As Kroft noted, the system was extremely powerful: "in the process, Echelon’s computers capture virtually every electronic conversation around the world." Worse yet, Insight Magazine learned in 1997 that the Clinton Administration used NSA surveillance for political purposes.
Although I keep using the past tense, there is no evidence that the Echelon program has been disbanded.
The New York Times reaction to Echelon in May 1999?
The Times actually defended the existence of Echelon when it reported on the program following the Australians’ revelations.
“Few dispute the necessity of a system like Echelon to apprehend foreign spies, drug traffickers and terrorists….”
And the Times article quoted an N.S.A. official in assuring readers
“...that all Agency activities are conducted in accordance with the highest constitutional, legal and ethical standards.”
* * *
Even so, the article did admit that
“...many are concerned that the system could be abused to collect economic and political information.”
Ultimately, the Times opined in FAVOR of NSA surveillance on foreign enemies' activities in the US. What a difference a President makes, as Tate summarizes:
So, during the Clinton Administration, evidence existed (all of the information used in this article was available at the time) that:
-an invasive, extensive domestic eavesdropping program was aimed at every U.S. citizen;
-intelligence agencies were using allies to circumvent constitutional restrictions;
-and the administration was selling at least some secret intelligence for political donations.
These revelations were met by the New York Times and others in the mainstream media by the sound of one hand clapping. Now, reports that the Bush Administration approved electronic eavesdropping, strictly limited to international communications, of a relative handful of suspected terrorists have created a media frenzy in the Times and elsewhere.