back to article Revealed: GCHQ's beyond top secret Middle Eastern internet spy base

Above-top-secret details of Britain’s covert surveillance programme - including the location of a clandestine British base tapping undersea cables in the Middle East - have so far remained secret, despite being leaked by fugitive NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden. Government pressure has meant that some media organisations, despite …

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    1. asiaseen

      Re: Britain's got secrets

      "...At what level are things really kept secret?"

      At a national level "Eyes only" - meaning UK eyes only - is close to the top but I believe there more above that.

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So the spooks can monitor international fibre.. and they have to have a warrant? and they are not allowed to store every communication? sounds reasonable powers to me...

    Oh, but David Miliband basically gave the carte blanche to do what they want?

    I am perfectly happy with the capability to exist for monitoring, as long as there are courts in place that decide whether a 'tap' is valid!

    1. kraut

      One of the many points is that thanks to #Labour's authoritarian #RIPA, no judicial oversight is required.

      Magna Carta? She died in vain.

      Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband - they essentially gave any "authorised person" (Senior Scotland Yard Counter-Terrorism officer, Senior Police Officer, Local Authority Dog Muck Warden!) - the legal right to snoop on all your electronic communication.

      Without

      so

      much

      as

      the

      mention

      of

      any

      legal

      f*cking

      process

      Not

      even

      a

      tame

      judge,

      Nope.

      You read that right.

      No

      Legal

      Oversight

      Whatsoever.

      So wake up. There is *NO* judicial oversight as to whether a "tap" is valid. Labour essentially passed an enablement act that means whatever *any* authority taps into is legal.

      Didn't complain at the time? Voted Labour? Gee, you only have yourself to blame.

      Oh, if you really want to get into the infamy of #RIPA - see what happens with encryption keys..and if you were to disclose that you had to hand them over. I'm sure the money launderers and terrorists are quaking in their boots, while civil society and democracy (and online security) won't be affected at all.

      1. Roj Blake

        "Magna Carta? She died in vain."

        That brave Hungarian peasant girl who forced King John to sign the pledge at Runnymede and close the boozers at half past ten.

  2. EvanPyle

    I'm getting stuck on the code names trying to figure out if they form some kind of joke.

    1. Psyx

      "I'm getting stuck on the code names trying to figure out if they form some kind of joke."

      No, because they're randomly assigned.

      Only absolute idiots give projects code-names which are a hint at the intention, or puns. If you call your listening project 'big ear', it's a bit of a give-away.

      1. JimmyPage

        NOT "random"

        When GW Bush inserted his foot into his mouth by originally calling operation "Enduring Freedom" "Crusade", there was a lively discussion in the UK media about how operational codenames are assigned. Someone from the MOD said that whilst there should be no connection between a codename and the nature of the operation, names were vetted so that in the event of the operation going wrong, there could be no unintentional humour attached to the operation. They also try to avoid incremental alphabetical codenames (cf hurricane naming) as that could tip of the enemy about the scale or pace of operations.

        1. Psyx

          Re: NOT "random"

          Random, then vetted, if we're splitting hairs.

          Although the US has been known to use a bit of marketing in the case of more widely known codewords and operational names in order to sex them up for the public.

      2. Bloakey1

        <snip>

        "Only absolute idiots give projects code-names which are a hint at the intention, or puns. If you call your listening project 'big ear', it's a bit of a give-away."

        Agreed. No one would ever use names like Operation Desert Storm, Operation Crescent Wind or Operation Rolling Thunder to name but a few.

        1. Psyx
          FAIL

          "Agreed. No one would ever use names like Operation Desert Storm, Operation Crescent Wind or Operation Rolling Thunder to name but a few."

          If you bothered to keep reading, you'll note:

          "Although the US has been known to use a bit of marketing in the case of more widely known codewords and operational names in order to sex them up for the public."

          Additionally, operational names are not the same thing as code names. You're trying to be clever while comparing apples and oranges.

          btw, UK Forces didn't use 'Op Desert Shield/Storm', we used 'Operation Granby'.

          1. Bloakey1

            "If you bothered to keep reading, you'll note:"

            <snip>

            I did old chap but I thought that your caveat did not do ample justice to the stunningly obvious names that the merkins give to things.

            On a more interesting note Lewis will have signed the OSA a few times as have I. As a Marine he can probably claim insanity but if he had been a para then the case would have been more clear cut.

            1. That Lewis Page (Written by Reg staff)

              Marine!? Splutter

              How dare you sir. Actually I was RN (clearance diver by trade, insert your comment on relative insanity vis-a-vis paras, bootnecks etc here). But I did have the fulfilling experience of doing the all-arms course at one point, complete with fluffy bunny murder.

              1. Bloakey1

                Re: Marine!? Splutter

                "How dare you sir"

                <snip>

                Ahhh, I do apologise as I did not know you were a member of the golden rivet club. I for my sins was a cheese eating surrender monkey, cough, err, I mean a Legionnaire and prior to that a British SF signaller. Did a bit of clearance and beach recon using Draegers etc. Now I am a plastic Paddy with a PADI licence, so I am licensed to trill. Did a few degrees on leaving so am now edumacated in I.T. and Info Sec.

                Death to all bunnies as we know they are enemies of the one true faith and must be exterminated root and branch.

  3. Knoydart
    Black Helicopters

    Black helicopters galore

    Well if you guys didn't have your card marked before today, the black helicopters will be circling vulture central shortly. The revelations are not surprising sadly, but the scale of commercial tie in is impressive. To build a facility or two does not coffee cheap, so the uk tax payer hopefully will get some decent return on their investment cough cough. I wonder if gchq gets a good discount at the local b&b in Bude when they go to check on their installation?

    1. Peter Simpson 1
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Black helicopters galore

      Heh. Old news in the US:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_641A

  4. dan1980

    Hi guys - any insight into why you decided to publish this?

    1. That Lewis Page (Written by Reg staff)

      Why did we publish this?

      The government have made it plain that in their view not only foreign powers (ie probably Russia and others) have full access to the Snowden leaks, but quite possibly "non state actors" also. In other words the only people who don't know this are the general public.

      And given the colossal automated penetration that NSA/GCHQ are achieving worldwide without anybody being much the wiser, it seemed to us that the public should know - as there's no further intelligence hit for UK.gov to take, by its own analysis.

      1. dan1980

        Re: Why did we publish this?

        Thanks Lewis - I appreciate the response.

        What a surprise that 'we the people' (substitute local equivalent) are the last to know about all this.

        1. Roo

          Re: Why did we publish this?

          "What a surprise that 'we the people' (substitute local equivalent) are the last to know about all this."

          If you have a relative that takes the Official Secrets Act seriously this will be business as usual. I found out more about what my Grandfather got up to at his funeral than he let on in the ~18 years I knew him. :)

          1. glen waverley
            Black Helicopters

            Re: Why did we publish this?

            And what did your grandfather get up to at his funeral?

            Seriously, have to agree with (the meaning of) yr comment. I found out some things that my late da did in ww2 at his brothers funeral. Which was in 2009, 50 yrs after dad's funeral.

            1. Sir Runcible Spoon

              Re: Why did we publish this?

              I'm actually more interested in the steps the Gov. took to keep this information out of the public eye - were they legal? Is the media complicit by responding to a 'we'd rather you didn't let on old chap' message?

        2. Paul_Murphy

          Re: Why did we publish this?

          And of course we are the ones paying for it.

      2. Omniaural

        Re: Why did we publish this?

        If I'm honest, I'd rather know about these things than not, but I'm unsure of the value of being so specific in locating the installation.

        I want to put the brakes on this whole blanket surveillance program as much as most people on El Reg, however, this is could be a step too far.

        I don't think it puts the installation in danger, as such, if it is indeed based within a 'friendly' country, but what about that country's standing in the local region now that it is known to be collaborating in spying on them on behalf of western powers?

        It may prompt Oman to publicly cut ties and force the base to close?

        One thing is for sure, I really hope this is picked up on in the mainstream and properly debated, but somehow doubt it will be allowed.

        You've done a brave thing El Reg, I just hope it doesn't backfire!

        1. asiaseen

          Re: Why did we publish this?

          "It may prompt Oman to publicly cut ties and force the base to close?"

          Unlikely, the ties go very deep particularly with the UK - and even the US (recall the abortion of the Teheran hostages rescue was mounted from Oman). BT has been well established since at least the mid-1980s to my knowledge. MI6 used to run the euphemistically-named Oman Research Department and probably still does.

      3. Gordon 10 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Why did we publish this?

        Bravo Lewis - lets hope that escape and evasion training isnt needed...... (did you do that in the bomb squad?)

        Congrats on the size of yours and Duncans cojones.

        1. That Lewis Page (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: Why did we publish this?

          Never did proper E&E complete with resistance-to-interrogation training, no, but we did get a cut down version of it on the commando course. Hopefully not super useful in this situation: the main thing I can remember is the procedure for making a tasty dinner out of a live rabbit.

          1. Psyx

            Re: Why did we publish this?

            No happy memories of Parachute Regiment search teams putting the boot in a bit on the way to interrogation, then?

          2. Bloakey1

            Re: Why did we publish this?

            Lewis page wrote:

            <snip>

            Well done that man. I did my E and E in Mont Louis, with a particularly fine wine, a hint of garlic and a green beret that dropped to the left and not the right.

            Should you need to do an impression of Jason Bourne I have a secret HQ in the sun where you could pull up a sandbag and swing a lamp. They are currently digging up some wasteland not a million miles away ;)

          3. Mr Anonymous

            Re: Why did we publish this?

            "I can remember is the procedure for making a tasty dinner out of a live rabbit."

            I find it tastier when dead, preferably in a pot with veg and wine, oh, and more wine on the side.

          4. Blitheringeejit
            Coat

            re: E&E

            > the main thing I can remember is the procedure for making a tasty dinner out of a live rabbit.

            One hopes that this process began with putting the dear little bunny out of its misery? Or does this recipe come from the Ozzy Osbourne guide to bush tucker?

            (OK, OK, I know he never really did the bat thing. Coat...)

        2. Dan 55 Silver badge
          Alert

          Re: Why did we publish this?

          Well done.

          Unfortunately you do realise that you'll be forced to use Windows 8 as punishment for stepping out of line. You might have your asset management life cycle forcibly cut short. The Guardian had the heavies coming round and smashing up computers for publishing less.

      4. dogged

        Re: Why did we publish this?

        > The government have made it plain that in their view not only foreign powers (ie probably Russia and others) have full access to the Snowden leaks, but quite possibly "non state actors" also.

        Presumably everyone who routinely reads Glen Greenwald's email knows so that's China, Russia, France and probably Syria for starters. ECHELON nations already presumably already knew, barring bureaucratic buggerups.

    2. OrsonX
      Alert

      September 11, 2001

      El Reg, you were wrong to publish this and I am one, of seemingly a minority here, that think Edward Snowden is a traitor.

      For me the only justification needed for any of this is September 11, 2001. Do you remember what happened or have you forgotten already?

      Things are secret for a reason. GCHQ doesn't care about your sexts or e-mails to your mistress, they are not looking for you.

      But they are looking for a few people, and you have just helped them.

      1. Robin Bradshaw

        Re: September 11, 2001

        @OrsonX Actually GCHQ do care about your sexts:

        http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/02/27/gchq_optic_nerve/

      2. Snapper
        Black Helicopters

        Re: September 11, 2001

        Dear OrsonX

        Considering the overwhelming amount of scientific, architectural and video evidence supporting the contrary view of who was responsible, perhaps you might like to review who had most to gain by instigating the 'War On Terror', and how that has affected the life of everyone on the planet in the last 13 years.

        War is good for big business.

        Wasn't the first, and certainly won't be the last time the puppet masters yanked a few strings.

        Historical fact: Most historians now accept that Pearl Harbour was known about by the high-ups in the American and UK Governments before the attack. In fact, you have to ask yourself why the Japanese attacked in the first place, especially when they were so short of fuel oil and manufacturing capability that they could not hope to win a war of attrition. Also strange how the only American ships to be damaged were the almost useless battleships, but the really powerful ships, the aircraft carriers, were out of town on that Sunday morning. Gave the USA a huge reason/excuse to mobilise and eventually become the super-power to beat, didn't it? Think that by accident?

        Historical fact: Elizabeth the First made her famous Tilbury speech several days AFTER the Armada was badly damaged in the Channel, and then left the sailors to starve to death on ships anchored out at sea so the government wouldn't have to pay them.

        Do some research before you parrot the government/media line.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Snapper Re: September 11, 2001

          ".....Most historians now accept that Pearl Harbour was known about by the high-ups in the American and UK Governments before the attack....." Partially correct - they had warnings but no concrete proof of the time or place of the attack. The British, Dutch and US had an a agreement to share intelligence from decoding Japanese communications and knew the Japanese planned an attack as early as 1940. The UK sent a first specific warning in 1941 after being tipped of by the Russians. An NKVD spy, Richard Sorge, had heard a rumour of Japanese plans and gave the correct month and the likely US target as early as June 1941, but when MI6 sent the news to the US it went to Hoover at the FBI. Hoover had not heard anything through his own sources (which included thousands of line-taps on Japanese-Americans) and had an inherent distrust of "the Commies", so he did not accept the warning. Ironically, Sorge had also earlier sent Stalin warning of the German attack on Russia and Stalin had ignored him! Unfortunately, Sorge was arrested in October 1941 before he could supply actual proof. MI6 followed up with their own spies and were able to get much more detail which Winston Churchill himself sent to Roosevelt. The theory is that many in Congress would not support a war, being isolationist, and would insist the British warning was a ruse to force the US into the War on the side of the Allies, meaning Roosevelt was unwilling to mobilise US forces without proper evidence. Roosevelt's policy was that America could not make the first move in a Pacific war, nor give the Japanese the excuse by mobilising forces. Thus only a warning of "possible attack" was sent to US bases including Pearl. The actual concrete proof, given by the breaking of the Japanese diplomatic "Purple Code" did not come until too late, and even then did not mention Japanese targets.

          ".....Also strange how the only American ships to be damaged were the almost useless battleships, but the really powerful ships, the aircraft carriers, were out of town on that Sunday morning....." A fave musing with conspiracy nuts that totally avoids the fact that US Navy strategy was built around the use of battleships, with the carriers more as providing support to the battlegroup and protecting them from land-based bombers. Royal Naval actions in the Med against the Italians (especially the Battle of Cape Matapan) had reinforced the belief that the battleship was still the primary means of sinking enemy warships. Ironically, it was the RN use of carriers at Taranto to sink Italian battleships that directly influenced the Japanese plan for Pearl, but the primary target was always the USN's battleships. Indeed, the loss of the battleships at Pearl forced the USN into quickly forming a novel strategy around the use of carriers as the main striking force. As it turned out, it was a superior strategy, but it was anathema to the many admirals that had planned their war against Japan on the basis of battleship actions.

          ".....you have to ask yourself why the Japanese attacked in the first place, especially when they were so short of fuel oil and manufacturing capability that they could not hope to win a war of attrition...." Imperial Japan needed to expand, particularly into China, to secure the resources it needed. The US was particularly upset about the move into China (they really didn't give a fudge about the Japs moving on British, French or Dutch colonies). There was also a Japanese belief that a quick, overwhelming attack would force America to withdraw from the Pacific to defend the US mainland, and that isolationist American politicians would then be amenable to a peace settlement in Japan's favour. In short, the Japs misunderstood the US as much as the US misunderstood Japan.

          "....Elizabeth the First .... left the sailors to starve to death on ships anchored out at sea so the government wouldn't have to pay them....." Not true. Whilst the Royal Navy had driven the Armada out of the Channel ports and into the North Sea, it still represented a striking force far larger than the RN, and could still swing round and resume picking up the Spanish armies from France. Liz kept the Fleet at sea so as to guard against any further Spanish attempts at invasion. In the event, the Spanish tried to take their remaining ships round Scotland and most were wrecked in storms, leaving the survivors little option but to return to Spain.

          ".....Do some research before you parrot the government/media line." Petard moment.

        2. Lars Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: September 11, 2001

          "Most historians now accept". Most "historians" also accept that Kennedy was shot by Oswald or Oswald plus pal or Castro or US Cubans or Russia or the CIA or the FBI or Connally or the driver or Johnson or Nixon or his own brother or Warren or the mob or .... Must have forgotten some. just pick your historian.

      3. Roj Blake

        Re: September 11, 2001

        The best way to defeat terrorism isn't declaring war on everyone you don't like. It's not turning the country into a police state either.

        The best way to defeat terrorism is to stand true to your principles.

        The principles of the West used to be all about freedom and due process.

        By turning the US and the UK into a Stasi wet dream, our governments have lost the "War on Terror"

        1. Bloakey1

          Re: September 11, 2001

          <snip>

          "By turning the US and the UK into a Stasi wet dream, our governments have lost the "War on Terror""

          I agree with you. The West effectively lost the war on terror and ceded Osama a victory when they reacted as they have done. The US for example has adopted the Israeli mode for targeted assassinations with no concern for 'colateral damage' when chasing a primary target.

          All of our lives have changed in negative ways. The Blitz never caused the UK to flinch, the IRA never caused the UK to flinch. A few Western funded Al Qaueda types have made the system go ape and a lot of people have followed.

          I get annoyed that Gurkhas can join the British army, Irishmen and Scots can join the British army, we can all join the Foreign Legion if good enough, British ex soldiers can become contractors in Iraq why even Jewish people can serve in Sahal. Why can't Syrians go home and fight Assad? it is against the law apparently.

          We are slowly but surely losing our civil liberties and paranoia and instability is being fed by the state and its organs.

  5. Seabhcan

    2008: undersea cables cut

    Anyone remember the mysterious cut fiber cables in the middle east in 2008? 8 cables were cut in a series of random accidents. I wonder if there is a connection.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_submarine_cable_disruption

    1. JimmyPage

      Re: 2008: undersea cables cut

      Hmmmm

      In 1914, just before it all kicked off, the UK cut Germanys undersea telegraph cables, forcing them to route all international traffic through their London embassy, which - surprise surprise - military intelligence had already compromised.

      Very good site here

    2. Havin_it
      FAIL

      Re: 2008: undersea cables cut

      Typical, bloody OpenReach.

  6. David 110
    Holmes

    Bit of explanation please

    So why has the Register decided to publish this information today? According to your article other media outfits have sat on this info and not published it either by choice or by pressure. Why have you guys decided to publish it and why now?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Bit of explanation please

      See above post by Lewis, Reg global editor.

      C.

  7. Lionel Baden
    Joke

    Well F That

    So this is why my line took so long to put in !!!

    Bloody engineers swanning about in the middle east, That's one hell of a commute !!!

  8. Pigpen

    Who will publish BOFH now that El Reg is about to have 'an accident'?

    1. Semtex451

      Explains why Dabbsy is "off sick" :)

  9. Callam McMillan

    "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."

    I can't imagine the tapping is done entirely without the knowledge of the cables owners. As I understand it, a TDR scan should identify the location of the tap. If I was the cable owner, I would then be making a massive public fuss over the tapping, plus, if it was tapped from a manhole somewhere... Sending staff armed with some wirecutters to do some snipping.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      IF I was cable owners, I would be ensuring that all data down the pipes is heavily encrypted!

      THIS is why we need quantum entangled links, to ensure the links cannot be tapped...

      I see BT loosing business customers over this, I know as soon as my companies contract is up, I'll be looking at an alternative, not matter the extra cost!

    2. Rob
      Black Helicopters

      I can...

      ... pressure can be brought to bear on anyone who doesn't do as they are told, let's face it we are talking about an organisation that can operate well above or below the law as it sees fit, sounds like too much of a conspiracy, but then so did rendition flights but they happened.

      I'm not saying they do this of course, I'm just saying don't rule anything out when talking about GCHQ and pals, they have a lot of resources available to them.

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