Re: US' NSA monitors all e-mail, telephone and FAXes in Europe

Charlie Stross (
Tue, 3 Feb 1998 09:43:20 +0000

On Sat, Jan 31, 1998 at 05:36:20PM -0500, Dan Clemmensen wrote:
> This causes my bullshit alarm to ring loudly.
> 1)The bandwidth of "all e-mail, telephone and fax communications" in Europe
> would be quite high--higher than any feasible satellite channel.
> 2) Where are the signals intercepted by NSA? nearly all are land-line
> only, with no radio component, so physical taps would be necessary. This would
> certainly require colusion of the European PTTs, which are mostly run by
> European governments. Why would they permit NSA to do this?

They *** DO *** collude. Almost all the European PTTs are either state
owned, or were state owned until recently -- the exception, British Telecom,
was part of the post office until privatisation in 1982.

In the UK, the main NSA/GCHQ tap is at Menwith Hill. They plug into BT's
microwave and fibre-optic backbone; you can see the receivers from miles
away, over the moors. I kid you not, the monitoring operation is out in the
open and it is huge. There's a whole network of GCHQ interfaces with the
civilian telecoms infrastructure around the UK; prod me hard enough and I'll
try to dig up some of my referances and repost them.

In 1945 the UK and USA signed a joint intelligence sharing treaty. The way
I hear it, NSA isn't allowed to spy on US citizens at home, and GCHQ isn't
allowed to spy on UK citizens at home. That's why there are joint GCHQ/NSA
monitoring posts -- makes it easier to share intelligence, if you follow my

> 3) With serious compression, a phone call can be squeezed to an average of
> perhaps 500bytes/sec. There are probably an average of at least one million
> simulatneous phone calls in europe at any time. This is 500 megabytes (4 gigabits)
> per second, requiring 43.2 terabytes of storage per day. the compression would
> require roughly one million very competent DSPs. automatic keyword recognition
> equipment would require at least an additional 2 miooion DSPs.

So? I've heard estimates that as much as 10% of all the CPU power in the UK
is owned/operated by GCHQ. NSA spends billions on supercomputers per year.
You think those are doing nothing?

A little tidbit. System X and System Y digital telephone exchanges made in
the UK are the backbone for BT, and are exported around the world. An
interesting feature the recent EU report highlighted is that it's possible
to program the exchange to make any ISDN TA connected to it go "off hook"
for monitoring -- in effect, turning the entire collection of terminals
plugged into such an exchange into a massive array of infinity repeaters.
It's no surprise that Russia and China have both bought into this
technology ...

-- Charlie "paranoid of Scotland" Stross