Anyone been watching Alias recently? The spy thriller series about Sydney Bristow, a double agent for both the CIA and the rather more dubious SD-6? I've just been watching a whole bunch of them, but anyway, I digress.

In one episode, entitled "A Higher Echelon", a highly advanced surveillance system called Echelon becomes the focus of the balance of power. You know, all that sort of stuff that spies have to worry about. Even pretty ones like Jennifer Garner.

Well, whoever writes Alias must be doing at least some homework, because it appears that Echelon is a real life electronic surveillance network, which was recently used in the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

"Echelon reportedly monitors phone numbers and voices, then uses satellite triangulation to locate the user. The Swiss justice ministry has confirmed reports that the September 11 hijackers used pre-paid Swiss cellular phones, not registered in any name and thus hard to trace, in preparing the attack."

A very good read here will give you a quick run down on the story, and an little explanation of this computerised system.

There's more on Echelon here, and especially here. Its quite shocking what sort of uses technology can be put to, particularly in the area of intelligence gathering.