S.L.E.E.P.: Spies, lies, echelon, economics, & people

Published 20 years ago -  - 20y ago 47

The question was: “Why was a nice girl like you working in a place like that?” Former Lockheed-NSA employee and member of the team that developed Echelon, Margaret Newsham, had quite an answer.

Her life history is similar to that of other nice women who came to adulthood in the fifties and early sixties. Marriage, kids, divorce and finding a good job and remarriage. However, in Newsham’s case a series of life’s twists found her sucked into the gothic “black world” of intelligence.

For Margaret “Peg” Newsham the twist of fate which led her to Building 19 in Ford Aero’s Sunnyvale, California plant, was only the beginning of a long road that led to a sense of betrayal by her government and her employers.

Peg doesn’t complain much and she has a marvelous self-deprecating sense of humor, telling stories on herself and her family. Faced with a series of serious physical problems, including a stroke in 1986 and cancer presently, she persists in challenging the tangled world of the intelligence system. Additionally, she endures the trials and tribulations of all whistleblowers.

Appearing in a recent 60 Minutes special she talked about her experience with Echelon, the super secret spy project which is alleged to have the capability to intercept data on a massive scale.

The CBS series flew her to Menwith Hill, Yorkshire, England, which journalist and expert Duncan Campbell describes as “the largest electronic spy center in the world.” Newsham maintains that when she was there in the 80s there were only 3 “domes” now there are about 25. These domes are alleged to house the vacuum cleaner like equipment that monitors data flowing in and out of Europe.

Newsham has related her experiences only a couple of times. First at closed door top-secret congressional hearings in 1988, to Danish journalists Bo Elkjaer and Kenan Seberg, to 60 Minutes and to me.

For ten years, Newsham worked for the US munitions and computer firms Signal Science, Ford Aerospace and Lockheed Martin. They had contracts for the development and upgrading of Echelon satellites and computers which the companies designed for the intelligence agency NSA. The NSA cooperates closely with the CIA and NRO (National Reconnaissance Organization). For two years, Newsham shared the responsibility for the day-

It all began in Building 19 at the Sunnyvale plant where a job opportunity ushered her into the world of NSA and Echelon. After an interview and a clearance process, Newsham received her final clearance. ” I was briefed by Tom Akashi the security officer for the Project Silkworth, Sire Moonpenny and another that I have not seen in print anywhere. As far as the job and projects go I can only tell you what I have seen in print and have all the necessary document to verify everything that I tell you. After the briefing I was shocked, stunned and said I need to think about this for a while. Went home was told that I could NEVER tell anyone what I did, where I went etc. But the project was on the cutting edge of technology and so intriguing that I agreed to stay with the project only if I could advance to another position with the computers…”

From 1974 to 1984 Peg Newsham worked on the satellites and the computer programs developed at Lockheed’s headquarters in Sunnyvale California, and in 1977, she was stationed at the largest listening post in the world at Menwith Hill, England.

“On the day at Menwith Hill when I realized in earnest how utterly wrong it was, I was sitting with one of the many “translators”. He was an expert in languages like Russian, Chinese and Japanese. Suddenly he asked me if I wanted to listen in on a conversation taking place in the US at an office in the US Senate Building. Then I clearly heard a southern American dialect I thought I had heard before.”

“Who is that?” I asked the translator who told me that it was Republican senator Strom Thurmond. ‘Oh my gosh!’ I thought. We’re not only spying on other countries, but also on our own citizens.”

American Gothic

Study the “black world” of intelligence gathering and you will find it littered with so much information and disinformation that it tends to put one in a semi-hypnotic state — overwhelmed by the amount and complexity of the data. In this secret world, words mean more than one thing. Technology is or is not state of the art, people lie without blinking because it is part of the job, and no one seems to be in charge. The mix of corporate and government back scratching offers too many opportunities for corruption and the rationale seems to be that everyone does it.

In this world of high tech espionage it is also a realm where the Constitution of the United States seems to be less important than maintaining bureaucracies and keeping them supplied with top of the line high tech toys. Last but not least there is no accountability to speak of.

Recently, the Congress passed Public Law #105-272 and it was signed into law by President Clinton. One of the few protesting this new law was Georgia Representative Bob Barr. What the new law does is make it possible for the FBI to have basically unrestricted wiretapping ability. At one time each wiretap had to be approved by a court order – no more. The new wiretap laws allow the government carte blanche under some perceived “emergency” as determined by the Attorney General without a court order. This has effectively shifted the power from the judiciary to the executive branch thus profoundly damaging what used to be called the “separation of powers.”

‘Roving wiretaps are a major expansion of current government surveillance power,’ said Alan Davidson, staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. ‘To take a controversial provision that affects the fundamental constitutional liberties of the people and pass it behind closed doors shows a shocking disregard for our democratic process.’

Add that to the growing controversy surrounding the National Security Agency and a surveillance web known as Echelon. Echelon is not some fantasy in the minds of crazy conspiracy buffs. Echelon is real and in declassified documents in the hands of we know it exists.

At a recent meeting of the European Parliament an uproar began when investigator Duncan Campbell’s report on NSA spying via Echelon indicated that a great deal of information was economic and political espionage. Apparently, economic data is routinely handed over to the Commerce Department which in turn hands it over to American Fortune 500 companies.

Nonetheless, analysts indicate that the Europeans are doing it to. The French, are considered the worst offenders. With the alleged backing of the German government, there is system in place euphemistically known as “Frenchelon.” According to Kenneth Cukier, senior editor and Paris correspondent for Communications Week International, alleges that the French project is run under the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure, similar to the CIA. Commercial information is sent directly to the presidents of large French companies as well as to government officials.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union economic espionage along with spying on private citizens deemed “dangerous” or unfriendly to government, has been offered as a reason for continued bureaucratic intrusion and expanding budgets and power. Every time the BATF, FBI, CIA or NSA, have gotten into serious trouble it has been as a result of a pervasive medieval mentality that views Americans and others as folks who can’t be trusted. Yet the Congress has oversight of these alphabet agencies, but continues to hand out blank checks whenever anyone screams “national security.”

This is not to say that agencies are not doing a good job overseeing legitimate intelligence concerns that have to do with terrorism and international skullduggery. In addition, fair is fair and governments being what they are, economic espionage is part of the expected game. The problem exists when intelligence gathering crosses the line and becomes unconstitutional eavesdropping against companies or citizens. Most importantly, at what level should the alleged incestuous relationship between corporate America and government exist-if at all. It was Dwight Eisenhower who warned Americans about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.”

Patrick S. Poole is an independent researcher is recognized as an expert on Echelon and NSA. Poole maintains that Echelon is purely a product of 20th Century statism. The modern drive toward the assumption of state power has turned legitimate national security agencies into pawns in a manipulative game where the stakes are no less than the survival of the Constitution. There is an incestuous relationship that exists between the intelligence community and US corporations that develop the technology that fuels their spy systems.

Many of the companies that receive the most important commercial intercepts are Lockheed, Boeing, Loral, TRW, and Raytheon who are actively involved in the development of Echelon. The collusion between the intelligence agencies and their contractors is frightening…it is a gross misuse of taxpayer resources and the intelligence agencies.” As the recent Chinese security scandal indicates, companies such as Loral seem to have no qualms about “sharing” sensitive information which have dual uses-one military and one economic technology intelligence, with sworn enemies of the United States.

To accommodate the need for economic intelligence, the Office of Intelligence Liaison was set up in the Commerce Department. Shortly after taking office in 1993, Bill Clinton ratcheted up the corporate espionage by funding the National Economic Council which Poole alleges, “feeds intelligence” to “select” companies friendly to the administration.”

In an extensive investigation, Poole cites numerous egregious cases of intelligence being turned over to corporations. The intelligence community denies it and often times hides behind a shadow of the truth better known as plausible deniability. They stretch the truth or bend the truth through manipulation and channeling their information through international allies or non-intelligence government agencies such as the Commerce Department.

Administrations since Truman have used NSA for other than straight up intelligence gathering. That includes Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Bush. It was at the end of the Bush administration that mission creep for all alphabet agencies began. But Poole states that the Clinton administration has raised commercial intelligence gathering to “a high art form.”

He also maintains that, “No free society has ever been able to survive the rapid expansion of government power seen in our current political atmosphere…the pattern of secret power…quickly finds replication as can be seen the the 1995 establishment of another secret court by Congress and the Clinton administration – the Alien Terrorist Removal Court. Just like it’s brother court the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court it is based on a statist political philosophy which creates the climate for secret courts, illegal surveillance, and prosecution flying in the face of the 4th Amendment. Part of the Bill of Rights, which guarantees that citizens will not be subject to government abuse even in the name of a cause deemed worthy by said government.

Poole said in an interview that what is needed is another Church Committee investigation. Following the use by the Nixon White House of federal agencies to spy on or harass political enemies, Senator Frank Church, (D-Idaho) headed the committee that brought a modicum of oversight to the intelligence process. Since that time there has been precious little oversight by congress.

The only stick congress has to wield against over zealous agencies is funding. In an aside, Poole related that money for the “black world” of intelligence gathering often comes from so called over spending on $600 hammers and $12,000 toilet seats. In other words, NSA may scream and tell the mainstream press, like the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker, that they are underfunded and technologically behind the times. But people who have studied the problem for years, including, Patrick S. Poole, former NSA employee Mike Frost, physicist and journalist Duncan Campbell, expert and author Nicky Hager, the Danish journalists, as well as Margaret Newsham maintain that is utter “nonsense.”

When asked about NSA’s General Michael Hayden’s statement that the agency was underfunded and in need of funds for upgrading equipment, Poole exclaimed in no uncertain terms, “that is ‘BS.'” Furthermore, “If they have the money they will continue to do it (questionable intelligence gathering.) “Without strict congressional oversight…privacy and 4th Amendment rights are in danger.”

Allegedly, money is squirreled away in so many places in the defense or “black world” budgets that Hayden is either playing the usual agency poor mouth game-or he is in the dark due to bureaucratic obfuscation.

A Gathering of Spooks

Recently, former DCIs of the Central Intelligence Agencies gathered in a panel discussion about intelligence collection before the Council on Foreign Relations. In an amusing slip of the tongue, former director Richard Helms appeared to corroborate the economic espionage charges. Helms, Schlesinger, Webster, Deutch and Woolsey, all former DCIs, discussed the problems of intelligence acquisition in the 21st century. The major intelligence “problem” they fixated on was the apparent inability of the agency to hire foreign nationals who have broken American or international law. They complained vociferously about not being able to adequately spy for the US because they were prohibited from hiring lawbreakers to gather intelligence. In their world it seems no laws are ever broken while gathering intelligence.

With big innocent eyes all around the DCIs nearly chimed in unison that America’s intelligence agencies would never break the law or bend the Constitution.

Nevertheless, Helms must not have gotten the word on the official story. When questions were raised about the use of intelligence gathering for economic espionage he implied that it had been done on occasion in the past. He maintained that the question really was one of choosing which company to turn the information over to – General Motors or someone else.

Woolsey later tried to cover this faux pas by repeating the mantra that the US would never be involved in economic espionage, except as it relates to the political well being of the United States. Or maybe at the very most, a need to know what is happening economically in developing countries in order to anticipate political or social unrest.

In regard to economic espionage he stated “There lies madness.” Right – and butter wouldn’t melt in his mouths. The creaky old CFR audience sat rapt, apparently missing the whole point or overlooking the divergence of opinion and the accidental slip by Helms. The aging dean of spooks most likely told the truth in spite of himself.

Blowing the Whistle

There are many good people in government service and they exist in the intelligence gathering field as well. Good people caught up in a system, where bureaucratic inertia is the pattern and the need to survive as a bureaucracy is the main occupation. Come funding time, intelligence agencies seem to become poor and clueless. Offering the next crisis as a reason for more money and expanded operations.

Those who work for spy agencies usually do so under the impression that they are serving the United States in a worthwhile way. However, just as in the private sector, it may also only mean a paycheck, a nice retirement, and all the attendant power and perks of government service. When corruption is prevalent it is only a courageous few who go beyond self-interest and blow the whistle on debased government programs and activities. Because of their honesty and the need to shut them up they are shunned, fired, harassed, demoted or worse.

A case in point, Bill Johnston, US Attorney in Waco who blew the whistle on the machinations of the Reno Justice Department regarding the massacre of the Branch Davidians. Johnston recently quit because of the treatment he was receiving and because of the apparent stone walling by the Justice Department. In another case, Marine Major Scott Ritter called attention to the Clinton administration’s inept weapons inspection policies in Iraq and suffered humiliation before a congressional committee. He was subjected to democratic Senator Joseph Biden’s autocratic verbal abuse. Linda Tripp, Charles LaBella, and others who have blown the whistle on government shenanigans have been marginalized and demonized.

In the case of NSA and Echelon, the whistleblower was Margaret Newsham. Currently, in the middle of a lawsuit with her former employer Lockheed Martin, and still under the dark cloud of keeping silence with what she knows, Peg can’t say too much. If she did she could go to jail – with no trial in the “secret court” reserved for national security cases. Her civil rights would be moot. Hoping that her lawsuit will succeed, Margaret Newsham is more concerned about informing the American public that their Constitutional guarantees under the Bill of Rights are in danger. Especially if the press continues to fall for the “official story.” She hopes that in the upcoming congressional investigation she will have a chance to tell her story and shine a light on the eroding rights to privacy still available to American citizens.

Congressman Bob Barr to Hold Hearings

Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia was kind enough to answer questions about his upcoming hearings on NSA and Echelon. The following is a Q and A: 1. When do you and Burton plan on having an investigation into NSA and Echelon? Do you have dates yet?

Hopefully, we will hold hearings in late spring or early summer on this matter.

2. There are claims that much of what NSA does currently has nothing to do with intelligence gathering on bad guys. That much of what goes on currently is economic information turned over to Fortune 500 companies. Will your investigation look into this aspect? As you may know, Lockheed, Loral, Ford and others are accused of accepting this economic information to give them a competitive edge against European or international business counterparts. If this is the case would there be any legislation forthcoming to stop this?

Foreign intelligence surveillance programs should not be used for the collection of economic information that has no national security, diplomatic or military value. I hope we do not uncover proof classified information collected by intelligence agencies has been used for purely economic purposes by or for any private companies.

3. The current head of NSA, General Michael Hayden claims they are not doing “illegal” spying on individuals or companies. He claims NSA is too poor for this and behind technologically. Is there any way to verify this and at the same time let NSA know what its limits are? Is General Hayden out of the loop as far as what is actually going on at NSA?

The NSA receives funding, has a large workforce, and employs some of the brightest scientists and engineers in the world. We need to make sure the NSA has the resources it needs to keep up with technological changes. However, we must make sure the rights of American citizens are protected in the process.

By all accounts, General Hayden is a skilled administrator who realizes NSA is in need of reform. However, he faces an entrenched bureaucracy and is not a permanent NSA employee. All of this can and should be remedied through comprehensive, regular oversight.

4. The 60 Minutes special featured Margaret Newsham, a former Lockheed and NSA employee who was a whistle blower, as well as Mike Frost –another prominent whistle blower. Ms. Newsham has informed me she has been harassed by Lockheed and NSA since she left the “Black World” of intell gathering. If that is the case will you look into it? What can be done legislatively to prevent this in the future, without harming the “system” of intell gathering? Is that possible?

Legitimate whistleblowers should always be protected from retaliation. In the past, our government has not always done so. We may well need legislative changes in this area. Of course, we must always remain mindful of the need to protect classified information and intelligence sources and methods.

5. Menwith Hill, England seems to be a focus of a lot of spying on Europeans. Europeans claim this spying has nothing to do with keeping track of Osama Bin Laden or other international bad guys. They also claim NSA is using Canada and the UK as guinea pigs for the use of surveillance technology. This claim was also made in the Discovery Channel special. Do you have information which would support their concerns?

The problem with Echelon is that we know very little, and most of what we know originates from a handful of media sources. The best solution to this problem is for NSA to come forward with enough basic information, and answer questions necessary to ensure the privacy of American citizens is being protected.

6. Do you feel that oversight of NSA and such spooky issues as Echelon or “Magistrand” as Duncan Campbell claims it is now called –are in need of the $2 billion dollars which the Clinton Administration has asked for to upgrade intell capability?

Historically, Congress has had a bad habit of writing blank checks to government agencies, especially when they make omnibus “national security” claims. I believe we should be more careful with public monies, and work to ensure new funding and authority are truly necessary before appropriating them.

7. Since the end of the Cold War has the mission of the various intell organizations such as NSA and CIA been clouded by allowing the system to be corrupted into intell gathering of private citizens and corporations? Or has this type of intell gathering been going on all along?

The NSA has violated the privacy of American citizens in the past, most notably during the Nixon presidency. We must always remain vigilant to ensure we are properly balancing national security and privacy.

8. What will be the focus of your upcoming hearings into NSA and Echelon?

Our goal will be to ensure the public has basic assurances from the NSA that personal privacy is not being violated on a mass scale by foreign intelligence surveillance. Our existing legal structure in this area was fashioned in the 1970s, and may well require updates in light of recent technological changes.

A Profile in Courage

Peg sleeps with a gun under her pillow and her companion is a beloved 125 pound German Shepherd named Gunther. She says her children have been harassed and stalked and she doesn’t feel safe in her own country anymore. Her allegations against the government and corporate America relationship, if proved true, will once more frame the notion that America is becoming a corporate state with police powers – a country which may be losing its soul. Perhaps more probably selling its soul.

Margaret “Peg” Newsham has perspective on it all. She is a courageous lady. It is refreshing to know that valiant and noble people still live in the United States of America. That there are those who have not adopted the mantra “what have you done for me lately.” Margaret gave me her outlook over the weekend. Good advice for Bob Barr as he investigates, the press as it does or does not investigate other than the official story, and the American people who need to recover a sense of outrage and priorities.

“My feeling is life goes on and this is part of the ride. I have to keep everything in the right prospective. I am praying big time…. I am a fighter and will NEVER GIVE UP!!!!!!! We all have to do what we know is right!!!!!!!!

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