Who Are the Five Eyes?

The current era of mass surveillance being conducted by states dates back to the end of World War II.

Martin Barakov
The Startup
Published in
6 min readJun 15, 2020


After the leaks from the National Security Agency (NSA) back in 2013, a prominent conversation and point of discussion arose that featured the NSA, but was not limited to the American signals intelligence organization alone.


Towards the end of World War II, the United Kingdom and the United States coordinated their intelligence efforts, and more specifically, the establishment of the UKUSA Agreement between the NSA and the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

The alliance was largely rooted in the active collection and subsequent possession of intelligence dealing with countries like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and various other socialist Eastern European countries.

The two organizations did cooperate regarding the aforementioned states and geopolitical locations, but they also “clashed over foreign policy and did not share much signals intelligence” when it came to other locations such as the Middle East.

The alliance later expanded to feature Canada in 1948, Australia in 1956, and New Zealand also in 1956, forming what is now referred to as the ‘Five Eyes’. In addition to the Five Eyes, Norway, Denmark and West Germany also joined the alliance as so-called “third-parties” in the 1950s. With the addition of the Netherlands and France, the establishment of the so-called ‘Nine Eyes’ also became a standard talking point when discussing government surveillance.

Cold War Surveillance and Beyond:

The construction of ECHELON was arguably the largest and most important project for the Five Eyes as it was initially designed to monitor the military and diplomatic cables that ran throughout the Eastern Bloc. However, after the end of the Cold War, concerns began to be raised surrounding ECHELON and its usage for industrial espionage and the tracking of both private and commercial communications.