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ECHELON is the name used to describe a highly secretive worldwide signals intelligence and analysis network that is alleged to be operated by the intelligence agencies of five English-speaking nations (otherwise known as the UKUSA Community). Its existence has been documented by a number of sources -- most notably in a report by the European Parliament (European Parliament Report on ECHELON, 2001).
It is claimed that ECHELON can capture radio and satellite communications, telephone calls, faxes, e-mails and other data streams nearly anywhere in the world and includes computer automated analysis and sorting of intercepts. However the European Parliament concluded that "the analysis carried out in the report has revealed that the technical capabilities of the system are probably not nearly as extensive as some sections of the media had assumed". However it is necessarily unproven that it is operating in the best interests of the population of the world enjoined to engage in democratic processes in response to the challenges of the future.
One of the early researchers into ECHELON, Steve Wright (The ECHELON Trail: an Illegal Vision. Surveillance and Society, 3, 2005) usefully distinguishes between its former nature and its currently supposed nature:
ECHELON is a (now out-of-date) code name given to the US National Security Agency's worldwide facility for the mass interception of electronic telecommunications including, phone, fax and email using key words and context.... Essentially, the system can work because for some of its journey, telecommunications traffic is travelling as an electronic stream that can be intercepted if the appropriate infrastructure is in place.
However, the current wisdom is that ECHELON does not exist in the way it was originally construed but is a now thought to be a collection of subsets of interception capabilities using a range of code names of which we remain ignorant. Nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity, it makes sense to continue to use the generic label 'ECHELON' whilst recognizing that new surveillance algorithms have evolved since the early researchers built their crude paradigms.
As an operation of the "shadow world", the issue explored here is the possibility of the "conversion" of ECHELON into a counterpart, with a reversal of style and intent -- and therefore to be suitably named as NOLEHCE. The lessons of history and psychodynamics point to strategic vulnerabilities within operations like ECHELON that render them vulnerable to such reversals at critical "tipping points" associated with "paradigm shifts". Just as the security services of the modern democracies have ensured implementation of measures abhorred in the totalitarian systems of the past, such a role reversal (otherwise termed enantiodromia) may be anticipated (and possibly enabled) with respect to ECHELON.
The intent here is not to repeat descriptions of ECHELON, nor to assess their validity or the significance of the cases variously made by conspiracy theorists, civil rights campaigners, or those justifiably concerned with the implications for industrial espionage and unfair commercial advantage. That is the focus of an extensive body of literature accessible via the web (see Wikipedia entry, for example).
The catalyst for the argument here was a BBC interview with the retiring head of a UK intelligence agency who indicated, in effect, that their main focus was the prevention (or destabilization) of relationships understood to be potentially threatening to UK security. To this end a vast security apparatus is deployed under budgets whose nature and extent is necessarily concealed. The same is believed to be true of other countries -- notably those collaborating with the UK in ECHELON.
As a counterpart to this secretly controlled activity -- essentially undemocratic -- are the activities of myriads of civil society and other bodies. These are enjoined to openness and democratic principles, which they may fiercely defend. Typically they are extremely under-resourced in terms of the challenges they feel impelled to address. Typically also they are fragmented and uncoordinated in their efforts, however valuable may be the sociodiversity they represent and the psychocultural ecosystems they enrich.
The question to be asked is: what would be the consequence of allocating the resources -- currently devoted (through ECHELON) to preventing or destabilizing civil society relationships -- to the process of building and enriching patterns of relationship, whether societal or cognitive? More generally, what is the information system appropriate to a learning society? This is the anticipated orientation of NOLEHCE -- following the strategic conversion of ECHELON.
Etymologically "echelon" derives from the concept of a rung in a ladder. In modern organizational parlance it has been adapted to describe levels in an organization hierarchy or authority structure ("upper echelons", "lower echelons"). It is notably used in this way within some religious institutions and secret societies. With respect to ECHELON, and the faith-based governments that have sustained it in recent years, this raises the interesting question as to the degree to which the term was understood in some way as a symbolic analogue to Jacob's Ladder to heaven. This would be consistent with the agendas of some religious constituencies promoting the "end times" scenarios of the Abrahamic religions and the possibility of direct ascent to heaven in the near future -- notably through rapture.
The hierarchical emphasis on levels and degrees, much favoured in the process of advancement within secret societies, is of course totally in contrast to the strategic emphasis on networks and networking in democratic society. This emphasis has of course openly emerged over the period in which ECHELON has allegedly been secretly organized and deployed.
Following the widely reported intelligence failures associated with 9/11 and the response to it, it is increasingly clear that the capacity to interpret meaningfully the available information (on disasters facing social systems and the planet) is inadequate to the challenge. This was dramatically illustrated by the problematic capacity of the intelligence services, aided and abetted by their political masters, to interpret information relating to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Ironically the lessons learnt from Iraq are the need for ever more invasive surveillance information without any increase in interpretative ability beyond that relating to immediate security preoccupations. There is no record of intelligence services offering insights into solutions to the non-security challenges of society -- or creatively and imaginatively enabling appropriate patterns of relationships.
It can be fruitfully argued that:
The pattern which connects is a meta-pattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect.
It is from this perspective that he warns in a much-cited phrase: Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality.
Although both share a preoccupation with detecting potential and emergence, the concern of ECHELON is primarily to inhibit to maintain the status quo, or divert it in support of narrow interests. Whereas NOLEHCE is focused on how any innovation can be woven into a richer pattern. The contrast might be caricatured as between "defiguring" and "configuring".
Given the considerable use made by ECHELON of mathematics and mathematicians, the contrast is also reflected in the failure to use such resources to the constructive ends associated with the NOLEHCE agenda (cf And When the Bombing Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians, 2000). The embryonic, if not tokenistic or cynical, nature of the steps in this direction within the ECHELON context are exemplified by the NATO Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society (CCMS), founded in 1969, which merged with the NATO Science Committee (SCOM) in 2006 to form the NATO Science for Peace and Security Committee (SPS) [more].
The issue in the transformation of ECHELON into NOLEHCE is how the threat-obsessed surveillance capacity of ECHELON can be adapted to the detection of potential relationships and patterns that could enable fruitful new forms of action.
Issues in this connection are:
Aspects of these challenges are evident in the following institutional inadequacies at the present time:
Such examples highlight the systemic deficiencies of pattern building capacity at the present time -- to which the resources and skills of NOLEHCE could be fruitfully devoted.
Given the "listening capacity" and the "interpretive capacity" of ECHELON in relation to potential threat, the question is how to transform such skills into the capacity of NOLEHCE to "listen" for creative potential and to "interpret" it into a language and form which justifies allocation of enabling resources.
|A lesson from Google?|
It might be the case that ECHELON derives part of its power from a paradigm significantly shared with Google -- and responsible for the latter's success. Google scans content (search queries, emails) for patterns with which advertising messages can be meaningfully associated for commercial purposes. Clearly ECHELON scans content to detect opportunities for disruptive intervention, "below the radar", in support of national security (defined to include national commercial advantage). However, NOLEHCE benefits from a different application of the same paradigm. It detects subtle patterns with which enabling messages can be associated to facilitate emergence of higher order knowledge or social structures. Where ECHELON essentially feeds a "toxic" agent into a pattern to destroy, deactivate or denature it -- a "dumbing down" process -- NOLEHCE feeds in appropriate resonance enhancing agents and catalysts. These enable new learning and the communication of more complex memes.
Of course the question with regard to both the Google and the NOLEHCE application, as for ECHELON, is who assesses the validity with which psychosocial systems are "groomed" and "cultivated" in this way? Whether under systems of faith-based or ideological governance, how will these applications be designed to operate and by whom? Who will understand their implications -- effectively as "mega-nanny" programmes of the emergent global brain?
It could be argued that any "global brain" is to be recognized in terms of its enhanced pattern recognition and pattern building capacity.
ECHELON can be understood as one of the systems integral to an emergent "global brain" (Peter Russell, The Global Brain, 1983/2000) as promoted by the Global Brain Group. The world wide web is another, as many have acknowledged -- notably in efforts to promote a recognition of some form of "planetary consciousness" (cf Ervin Laszlo, Planetary Consciousness: Our next Evolutionary Step. Cybernetics and Human Knowing: A Journal of Second Order Cybernetics and Cyber-Semiotics, 4, 4, 1997).
The challenge to reflection on the significance of such emergent processes for representing and processing knowledge is the degree to which such "modules" complement each other fruitfully or compete with each other dysfunctionally, even pathologically (Simulating a Global Brain using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values, 2001). For some, ECHELON might well be understood as a "tumour" on the global brain. Of course, for supporters of ECHELON, any effort to promote the processes that might be empowered by NOLEHCE is effectively facilitating a form of psychosocial "cancer" -- enabling "metastasis" (otherwise characteristic of malignant tumour cells).
Institutionally at the present time, the dysfunctional transformational dynamics between ECHELON and NOLEHCE is suggestively embodied in the relationship between "Davos" and "Porto Alegre" (cf All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic discord through polyphony? 2007)
Curiously both ECHELON and NOLEHCE share a common pattern that is given operational expression in quite different ways:
Curiously ECHELON and NOLEHCE can also be fruitfully contrasted in the psycho-cognitive and spiritual terms more central to the emergent patterns of faith-based governance that have sustained ECHELON in a lasting spirit of "Gott Mit Uns". Thus:
There is a curious degree of "metaphysical" symmetry to the relation between the ECHELON and NOLEHCE:
This essential emptiness is curiously echoed in both cases by an essential structural feature of the geodesic dome discussed above. Such a dome is valued because of the "emptiness" of the centre. Within a NOLEHCE framework, in terms of some mystical traditions, notably Christian, this emptiness is associated with "unknowing" (cf The Cloud of Unknowing). It is otherwise associated with the challenge of unlearning. In Eastern traditions two-dimensional graphic symbols (mandalas or yantras), echo the emptiness at the centre of a geodesic structure. The central significance and "usefulness" of NOLEHCE is, for example, exemplified by the following much-cited quote:
Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub; It is the centre hole that makes
As a focus of aspiration of humanity, ECHELON and NOLEHCE offer distorted images of another characteristic:
As noted earlier, the term "echelon" is strongly associated with social hierarchy and a sense of rank. The contrast with NOLEHCE implies other distinctions relevant to economic and social development and the use of resources:
The term "cognitive fusion" is used in military research to describe the process whereby a wide variety and quantity of information must be brought together, integrated and presented comprehensibly to a fighter pilot needing to make instant decisions. This may be seen as a very adequate metaphor of the challenge of global governance as it might be supported by information systems.
At this point is it unclear whether ECHELON can do any more than support the default destructive options open to governance framed as being in a defensive posture -- under attack on many fronts. That such threats may have been fabricated to some degree as a means of mobilizing support is a matter of speculation (Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism; strategy of choice for world governance, 2002). The fact is the inability to respond effectively to current crises, whether real or imagined.
NOLEHCE offers an alternative strategic option to the configuration of information for all, as explored elsewhere (Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor: Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8). 2006).
ECHELON and NOLEHCE share different variants of a knowledge processing challenge related to any cognitive "fusion" process:
Proponents of both ECHELON and NOHELCE are therefore variously trapped by the challenges of processing "negative" and "positive" information in order to engender and sustain effective responses -- despite vulnerability to premature closure (Being Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative, 2005).
It is of course the tension associated with the focus of ECHELON that renders it vulnerable to any trigger for its conversion, inversion, or transformation into NOLEHCE. The challenge for supporters of faith-based governance in their support of ECHELON is their implicit lack of faith -- a profound form of "infidelity" to the coherent dynamics of the whole, translated through ECHELON into obsession over total control of the parts. Ironically ECHELON is an exemplification of the faithlessness of people of faith in denial.
By contrast NOLEHCE exemplifies faith in the whole and the possibilities of giving expression to the patterns through which it can be better comprehended as a basis for coherent collective action.
The transformation from ECHELON to NOLEHCE will therefore take the form of a crisis of faith -- resulting in "conversion" to the alternative strategy. The unforeseen rapidity of such a conversion is exemplified by the rapid transformation of the USSR.
The inexorable approach to the "tipping point", phase transition (perhaps at some form of supersaturation) or singularity is increasingly well documented. For the promoters of "end times" scenarios for governance, it is confused with the process of rapture (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004).
The trigger maybe a combination of events, a "crisis of crises" as foreseen by John Platt (What We Must Do, Science, 166, November 1969). Following the earlier more generic analysis of Jared Diamond (Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005), Thomas Homer-Dixon (The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity and the renewal of civilization, 2007) identifies five "tectonic stresses" that are accumulating deep underneath the surface of today's global order and could individually or collectively constitute such a trigger:
The unpredictable nature of the consequences are well-documented by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007). ECHELON is poorly equipped in terms of the complexity sciences to respond to such a crisis.
Homer-Dixon suggests however that breakdown could open up extraordinary opportunities for creative, bold reform of our societies. As humanity's best hope for a prosperous and humane future, he suggests that, if people are well-prepared, they may be able to exploit less extreme forms of breakdown to achieve deep reform and renewal of institutions, social relations, technologies, and entrenched habits of behavior. It is NOLEHCE which offers the enabling facility for this process.
ECHELON and NOLEHCE may indeed be understood as strangely distorted mirror images of each other -- with any transition from one to the other evoking self-referential issues raised by Douglas Hofstadter (Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, 1980) and in fictional form by Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871).
Aspects of the transition "through the mirror" have been recognized in the literature on "symbolic inversion" (Barbara Babcock, The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society, 1978). Of relevance to any faith-based understanding, Paul A Kruger (Symbolic Inversion in Death: some examples from the Old Testament and the Ancient Near Eastern World, Verbum and Ecclesia, 26, 2005) argues that the phenomenon of a 'topsy-turvy world' (mundus inversus) is widespread in the literatures and cultures of the world, referring to a place where everything is reversed in relation to the normal state of affairs.
Symbolic inversion is a widespread cultural phenomenon, the earliest examples of which can be traced back to the cultures of the ancient Near East. Symbolic inversion (mundus inversus) relates to those forms of expressive behaviour which invert commonly accepted social codes.
It is curious that a form of "symbolic inversion" is one of the transformations fundamental to the cryptography so vital to the secrecy of ECHELON's covert operations. The significance of such inversion has been highlighted by Xavier Sallantin (L'Epreuve de Force, 1975), a military theorist working on the logic of conflictual systems who has provided a valuable analysis of the nature of the domains to which game theory applies (see commentary in Game comprehension and identity transformation of Development through Alternation, 1983). In a study of mathematical epistemology he illustrates the issue by the simple example of the need for prior agreement before the referee tosses the coin between the captains at the opening of a competitive event -- agreement on how to signal agreement or disagreement (yes or no). His insight proved vital to this writer facing recovery from a computer system crash when months of carefully backed up data appeared meaninglessly scrambled -- a poorly tested new interface card had simply inverted bit values (0 for 1).
Aspects of an inversion process are differently evident within ECHELON and NOLEHCE:
Kruger cites Babcock's characterization of symbolic inversion:
Symbolic inversion may be broadly defined as any act of expressive behavior which inverts, contradicts, abrogates, or in some fashion presents an alternative to commonly held cultural codes, values, and norms be they linguistic, literary or artistic, religious, or social and political.
He clarifies the implications for any engagement with "the other". So, for instance, certain groups could construct their idea of "other" groups through the strategy of "symbolic inversion". The "we" (one's own group) are accordingly endowed with every aspect that can be deemed as "cultivated", whilst the "other" is described in terms of direct opposite qualities.
By focusing on the relationship between life and death, Kruger highlights the nature of the symbolic "death" associated with this inversion -- which may here be usefully associated with the strategic transition from the mindset of ECHELON to that of NOLEHCE. Cognitively the transition may also be related to the perceptual multistability of the "figure-ground" transition that has been highlighted by Gestalt psychology.
A somewhat analogous relationship was explored in a novel by Samuel Butler (Erewhon, 1872) regarding a utopia contrasting with conventional European society. Within a NOLEHCE framework, rather than Butler's distorted spatially-oriented derivation of "nowhere" -- the challenge might be better understood in temporal terms as one of "now here". This is consistent with the increasing importance attached to the special reality of the present moment (cf Presenting the Future: an alternative to dependence on human sacrifice through global pyramid selling schemes, 2001).
For the secretive supporters of ECHELON, their need for total control is readily comprehensible. In an open society it is easy to understand how repugnant this may be to others in whose name such covert initiatives are taken without consultation or democratic oversight. Such misleadership is discussed elsewhere (Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? 2007). It is currently exemplified by plans to force through a "non-constitutional" European treaty containing over 90% of the previously rejected "constitutional treaty" -- without any promised referendum.
Ironically, given the concerns exhibited at the European institutional level by ECHELON, many of the concerned European governments are acknowledged to have been complicit in the process of "extraordinary rendition" in service to the information gathering capacity of ECHELON. Many have also been complicit in NATO's covert Operation Gladio. It is in this sense that ECHELON might be associated symbolically with the "heart of darkness" of democracy.
NOLEHCE would indeed be a valuable corrective to ECHELON. However there is the curious phenomenon that leadership seems to necessitate an element of strategic bluff to be successful. There is indeed a necessary element of "misleadership" in leadership -- even of the most admirable kind.
However, curiously enough, it is to be expected that a larger picture calls for an understanding of the "seed" of NOLEHCE in ECHELON -- and for the seed of ECHELON in NOLEHCE:
These opposing strategic approaches are indeed complementary processes in paradoxical ways for which new understanding is required (cf Snoring of The Other: a politically relevant psycho-spiritual metaphor? 2006). Symbolically their relationship might be fruitfully understood in terms of ECHELON as supportive of a martial "blade", with NOLEHCE as "chalice" -- in accordance with the framing offered by cultural historian Riane Eisler (The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future, 1987). She notably coined the term "domination culture" to describe a system of top-down rankings (characteristic of the ECHELON mindset) ultimately backed up by fear or force, noting that one of the core components of this system of authoritarian rule in both the family and the state is the subordination of women. Such a framing fruitfully associates the NOLEHCE mindset with a womb-like psychocultural role potentially essential to recognition of any new Renaissance (cf Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007).
Both ECHELON and NOLEHCE are effectively trapped in an autopoietic process -- of their own making. It is their complementarity which evokes the larger process of enantiodromia which ensures the continuity through the hubris of the disorientation associated with the transition between them (Psychosocial Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia, 2007). They both offer contexts for learning.
Barbara Babcock (Ed.). The Reversible World: symbolic inversion in art and society. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1978 [review]
Stafford Beer. Beyond Dispute: the invention of team synegrity. Wiley, 1994
R. Chartier. The World Turned Upside-down. In: R Chartier (Ed.), Cultural History. Between Practices and Representations. Blackwell, 1988, pp. 115-126.
Jared Diamond. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Viking Books, 2005
Riane Eisler. The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future. Harper and Row, 1987
Thomas Homer-Dixon. The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity and the renewal of civilization. Knopf, 2007
Anthony Judge, Nadia McLaren, Joel Fischer and Tomas Fulopp. Simulating a Global Brain using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values. 2001 [text]
Paul A Kruger. Symbolic Inversion in Death: some examples from the Old Testament and the Ancient Near Eastern World. Verbum and Ecclesia, 26, 2005, 2, pp. 398-411 [text]
Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York, Random House, 2007
Steve Wright. The ECHELON Trail: an Illegal Vision. Surveillance and Society, 3, 2005, 2/3, pp. 198-215 ('Doing Surveillance Studies': Methodology Issue) [text]
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