Middle East Spy Hub in Oman. British national telco BT, referred to within GCHQ and the American NSA under the ultra-classified codename “REMEDY”, and Vodafone Cable (which owns the former Cable & Wireless company, aka “GERONTIC”) are the two top earners of secret GCHQ payments running into tens of millions of pounds annually.
The Seeb spy base.
The actual locations of such codenamed “access points” into the worldwide cable backbone are classified 3 levels above Top Secret and labelled “Strap 3”. The true identities of the companies hidden behind codenames such as “REMEDY”, “GERONTIC”, “STREETCAR” or “PINNAGE” are classified one level below this, at “Strap 2”.
The intelligence agency annually pays selected companies tens of millions of pounds to run.
Secret teams which install hidden connections which copy customers’ data and messages to the spooks’ processing centres. The GCHQ-contracted companies also install optical fibre taps or “probes” into equipment belonging to other companies without their knowledge or consent. Within GCHQ, each company has a special section called a “Sensitive Relationship Team” or SRT.
BT and Vodafone/C&W also operate extensive long distance optical fibre communications networks throughout the UK, installed and paid for by GCHQ, NSA, or by a third and little known UK intelligence support organization called the National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC).
Every time GCHQ wanted to tap a new international optical fibre cable, engineers from “REMEDY” (BT) would usually be called in to plan where the taps or “probe” would physically be connected to incoming optical fibre cables, and to agree how much BT should be paid. The spooks’ secret UK access network feeds Internet data from more than 18 submarine cables coming into different parts of Britain either direct to GCHQ in Cheltenham or to its remote processing station at Bude in Cornwall.
Among the cables specifically identified in one document as currently being intercepted or “on cover” are an Irish connection, Hibernia Atlantic, landing in Southport, and three European connections landing at Yarmouth, Dover, and Brighton.
The majority of large cables come ashore in Cornwall, and have been connected directly to Bude. These include major connections such as FLAG (Fibre optic Link Around the Globe), two of whose cables have been intercepted. Because the FLAG interceptions had to be kept secret from the cables’ owners, one report states, the tapping connections were installed in an undisclosed UK location and “backhauled” to Bude, in the technical language of the communications industry.
Although GCHQ interception of overseas communications can be authorised by a general “external” tapping warrant, the wording of the law does not permit storage of every communication for examination, as GCHQ wished to do. In 2009, the spooks persuaded then Foreign Secretary David Miliband to sign a new warrant legalising what they wished to do. The terms of such warrants have never been published.
The special “external” warrants, issued under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), authorise the interception of all communications on specified international links. Miliband’s first 2009 warrant for TEMPORA authorised GCHQ to collect information about the “political intentions of foreign powers”, terrorism, proliferation, mercenaries and private military companies, and serious financial fraud.
Certificates attached to external interception warrants are re-issued every six months, and can be changed by ministers at will. GCHQ officials are then free to target anyone who is overseas or communicating from overseas without further checks or controls, if they think they fall within the terms of a current certificate.
The secret overseas internet monitoring centre, codenamed CIRCUIT, is at Seeb in the state of Oman. It is the latest of a series of secret collaborations with the autocratic Middle Eastern state, which has been ruled for 44 years by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, installed as head of state in a British-led and SAS-supported coup against his father. The Seeb centre was originally built in collaboration with the Omani government to monitor civil communications satellites orbiting above the Middle East. It has six large satellite dishes, forming part of the well-known and long running “ECHELON” intercept system run by the “Five Eyes” English-speaking (US/UK/Australia/Canada/New Zealand) intelligence agencies.
When GCHQ obtained government approval in 2009 to go ahead with its “Mastering the Internet” project, the Seeb base became the first of its global network of Internet tapping locations. Another centre, OPC-2, has been planned, according to documents leaked by Snowden.
The CIRCUIT installation at Seeb is regarded as particularly valuable by the British and Americans because it has direct access to nine submarine cables passing through the Gulf and entering the Red Sea. All of the messages and data passed back and forth on the cables is copied into giant computer storage “buffers”, and then sifted for data of special interest.
Information about Project TEMPORA and the Seeb facility was contained in 58,000 GCHQ documents which Snowden downloaded during 2012. Many of them came from an internal Wikipedia style information site called GC-Wiki. GCHQ feared the political consequences of revelations about its spying partners other than the United States and English speaking nations, according to knowledgeable sources.
Although information about the monitoring station at Seeb in its older ECHELON role has been available on the public Internet for several years, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood was determined to prevent its new importance and cost becoming known.
It was this which lay behind the British government’s successful until efforts to silence the Guardian and the rest of the media on the ultra-classified, beyond Top Secret specifics of Project TEMPORA – the places and names behind the codewords CIRCUIT, TIMPANI, CLARINET, REMEDY and GERONTIC.
RESET THE NET
It’s a year since the name Edward Snowden became world famous and a year since we learned that the USA’s National Security Agency has infiltrated the internet In the time since then, the internet population has tried a variety of treatments to rid itself of thedeep-rooted infection.At the very height of the scandal, the US congress opted to ignore the problem and, in the political equivalent of avoiding the doctor to shield themselves from bad news, declined to limit the NSA’s data collection.
Vitally important projects like LibreSSL and the Open Crypto Audit have emerged to protect the integrity of the internet’s immune system – the strength and vitality of its cryptography – from lethargy and neglect.
Of course, work of those projects can only protect us if we make data encryption a regular part of our own daily lives.
That last part, using and demanding encryption in our daily lives, is where Reset The Net comes in.
5 June 2014 is Reset The Net, a day to take back our privacy by using strong encryption whenever and wherever we can and insisting that the organisations we rely upon do so too. The Reset The Net pledge reads:
On June 5, I will take strong steps to protect my freedom from government mass surveillance. I expect the services I use to do the same.
Reset the Net isn’t the first attempt to organise a day of taking back our privacy.
Highly organised government surveillance will not be challenged by the most dilute form of modern technical homeopathy, changing our Facebook and Twitter avatars.
Less sedentary protesters were urged to contact their congressmen but changing the law in the USA will never be the answer for at least 96% of us.
I was also convinced that we should broaden our horizons and assume that countries other than the USA are tapping and spying on internet traffic.
The post-Snowden media conversation has been almost exclusively focused on what the NSA is doing (or, more correctly, what one man knew about what the NSA was doing around 2008, the era of Windows Vista).
It’s the only evidence we have, so it’s treated like the only evidence that exists but, as Carl Sagan reminded us:
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!
We would be fools to assume that stopping the NSA and safeguarding our privacy are the same thing.
One way to really Fight Back, would be by adopting or contributing to projects that improve our use of encryption.
You can join in by looking at the Reset The Net Privacy Pack, a handy list of everyday software that uses encryption, and ways to turn on the encryption you already have.
TEMPORA Telecom Partners (BT, Verizon Business, Vodafone Cable, Global Crossing, Level 3, Viatel, Interoute)
August 2, 2013
Snowden revealed names of spying telecom companies (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
CODENAMES FOR GCHQ TELECOM PARTNERS: REMEDY (BT); DACRON (Verizon Business), GERONTIC (Vodafone Cable); PINNAGE (Global Crossing); LITTLE (Level 3); VITREOUS (Viatel); STREETCAR (Interoute)
Sources: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/06/03/revealed_beyond_top_secret_british_intelligence_middleeast_internet_spy_base?page=2 , http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2014/06/05/fight-internet-surveillance-reset-the-net/?utm_content=buffer0d0ac&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer