Latest Leak: UK Spies Tap Internet Cables, Collect Nearly Everything With Little Oversight, Then Shares It With NSA

from the and-another-thing dept

Another day, another leak released from the Ed Snowden files. The latest: evidence that the UK’s equivalent of the NSA is tapping into fiber optic cables to hoover up all sorts of internet data, similar to the NSA. The UK group, GCHQ, literally has called these program: “Mastering the Internet (MTI)” and “Global Telecoms Exploitation (GTE).” They’re not much for nuance or code names across the pond, I guess. Apparently, they’re collecting a ton of data:

By 2010, two years after the project was first trialled, it was able to boast it had the “biggest internet access” of any member of the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

UK officials could also claim GCHQ “produces larger amounts of metadata than NSA”. (Metadata describes basic information on who has been contacting whom, without detailing the content.)

And, GCHQ and the NSA are teaming up to go through it all:

By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data.

But that’s not all who have access to the data. The article claims 850,000 NSA employees and contractors with top secret clearance can access the GCHQ database. The report also notes that the UK spooks admit that they “have a light oversight regime compared with the US.” Considering how light US oversight already is… In the US, there are those very weak minimization rules. In the UK, the analysts (including the American analysts working on the data) are told “it’s your call.”

The close releationship between GCHQ and the NSA is pretty clear. NSA boss Keith Alexander apparently visited the NSA’s own Menwith Hill intercept station in the UK a few years ago and said: “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time? Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith.”

The details in the report suggest that the data collection here is on a fairly epic scale. When discussing revealing how many people have had their data scooped up under the program, GCHQ’s lawyers apparently said “this would be an infinite list which we couldn’t manage.” Think about that for a second.

As for how GCHQ is tapping directly into fiber optic cables? Apparently, they keep that under much tighter wraps than they do the information they’re collecting on everyone:

This was done under secret agreements with commercial companies, described in one document as “intercept partners”.

The papers seen by the Guardian suggest some companies have been paid for the cost of their co-operation and GCHQ went to great lengths to keep their names secret. They were assigned “sensitive relationship teams” and staff were urged in one internal guidance paper to disguise the origin of “special source” material in their reports for fear that the role of the companies as intercept partners would cause “high-level political fallout”.

The source with knowledge of intelligence said on Friday the companies were obliged to co-operate in this operation. They are forbidden from revealing the existence of warrants compelling them to allow GCHQ access to the cables.

The tapping is done on transatlantic cables. If you want a sense of just who’s likely to be playing along, why not check out this amazing interactive map of all 244 submarine cables around the globe. You can look up the names of the various cables to see who owns them, and you can pretty quickly get a fairly good sense of the companies who are likely “intercept partners.” Here’s a snippet…

Yet again, it appears that all the assurances that the NSA and the government have been giving us are not fully forthcoming about the extent of surveillance operations and what the NSA has access to. The NSA claims it gets rid of US persons from its own data, but says nothing about US persons’ data collected by this data in the UK. And while the UK claims that it gets rid of UK data (though, with little oversight), assuming the NSA provides similar access back… that’s all kind of meaningless, isn’t it?

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Comments on “Latest Leak: UK Spies Tap Internet Cables, Collect Nearly Everything With Little Oversight, Then Shares It With NSA”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Sure they can: reason it out.

Some of this data has considerable value on the black market — to certain governments, to politicians, to CEOs, to bankers, to blackmailers, to extortionists, to anyone and everyone who’d like to get their hands on it.

There are very large number of people with access to it.

Therefore, since there are buyers, there are sellers. There’s absolutely no doubt that some of this data is being carefully collected and packaged and sold under the table. Why not? The targets are unlikely to find out about it. Provided the sellers aren’t idiots, they won’t be caught. And the buyers have no reason to tell anyone about it, ever.

“worst case”? Oh heck no. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The evil goes much, much deeper.

Ben (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Tapping directly into the infrastructure has got to be illegal.

The EU won’t like this.

It’s not illegal with the right warrants… and the power/authority to say “and keep this secret!” (like that ever works). Even if it is illegal, when nobody knows about it, they can’t object.

I think there are very few groups that “like this”; the EU will just be one of the bigger ones to object (if/when they do).

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

These stories are great but really...

Who with an even minimum amount of knowledge of the world was unaware that all this was going on. Sure not the details and not confirmed knowledge but we all knew it was happening.

And who is going to stop it? No one. It is like the internet if you delete the file from one place it will pop back up in a dozen more.

So we kill these programs and they just create new ones under different names and do a better job of hiding them.

Anonymous Coward says:

it is just further, damning proof that the UK government is just as big a fucking liar as the USA government. it also proves that it has no respect for anyone’s privacy or freedom. i must admit that although i expected something like this, i didn’t think the UK would be up there with or even above the USA. if these various governments are so scared of someone/gang going to do something without any prior knowledge being given or being found out, why dont they just go and live together on an island somewhere, leaving those of us that dont have this persecution feeling, or this ultimate, impending doom hanging round our necks live in peace or whatever we leave ourselves with? the feeling i have at this moment is one of abject horror because i dont know who is worse, the ones somewhere across the globe i keep being told are trying to take away my way of life, my freedom and privacy or the ones on my doorstep that are supposed to be on my side, but are actually doing exactly the same thing? stay in your own country and have your own government or one of it’s ‘allies’ fuck you over, stay in your own country and have another country’s government do the same thing or take a chance and move, only to find the fucking lot are at it!! God Almighty, what has happened to this world in which we live? what a predicament!!

Anonymous Coward says:

‘The NSA claims it gets rid of US persons from its own data, but says nothing about US persons’ data collected by this data in the UK. And while the UK claims that it gets rid of UK data (though, with little oversight), assuming the NSA provides similar access back… that’s all kind of meaningless, isn’t it?’

i said this yesterday and no one listened! everyone is being spied on and everyone’s data collected by one country is being shared with every other country. i suppose the only thing you can say is that there is no favoritism!! each person is as equally fucked as the next one!!

Rapnel (profile) says:

It would seem our governments have done a most admirable job of protecting themselves.

They’ve ensured that there will never be another revolution in the “free” world.

Dopplegangers. Blue pills. Red pills. Vendettas.

“..That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..”

I do not concede.

Anonymous Coward says:

As time goes by my shoes go bad.
Since I have high arches most sinkers are horrible to ware; they heart my feet but the cheap ones at Sears do very fine.
Off to Sears for new pair.
Payment time.
I offer my debit card, I get my picture taken, my photo is taken, and the new security code entering device then proceeds to take my finger print.
All of which I am sure was furnished directly or indirectly, voluntary or involuntary by Sears to the NSA.

Since when do merchants take your picture and fingerprints to buy their product?

That I do not know but what I do know is that it will be a very long time before I go to such a store as Sears again.

Kara (profile) says:

The 850,000 NSA employee number needs to be evaluated

I couldn’t find an email address to use, so this will be a long comment.

“The article claims 850,000 NSA employees and contractors with top secret clearance can access the GCHQ database.”

This is not correct. I sent an email to the Guardian and I posted in their comment section, however no one seems to care. I would love it if someone would actually research this and correct it.

According to the on June 6th, 2013 the NSA had 100,000 employees.

According to the Report on Security Clearance Determinations January 2013 the total amount of people in the US who have top-secret clearance is 1,409,969. 791,200 come from the government.

Kara (profile) says:

Re: Re: The 850,000 NSA employee number needs to be evaluated

I posted a document that stated exactly how many people had clearance (all types of clearances) in the US.

Out of 1,409,969 people who have top secret classification 791,200 were government employees. 483,263 were contractors. 135,506 were other (defined as not either government or contractors).

This is the total population that has top secret classification, not just for intelligence purposes. The NSA is not the only agency or department in the government that uses people who have top secret classification.


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