerous public figures, human rights organizations, charities, and even the Vatican, former British intelligence officials admit (see February 27, 2000). The NSA, which shares information with Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, has eavesdropped on, among others, Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), Mark Thatcher (the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher), the Pope, Mother Teresa, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, and others. It is unclear exactly when the NSA performed its surveillance operations, and what information it collected. The officials choose to speak out after the European Parliament announces it will open an inquiry into Echelon’s operations (see July 11, 2001). Former NSA official Wayne Madsen says, “Anybody who is politically active will eventually end up on the NSA’s radar screen.” The NSA routinely monitors charities and human rights organizations operating overseas because they often have access to information about regimes opposed to Western interests. Madsen believes the NSA spied on Diana because of her human rights work; he says that “undisclosed material held in US government files on Princess Diana was collected because of her work with the international campaign to ban landmines.” Mark Thatcher was monitored in the 1980s because of his work on the huge al-Yamamah arms contract being negotiated between Britain and Saudi Arabia. The NSA also monitored conversations by officials of the Panavia consortium, which builds the Tornado fighter plane. British Aerospace is a major partner in the consortium. “I just think of Echelon as a great vacuum cleaner in the sky which sucks everything up,” says former Canadian intelligence officer Mike Frost. “We just get to look at the goodies.” Former US computer software manager Margaret Newsham, who worked during the 1980s at the Menwith Hill listening station in Yorkshire, says, “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.” Newsham recalls being shocked when she overheard conversations by then-US senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). “It was evident American constitutional laws had been broken,” she says. [London Times, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Strom Thurmond, Wayne Madsen, Panavia, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Christian Aid, British Aerospace, Amnesty International, Echelon, European Parliament, Margaret Newsham, Margaret Thatcher, National Security Agency, Mark Thatcher, Mike Frost
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 [CBS News, 2/27/2000] which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. [Washington Post, 12/22/1988] “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations 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.” [NineMSN, 5/23/1999]
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Greenpeace, Wayne Madsen, Glyn Ford, Echelon, Communications Security Establishment, Central Intelligence Agency, Amnesty International, Strom Thurmond, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Steve Kroft, Princess Diana, Mike Frost, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Newsham, National Security Agency, Robert “Bob” Barr, House Intelligence Committee, Porter J. Goss, Ilich RamÃrez Sanchez
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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