Ever since legendary British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell told the world in a 1988 magazine article about ECHELON — a massive, automated surveillance dragnet that indiscriminately intercepted phone and Internet data from communications satellites — Western intelligence officials have refused to acknowledge that it existed.

Despite sporadic continuing press reports, people who complained about the program — which, as Campbell disclosed, automatically searched text-based communications using a dictionary of keywords to flag suspicious content — were routinely dismissed as conspiracy theorists.

The only real conspiracy, it turns out, was a conspiracy of silence among the governments that benefited from the program.

As Campbell writes today, in a first-person article in The Intercept, the archive of top-secret documents provided to journalists by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden contains a stunning 2005 document that not only confirms ECHELON’s existence as “a system targeting communications satellites”– it shows how the program was kept an official secret for so long.

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