Sunday, 28 August 2016

Move over Facebook-WhatsApp dalliance: Meet the CIA ECHELON.

So a lot of you seem to be livid about the supposed coquetry between Facebook and WhatsApp, in which WhatsApp shall provide your messenger communications information with Facebook so that the latter could provide better content to you. While we know this supposed purpose is just to inveigle you while both these communication giants drub ethics and mint money, it's important to know that such partnerships are merely the tip of the iceberg. So if this news perturbed you, you've got to acquaint yourself with the much more deep rooted problem; the testament to which is the CIA Echelon. 

For the larger part of 1950s, the world went through abrupt changes. Post the world war 2 as the world prepared itself for leaping on to the long cold war, the NATO treaty signed in 1949 marked the beginning of the latest tool among warring nations: SIGINT or Signal Intelligence. As the Soviet grip on USSR members and the Eastern Bloc(Communist Soviet nations largely in Europe) strengthened, the NATO spearheaded the silent movement against the Soviet aggression through sophisticated radio signal interception. At that time most military and political communication was transmitted through the radio. Established in the wake of opponent mutuality, was the Warsaw pact which served to strengthen the camaraderie among the communist folks to directly produce a moratorium of the NATO impact. Through larger part of 1950s all member countries of these two defining organizations intercepted most of the radio traffic to be able to get one up one the other. Then in the beginning of the 1960s something incredible happened. 

The Geostationary communications systems were now being setup, and communications were all set to explode. Terrestrial telephony was now going to have spatial counterparts and with a simultaneous rise in computing power, newer generations of communication equipment evolved. In the wake of these possibilities, SIGINT was no longer going to remain confined to radio transmission interception. The Soviet clan was always going to follow the western brethren in adopting newer technology to nudge interception. It is in this regard that the Five Eyes surveillance program was established. 

The Five Eyes program had 5 principal member nations - The USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These nations affirmed the need for an integrated SIGINT initiative to check for Soviet aggression across the eastern bloc through signal interception and eavesdropping. As a part of the Five Eyes program, multiple satellite interception stations were setup across the signatory nations. The most visible and celebrated of these was the Randome station setup at Yorkshire in England(pictures attached below). 

Using these satellite transmission interception stations that had a political and strategic organization to their placements, all satellite telephony and telegraphic interceptions could be made. With the rapid advancement of technology in the 70s and 80s, and with US DoD ARPANET getting a successor WAN network in the making, the Five Eyes program started getting immaculate funding from the telecommunications and homeland ministries of these countries. The Five Eyes program now evolved not only to keep an eye on the Soviet aggression across Eastern Europe and the possibility of there being a Communist-Capitalist clash, but also to equip military and national intelligence with appropriate and timely information on threats to national security. 

As the 90s approached, the Communist Warsaw pact was tremendously battered and most of Soviet Russia's energies were focused on keeping USSR intact, which soon disintegrated putting a large and mammoth load of economic transformations on a nation that could no longer splurge on satellite technology and communications advancement. With this, the original objective of the Five Eyes program was officially accomplished. The Cold War was officially cited over and no one knew the fate of these international signal interception stations established under the Five Eyes program. Much to say, no one really bothered as all eyes moved on the fall of the Brobdingnagian Soviet state and the collective revolution that ensued. Five Eyes and SIGINT were forgotten, but from the ashes of these forlorn Buzzwords, a new code name emerged in 1996. The name was ECHELON. 

As United States asserted its supremacy with renewed vigor with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it also became the pivot of how global communications were to be shaped. The Internet had already come out from the embryonic form it assumed in the US Department of Defense's ARPA(Advanced Research Projects Agency) laboratory. Additionally, much of the telecommunication protocols came in from there. The US had a bigger than ever say in how global communication networks evolved. It isn't surprising that the CIA(Central Intelligence Agency) and NSA(National Security Agency) didn't lose track of all of this. 

If Edward Snowden's revelations on US Intelligence projects are anything to go by, the CIA has multiple code worded intelligence operations being run through satellite stations all over the world. Hidden from most of the world, the CIA managed to setup various intelligence gathering stations either veiled inside United States embassies or in partnership with local friendly governments. The CIA and NSA always emphasized that a newer and more powerful enemy was emerging in the form of radical Islam. So the countries which assumed the obvious threat namely UK, France, India, Turkey, Canada and a lot many more, immediately allowed for their services to be available for this purpose. 

As per experts, all these programs had a name known to the local government, like SCS(Special Collections Service) which was designated to satellite signal analysis at known locations(SCS in New Delhi and Brasilia, and GARLICK in Munich etc.) and then there was always a hidden signal analysis team working undercover, with a palpably veiled agenda. It was this undercover signal analysis operation that the CIA code named for its internal intelligence gathering and organization. It is believed that one such operation was code named the ECHELON. 

Apparently, ECHELON was a secret intelligence gathering operation that worked well within the cover of the Five Eyes program ever since the radio signal gathering days. When the name ECHELON first appeared in public domain in the mid 90s, the US government maintained absolute reticence on the matter with them sending their most laconic members for defense. The reason was because ECHELON, if its existence was proven, was to be the biggest subterfuge ever played in the history of cooperation and partnership. 

The USA established the Five Eyes program with the purported agenda to counter the Soviet movement across the Eastern European bloc that could denigrate European integrity. However, the ECHELON ran deep within the Five Eyes, allowing US signal intelligence systems to in turn intercept the conversations among politicians and military top shots of many of the member nations themselves. Initially as addled and bemused everyone was, even member nations couldn't admit to having committed the most preposterous fallacy of all such military cooperation projects, but they didn't stay down either.

While the US government constantly denied the presence of any ECHELON, more evidence kept cropping up their claims. In 1998 a former Lockheed Martin employee brought to public attention how she had during 1970s worked on some equipment she was told to be a part of Five Eyes, but which was in fact reserved for ECHELON. The European member nations which consorted to UK's involvement were soon worried and they even sent a panel to the US to see if anything could be unearthed. But being the master of deception as it is, the CIA always maintained absolute silence and became a pretentious palimpsest of the non existence of ECHELON. No one would have expected the storm to calm down so easily, but it did. 

All opposition fizzled and everyone soon forgot what ECHELON is. This was in 2001 when terrorists had started using the Internet for recruitment and propagation of hatred and maladroitness. It is believed that the USA which already possessed much critical and explicit material involving the secrets of many of the diplomats of these member Five Eyes nations, used all of it to the advantage of it denying the existence of ECHELON. Moreover, the US finally offered the services of ECHELON, the allegorical tribute to the Big Brother from George Orwell's 1984, to these nations that were easily lured into believing ECHELON's capabilities would yield benefits, Little did they know! 

As ECHELON continued to prosper and bloom beneath innocuous and benign signal interception protocols and treaties, it is believed that ECHELON stations are now so well spread out that effectively every satellite signal sent from any part of the world to any other part could now be intercepted, recorded and then reproduced. Effectively, every human being who communicates through any modern means of communication is now under the scrutiny of ECHELON. 

ECHELON is backed by humongous power and capability of DoD's supercomuters which can store and process trillions of terabytes of all these signals and can also further organize and delve into the same for various buzzwords. In fact well before the 9/11, the ECHELON was able to capture random communication about their being a prospective building collapse coming out of the ongoing US interference in Taliban. Post the aftermath of ignoring the outcome of ECHELON's intelligence gathering, ECHELON's prowess was well established. 

Today, all things you talk to your lover about, all things I write on this keyboard and post on the Internet, all documents you send through mail, all pictures you tag on Facebook and all messages you share on WhatsApp. Everything gets converted into a satellite signal that travels through the Geostat network. And every such signal is recorded and processed by ECHELON and then analyzed in conjunction with all other information. Then various mining tools are applied and selective patterns are sent for further analysis. 

ECHELON, which started as a rogue spinoff from the noble Five Eyes program, is now the US CIA's eyes on you, your personal life and almost everything related to you. What started as a just and needed program to prevent a third war, today results in industrial espionage, and breach of hacking ethics committed at all levels possible. ECHELON is the eye to the world. Maybe in the future as we become more connected, ECHELON would become a parallel repository of all human existence and activity. And you are still worried about WhatsApp sharing contact details with Facebook! 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The middle children of India.

If you were born and brought up in the 90's this post is a direct reference to the lives we live. The past 2 odd decades have made India witness some of the most ecstatic of all transformations. While the world took 3 and a half decades to move from 1G mobile telephony to 4G, we took a mere 18 years. And the same has been applicable on almost all fronts. But beyond the bustling parapet of success and evolution, lies the core element that is not very established, to say the least. There's no denying we are way better than many of our ancestors and we should just pause for a moment and even pat ourselves on the back. But basis my own reflections on my life, and basis serious conversations and heartfelt banters with friends, I've realized that all in all, something is always amiss. If you've ever felt that way, read on and maybe you can relate. If not, than this will just come across as the rudimentary rambling of a maudlin man. 

We're the middle children of India. Our grandparents witnessed the struggle for independence and lived in severe frugalty, our parents, bound by pressures of succeeding, were honed and chiseled by the challenges of their times. Our future progeny are promised the most copacetic of lives. But we, the middle children, are lost somewhere in between these extremes. 

We bequeathed from our parents a long legacy of pride in taking the small steps towards success. Our parents were never boisterous for they succeeded one step at a time, with no premonition whatsoever. Born out in astute families, they drove lives on optimization. So they'll often tell stories of getting the maximum out of the minimum. We, on the other hand, have things aplenty. From the economy of shortages in 80's where even the rich couldn't attain all possessions, to today where even a pauper gets a car without a collateral. On paper, the lives have improved. But in reality, we missed a big facet in there. 

We're exposed to enormous amounts of availability. We're born in a generation where we adulate the riches and have plenty of role models that way. We follow trends and we blatantly follow suit. We allow heroes to be born overnight and have an inexorable appetite for more stars to cherish. We put France's flag on our Facebook display picture without even knowing why everyone else did that. We start taking selfies and have produced the maximum number of casualties while doing so. We have superstars whose movies lack any possible purpose, and on the other hand stars who even indulge in real life social service are neglected. We pursue courses not because we want to, but because someone else did that and set the vogue. And we even tend to suddenly fall in love because everyone is doing that so we ought to as well. The common denominator among these is our lack of decision making abilities, and our monstrous proclivity to let someone else shape our future! 

Preceded by folks who just embraced a free nation and who were entrusted with carving a new India out of the ashes of a forlorn and torn apart British colony, it's debatable whether they did the right things or not. Other economies which were set free along with ours soared and rocked while we're moving at snail's pace. However, the last few generations at least took charge and did stuff. We on the other hand, are just taking cue from the world.

We don't set trends, we seek them. We don't make decisions, we make situations take decisions for us. We're too afraid, we're too petrified to try something new, unless of course we follow a trend on that as well. We don't make bold moves, unless a path tread by someone else is proved right. We're seldom trailblazers, and those of us who become so, become icons and superstars beyond any match. We've become a society that has only a few limited types of heroes who are followed blindly, while the real heroes who wither under the hegemony of neglect and weak bulwarks, are often scoffed at for being lunatics. 

We've never assumed charge of what we want the nation to become. We've become a replica of what all of us individually are. During the freedom struggle, India for the first time saw its best factions. There were moderates and extremists. There were those same old chauvinists who kept women out and then there were suffragists. Those factions were welcome because we as a nation started taking stands after a lot of time. But the last time we took a stand was when our fathers left the cozy confines of their homes and took charge of their destiny. We, on the other hand, simply did what our fathers passed on to us. 

People became IAS officers, and suddenly that became the buzz of the town. Certain other professions like medicine, engineering and management took apex positions. Certain well celebrated professions like law lost the glamour. And noble professions like art lost a large cohort of followers. The first trends were set and you found a barrage of people aiming for the same piece of the pie, and a larger pie having no claimants. Latest of the trends is the IT and service sector. Everyone wants to purse a degree that lands them in this sector. No one wants to go into manufacturing. And surprisingly, no one realizes that one day we may not be manufacturing at all, but would just be servicing manufacturers from all over the world. 

We've lost all ground and we've become followers of the leaders of the world. We managed to secure a place for ourselves alright, but it's not at par with our competitors. It's not about the intensity with which other economies expand and countries prosper. It's about the identity crisis we find ourselves in. We're constantly limiting our vision and on the other hand we get swayed by what's in front of us. We've just become followers of trends, political momentum, thought change, professions, entertainment, and what not. Neither we as a nation create much original stuff and thinking on our own, nor do we allow many things to dictate us. We're happy with whatever our role models throw at us, but we don't encourage neophytes who show promise. So they, through struggle either become new heroes, or they perish under the double whammy. We're too afraid to try, because we're comfortable and content with the constricted reality we endure, we're too naive to let new ideas flourish, because of our shortsighted envisaging abilities. We're India's middle children, too privileged to have a direction and a future, and too unfortunate to ensure we set that direction and future right!