The attack on the United States Tuesday took intelligence services by surprise, despite technology that allows monitoring of almost all communications worldwide.
A global electronic surveillance network, known by the code name Echelon, failed to alert the intelligence services of the terrorist attacks. U.S. officials have never officially confirmed the existence of Echelon, but an investigative committee of the European Parliament recently concluded that the spy network is real.
Technology is not a solution, Elly Plooij-van Gorsel, who served as vice-chairman of that committee and is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Netherlands, concluded Wednesday.
“Intelligence hasn’t been able to intercept the communication of these terrorists, intelligence has failed,” said Plooij-Van Gorsel.
“Echelon can intercept any communications worldwide. If there have been phone calls or faxes, this system should have intercepted it. If there have been communications, it was done under a cover of encryption or by old-fashioned courier,” she said.
Now, a day after the attacks, intelligence shouldn’t focus on technology, but on working together, Plooij-Van Gorsel said.
“Technology is not a solution, but a race. Terrorists also have technology. Intelligence services worldwide have to cooperate with technology as a tool. Information is currently shared on a bilateral basis, but there is no real cooperation,” she said.
Echelon, is said to be operated by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the intelligence services of Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, is now likely being used in the hunt for the perpetrators of the attacks in the United States.
The London police force New Scotland Yard, when asked about the technology that might be used to find the culprits, would only say that that is “a matter for the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) to comment on. ” MI5, the U.K.’s intelligence service, directs all press calls to the Home office, where a spokeswoman declined to make a detailed comment.
Another observer noted that technology might not have been a good investment for intelligence services.
“Echelon hasn’t worked. In the coming days there will be a lot of discussion about whether the intelligence services have invested in the right technologies. Perhaps they should have opted for spies, for human intelligence,” said Maurice Wessling, a Dutch privacy and digital rights activist.
Wessling, who has protested against industrial espionage using Echelon, stressed that: “nobody has ever said that it shouldn’t be used to track down terrorists.”
Another European politician said secret services could have led to the attacks.
“Secret services have supported antidemocratic regimes. To now keep and intensify secret service would be to send the fox to keep the geese. Secret service is a danger to democratic society. If you want to get freedom, you have to get rid of the secret service,” said Ilka Schr