Echelon now has a big brother. Meet Bruce McIndoe, lead architect for Echelon II, the "most productive intelligence program" in history
By Bo Elkjaer and Kenan Seeberg
Meet Bruce McIndoe. He has information that the Danish government and several others around the globe, continuously pretends isn't there. McIndoe knows that Echelon is real. Because he helped to build it. "Yes, that's right", McIndoe confirms to the Danish paper Ekstra Bladet today Bruce McIndoe dedicated more than ten years of his life to Echelon. He helped to finalize the original Echelon system starting in 1987. After that, he started to design Echelon II, an enlargement of the original system.
Bruce McIndoe left the inner circle of the enormous espionage network in 1998, a network run by the National Security Agency, the world's most powerful intelligence agency, in cooperation with other Western intelligence services. Ekstra Bladet tracked down Bruce McIndoe to IJet Travel Intelligence, a private espionage agency where he is currently second in command.
IJet Travel Intelligence is an exceedingly effective, specialized company that employs former staff members of the NSA, CIA, KGB and South African intelligence services.
The company's task is to furnish reports for top executives from US business and industry that reveal everything about the destination to which they are travelling for their multinational company. All the information they need to make the trip as safe as possible. The company resembles a miniature version of his previous employer, the world's most powerful intelligence agency, the NSA.
And they are almost neighbours.
Bruce McIndoe's new company is headquartered in the state of Maryland, near the NSA's gigantic Fort Meade headquarters.
We phone IJet Travel Intelligence and a secretary asks us to spell our names. Bruce McIndoe calls back one hour later, at the very minute we had agreed on. He starts by asking the first questions.
"It appears you have written a lot about spies, intelligence and Echelon before."
"Well, you might say that."
"You have especially written a lot about Echelon, haven't you?"
"Yes, we have, some two hundred articles."
Bruce McIndoe is more than just casually inquisitive when he calls. He hasn't wasted any time and obviously ran a background check on the two curious reporters from Denmark, and it all took less than an hour. Now that he has broached the subject of top-secret Echelon himself, we decide to get right to the point.
"You were one of the architects for Echelon II. When did you work on that program for the NSA?"
"When I was at CSSI. We worked for the NSA most of the time that CSSI existed. Mainly from 1987 until four years ago. At that time, my company was bought out by a company known as the Computer Science Corporation. Although CSSI was involved in many large-scale projects for the NSA, Echelon was probably the biggest."
"Is Echelon II some sort of superstructure to Echelon?"
"Yes. Echelon has existed for a long time, as you know, and they needed to update the system."
"Have you kept up with the European Echelon discussion and the report issued by the European Parliament?"
"Yes, I have followed it quite closely, actually. At least I know that some countries are uncertain about the entire program, and I'm familiar with their considerations on whether they shall continue to support it. The US government and its allies have already run into somewhat of a challenge."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, they can't avoid the glare of publicity anymore. If I perform a search on the word "Echelon" right now, I can find maybe one thousand articles dealing with Echelon, so it is a pretty well-known system by now. And as you know, many people mildly disapprove of Echelon. So accepting the use of it poses a challenge to many countries."
"The European Parliament is airing the possibility that the EU should make its own Echelon system?"
"Well, there are three possible options. They can openly join Echelon and demand more control, they can make their own system or they can refrain from having one. But in my opinion, pretending it doesn't exist just isn't an option. Especially not after September eleventh."
"Were you ever involved in the first Echelon system?"
"Only at the end of it. It was already operational when I entered the picture."
"The report of the European Parliament firmly establishes that Echelon is a global surveillance system which intercepts private and commercial communication and that it is led by the US in concert with Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as second partners. But the Parliament is not totally sure the system is named Echelon."
Bruce McIndoe laughs dryly and somewhat indulgently about the thought of our silly European politicians. IJet Travel Intelligence's website proudly, and with surprising candour, mentions McIndoe's contribution to making Echelon II. The website states that: "Bruce was one of the lead architects for the National Security Agency's Echelon II program, identified as one of the most productive intelligence programs in the agency's history".
Litening in on everything
"On the whole, it doesn't take long to verify the existence of Echelon if you look at the US Defence Department's budgets. And besides, code names are usually not classified as top secret. This practice enables people in the right circles to refer to the program, yet without revealing its capacity or how it operates."
"So you are the person who can document that you have made Echelon II?"
"Yes, that's for sure. I can even do so without revealing any secrets. Echelon II is the successor, so to speak, of the original Echelon system."
"Can you tell us whether it is used to monitor all types of communication?"
"No system of such enormous magnitude would only be used for a single purpose. They use it for everything they can, if they feel it's necessary. Whenever they need to exploit its potential, they do it."
Bruce takes a little breather while he considers whether he has said too much:
"But it doesn't mean they're a bunch of wild cowboys. There are rules, you know, that stipulate what they are allowed to monitor, and they definitely don't ignore the laws of any individual countries. Not American laws either. This poses somewhat of a challenge, of course, but after they get a court order, they can do just about anything they please," explains McIndoe, who emphasizes that he is no expert in these matters.
In 1998, Computer Science Corporation took over Bruce McIndoe's company - and with that the Echelon contract with the National Security Agency. Shortly afterwards, Bruce McIndoe co-founded the company he now works for. A company where he makes great use of his experience from working with the largest espionage system in the world.
"Tell us something about the company you work for now."
"Okay. In short, we have transferred everything I did for the NSA and other services to a private company that then sells intelligence to businesspersons. We get information on everything from local diseases, outbreaks of malaria epidemics and local unrest to strikes, the weather and traffic conditions. Our customers are large multinational companies like Prudential and Texas Instruments. We also work for institutions like the World Bank and the IMF."
"Your offices resemble a command post at the NSA's Fort Meade headquarters?"
"Yes, exactly. Our staff are also former intelligent agents who have either developed or run espionage operations for US intelligence agencies or people from the UK, South Africa and Russia."
"How does the NSA feel about the fact you're applying the same technology in the private sector?"
"A lot of the technology developed at the NSA will sooner or later find its way into civilian life. Things like word spotting, automatic translation, language recognition and so on. But since we don't try to hide our work and primarily use open sources, the NSA doesn't complain."
Yet the architect for Echelon II indirectly reveals some secrets to us. One of the ways Echelon works is by using words and voice recognition, as well as automatic translation.