Swiss link to Echelon follows satellite sale

Swiss army wonders out loud whether national telco collaborated with America's National Security Agency to further Echelon surveillance network

ZDNet Switzerland has reported that Swisscom, the country's biggest ISP and national telecoms provider, has violated national security regulations with the sale of its nationwide satellite dish business to US company Verestar.

Verestar provides infrastructure support for America's National Security Agency (NSA) and Echelon, its international surveillance project.

Swisscom announced in spring 2000 that it would withdraw from the satellite industry to concentrate on its core activities. But the company sold its satellite bases in Leuk, Geneva, Basel and Zurich to Verestar, potentially breaking Swiss law.

According to an agreement signed 20 March, Swisscom committed to having each sale that potentially affected public interest and national security, approved by the government.

The Swiss military sees the purchase of the satellite stations by the US as a potential threat to national security, arguing that the infrastructure could be used for spying. Echelon has been used by the US government for industrial espionage, particularly in Europe where it has stated that bribery amongst European nations is a tradition it needs to protect itself from.

It is generally accepted that Echelon's extensive satellite network can pick up practically all communications signals transmitted worldwide.

It has also been alleged that Verestar cooperates with the NSA. If proven, executives responsible for the sale of the satellite facilities could be tried for treason, although ZDNet Switzerland reports that the military is unlikely to press for charges.

"We don't conduct counter-espionage because this is not the job of the military: it's the job of government ministries to determine whether a firm should cooperate with the NSA or not" said Philippe Zahno, spokesman for the Swiss army's general staff.

Verestar is one of the largest MAE (Metropolitan Area Ethernet) providers. In a recently published report called Listening Capacity 2000, the European Parliament pointed at MAEs and referred to them as "listeners" for the NSA within the Internet.

Australia, America, Great Britain, France, Canada and New Zealand all participate in the Echelon spy network. According to sources it has the capacity to simultaneously monitor 3 billion commercial channels and screen 90 percent of the Internet.

Switzerland has been conducting its own satellite project since 1993, dubbed Satos 3. Initiated by security chief Peter Regli, it is similar to the Echelon project, but on a much smaller scale. Regli's successor, Dino Belasi, continues to develop the project with the objective of developing a network capable of dealing with "threats from technology, terrorism and nuclear weapons".

Find out who's spying on you and how in our Echelon news special.

They can see you... Read about how and why in Surveillance, a ZDNet News Special

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