Temporary committee on the echelon interception system the secretariat notice to members

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Please find attached edited extracts from the report of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (rapporteur: Mr F. Fratini) on Echelon. This report was transmitted to the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Mr L. Violante on 19 December 2000, and to the President of the Italian Senate, Mr N. Mancino, on the same day.

The full text in Italian is available to all members.
The Secretariat



No 7




The role of the information and security

services in the 'Echelon' affair

Adopted at the sitting of 29 November 2000


Forwarded to the Presidents on 19 December 2000



1. Emergence of the issue and action by the Committee 4

2. Sequence of events and Committee investigations

3. Studies commissioned by the European Parliament

4. Committees of inquiry in France and Belgium

5. The role of the Italian services 5

6. Concluding remarks 7

1. Emergence of the issue and action by the Committee
In the exercise of its official duties, the Parliamentary Committee on Information and Security Services and Official Secrets has on a number of occasions taken action within the sphere of its responsibilities on reports appearing in the media. In those instances, it first assessed the relevance of the reports to its own activities with a view to drafting a report to Parliament.
The affair concerning the system that the media have dubbed 'Echelon' is an excellent example of such action, since it involves aspects directly linked to institutional matters of direct interest to the Committee, with particular reference to specific intelligence activities carried out by agencies from other countries, which might also be operating in Italy, as well as to all the activities carried out by the Italian services in such situations, as presented to the general public.
The successive reports published over a period of several years pointed to the existence of a worldwide system for the interception of private calls. The Committee deemed it necessary to institute an investigation for the purpose of collecting relevant documentary information for submission to Parliament, and, thereby to the Italian public, with a view to gauging the real scale of this affair and clarifying the role played by the Italian information services.
Although a book published in New Zealand in 1996 (Secret Power: New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network, by Nicky Nager) may be seen as the first source of information on the matter, reports on Echelon started appearing in Europe in 1998 following the publication of the study commissioned by the European Parliament's Scientific and Technical Options Assessment Office (STOA). In response to such reports, the Committee submitted a first request for information to the Prime Minister in April 1998.
The Committee's work focused mainly on clarifying exactly how much the government and the various services knew about the Echelon system. It therefore held hearings of the current head of SISMI (military information and security service) and one of his predecessors who had spent many years in this post.
The Committee also felt it useful to obtain information from the European Parliament, which has played a significant role in this affair through the publication by STOA of documents on the subject and, subsequently, through the work of temporary committee.
Owing to the sensitivity of the issues involved, the interests potentially at stake and the international importance of the affair, a thorough investigation was required in order to provide Parliament with a comprehensive body of information on the Echelon affair so that it might make a fully informed assessment.
It should first be pointed out that the acronym SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) stands for a method of gathering information by intercepting satellite signals.
The meaning that may be given to the term Echelon on the basis of the information collected will become apparent later in this document.

5. The role of the Italian services

The main aim of the Committee's investigation into the Echelon affair is to assess the conduct of the Italian services – particularly how much they really know about the system – and whether they were involved in activities connected to the system.

Although interception activities carried out on the basis of specific national security objectives may be deemed to be wholly in keeping with the duties of the intelligence services, the establishment of a global interception system – whose purpose is large-scale intrusion, even in allied countries, which bears no relation to security and defence requirements – would have obvious and major institutional implications, not least as regards the individual freedoms enshrined in our constitution, and would raise sensitive issues in the areas of international relations, alliances, and counter-espionage and anti-interception activities.
On the basis of the hearings held and of the documentation supplied by CESIS (information and security services steering committee), it is clear that the heads of the information services see Echelon as the product of a developing technology that has yet to be finalised and which should eventually provide a more effective means of intercepting satellite communications. The findings of the hearings held by the Committee would tend to rule out the existence of an integrated interception system called 'Echelon', used by the five countries party to the UKUSA Agreement (United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) to intercept communications on a worldwide scale. Furthermore, SISMI has ruled out the existence of a system capable of automatically recognising words spoken during calls and thus enabling only conversations containing specific words to be recorded.
The possibility of Italy having received, by virtue of cooperation agreements with allied countries, information obtained by the services of those countries through the interception of individual calls, has not been ruled out, however, since our services are not aware of the origin of information received (the sources of information provided under the SIGINT cooperation arrangements are not disclosed).
From the documents examined and the statements made by a predecessor of the current SISMI director, the Committee did, however, learn that calls to and from an Italian diplomatic mission abroad had been intercepted. Since then, the call encryption system has been completely changed and, according to the director of SISMI, is now extremely secure.
With regard to the media reports that the base at San Vito dei Normanni was being used as the base for an Echelon terminal, it has been confirmed that the centre (which was closed down in 1993) had been set up at the initiative of the US Government, with the approval of the Italian authorities. The interception operations carried out at the base would appear to have had no bearing whatsoever on the Italian institutions or on Italian citizens.
In general, the information gathered shows that the Italian information and security services were aware not just of the UKASA Agreement signed during the second world war, but also of the existence of a sort of high-tech system whose purpose was to refine the methods used to intercept communications. Their knowledge of the situation is apparently based on piecemeal information received over a long period of time.
There is no evidence to support the theory that the Echelon system was used for general eavesdropping in our country.

6. Concluding remarks

The following conclusions may be drawn from the investigations conducted.

Firstly, under the cooperation arrangements existing between the allied countries in the SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) sphere, relations between the Anglo-Saxon countries have become particularly close, as is reflected in the name of the agreement signed during the second world war and maintained during the cold war period. That agreement covers mainly military matters. With the development of new technologies, such cooperation has most probably included the gathering of information from satellite communications.
From the findings of its investigations, the Committee cannot, however, confirm some press reports that have appeared over recent years, claiming that such cooperation went further and focused on the establishment of an integrated call interception system or a worldwide interception network – a concern also expressed in the background reports produced by the European Parliament.
As far as activities linked to the name Echelon are concerned, it must be said that the name was brought to light only recently in a few declassified policy documents produced by the NSA and during a hearing of the director of the CIA, George Tenet, held by the US Congress on 12 April 2000. According to the information available and the statements made by Admiral Battelli during the hearings held by the Committee, the name Echelon most probably stands for a stage reached in the development of satellite interception technology which enables the five countries party to the agreement to gather information from such operations. However, on the basis of the information gathered, the Committee has absolutely no grounds for stating that the name Echelon refers to an integrated call interception system. This is borne out by the information received by SISMI to the effect that no automatic systems capable of recognising key words in a telephone conversation and triggering interception of the call when those words are pronounced are currently in use. Any such systems are still at the research and development stage.
The second study commissioned by the European Parliament (Campbell report) also states that no system capable of automatically searching for words and selecting telephone calls of interest to the information services is as yet available.
On the basis of the findings of the hearing of the CIA Director held by the US Congress, one cannot rule out the possibility that the USA might be carrying out economic intelligence activities which include the use of interception technology; nonetheless, any such activities would apparently be conducted for the aims and purposes laid down by the law and not be used for the benefit of American companies.
Furthermore, on the basis of the information gathered during the hearings of Admirals Battelli and Martini, it can be confirmed that Italy has also received information gathered from SIGNIT interceptions and itself uses such methods to gather information directly. It is not possible, however, to establish with any degree of accuracy whether any (and, if so, which) information was gathered via a technologically advanced system going under the name of Echelon. This is because the sources of information gathered under the information exchange arrangements existing between the allied countries, particularly using the SIGINT system, are never disclosed for security reasons.
The fact that more details emerged during the last hearing of Admiral Battelli than during the previous hearings can be put down to the fact that new information became available in the meantime, following the publication of US documents and checks subsequently carried out by SISMI.
The conclusions which the Committee is now submitting to Parliament are not contradicted by any duly substantiated assertions made by national parliamentary bodies in the other EU Member States, which were referred to earlier in this report.
Both the French and Belgian parliaments considered reports in which, on the one hand, positive affirmations are made about the existence of an Echelon interception system and, on the other, supporting evidence is provided in the form of open sources which, in the Committee's opinion, bear out those conclusions. Furthermore, those parliamentary bodies make a point of stressing the fact that the instruments at their disposal, not least in the investigative field, did not allow them to carry out a thorough investigation that was not limited solely to the assessment of information from open sources. Until such time as an increasingly necessary reform of the security information system is carried out, the Committee's own powers are subject to the same limitations under the provisions of Law No 801/1977.
The Committee feels it necessary to point out that it has drawn the above conclusions for submission to Parliament in the exercise of its duty to supervise the activities conducted by our country's information and security services, in accordance with the provisions of Law No 801/1977 and within the limits which that law places on the Committee's activities. It was thus able to use for the purposes of its investigations only documents, hearings and reports coming directly from the government or, via the government, from the security services, as well as open sources such as the hearings of the directors of the CIA and the NSA held by the US Congress.
On the basis of the investigations thus conducted, no substantive criticisms may be made of the institutional activities carried out by the Italian information and security services.

CM\429305EN.doc PE 294.998


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