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. Callam McMillan

        Re: I can...

        Hence why I said it's unlikely that they have no knowledge. A phone call "Mr. CEO. We're tapping your lines here. Your staff don't tell anybody about it, you don't touch it, and if you do... Unfortunate things may happen" is still having knowledge...

    1. GreyWolf

      " If I was the cable owner,"

      Callam, sorry lad, you don't know how this stuff works. The cable owner does not "make a massive public fuss", he/she/it contacts the Powers-That-Be and says "My knighthood seems to have got mislaid. It will be arriving tomorrow first post, will it?". No "massive public fuss" required, just a word in the right ear.

    2. Tom_

      If you know your enemy is listening to your communications it's much more advantageous to feed them false information than to make a fuss about it.

      1. Fr. Ted Crilly

        Hmmm, but sadly these days, my bank login details, your bank login details, discussions with your financial advisors etc etc etc are lumped in there for the delight of whom ever

    3. Peter Simpson 1

      As I understand it, a TDR scan should identify the location of the tap. If I was the cable owner...

      Ahhh! That's where the real magic takes place. The techniques for tapping the cables *without* making the tap visible to OTDR are the real classified secrets.

      GCHQ, NSA...I'm torn between righteous outrage at their activities and an overwhelming desire to join their engineering team...

  1. Warm Braw Silver badge

    How security makes you safer and is a job for life


    1/ Engineer foreign countries to ensure dicatorship by "friendly" governments

    2/ Observe that foreign citzens become "unfriendly" as a result

    3/ Become dependent on foreign dictatorships' collaboration in monitoring their unfriendly citizenry and those of their neighbours.

    4/ Observe your "friends" now have the upper hand

    5/ Engineer new dictators

    6/ Go to 2


    1/ Observe that your government's policies are not universally popular

    2/ Conflate your government's interests with the national interest

    3/ Conclude that everyone who disagrees with you is acting against the national interest

    4/ Monitor and persecute everyone who is acting againt the national interest

    5/ Details of 20-year-old monitoring and persecution come to light

    6/ Make token policy change

    7/ Goto 1


    1/ It's legal so it must be OK

    2/ Think of the children

    3/ Goto 1

    1. Christoph

      Re: How security makes you safer and is a job for life

      "2/ Conflate your government's interests with the national interest"

      That's already official as a result of the Clive Ponting case. The "national interest" is the personal and political interest of whatever bunch of politicians is currently in power.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I can understand why people are feeling jumpy about this, when the details about ECHELON were starting to come out I mentioned it to a friend of mine that works for GCHQ.

    He went mental. How did I know this etc. etc. and actually reported our conversation to his managers.

    Lord knows what he'll say when I try to put all the code words into my next natter with him!

    AC, FWIW.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: ECHELON

      For extra sh*ts and giggles record his reaction and put it on YouTube.

      What do you mean your allergic to waterboarding?

  3. Omniaural

    X marks the spot

    Does that one building in the bottom right of the pic not give away, from a cursory aerial surveillance point of view, that there is something to be dug up here?

    Did the particular architect for this site try and work some kind of nudge, nudge, wink, wink factor into all his designs? Perhaps the government should review his other blueprints and maybe they'll notice that their super secret buildings are shaped like arrows, bullseyes or spell out 'SPY'?

    1. Saigua

      Re: X marks the spot

      Clearly an Airtight Garage reference. Otherwise hey, let's make a building in the mideast with lots of surface area, making openly stilted meeting bits in the core, group 5 who mine literally (on their break hours,) and freaking aircondition it, or just paint it white for temperature stability anyways, and then we can have an easybake oven for our new thermophile overlords. Who for us during the Zombie Radio4 reading of all 4 books of Capital plus 1Q84 or something.

      Or: It is a stealth unit. That is the Starbucks they visit. Local colors. It looks like Bauhaus gone lurid but those are bedouin tents all the way down. Huge bsd and hgf fans fan the swag by hand.

  4. Bladeforce

    Well i got 3 months

    ..on my contract with BT just enough time for this to become open enough as to implicate other tech companies so i can make a good alternative choice

    1. Callam McMillan

      Re: Well i got 3 months

      ...There is no alternative choice. You have Virgin Media, which runs over the co-ax network they already have in their pocket. Then you have every other ISP who lease the wires in the ground from BT... Who they have in their pocket.

  5. atrevers

    Honestly BT, you can do all this work to harvest terabyte upon terabyte of data in Oman, but you still can't get me a download bandwidth of 1MB in a village less than 10 miles from a major midlands city. Shame on you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Try paying them a few million pound...

      as an incentive - it seems to work for GCHQ!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Official Secrets Act?

    As you've just disclosed national secrets I'm guessing you have broken the law. As such please expect a visit.

    1. Moktu

      Re: Official Secrets Act?

      But don't worry.

      We'll bake you a cake with a file in it.

      Your grateful readership.

      1. Christoph

        Re: Official Secrets Act?

        "We'll bake you a cake with a file in it."

        GCHQ have already read the contents of that file.

    2. Valeyard

      Re: Official Secrets Act?

      It's as if you have no idea what the press is for

    3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Official Secrets Act?

      Yes, because I am absolutely sure that all journalists are signatories to the OSA.

      What's that? Mmmph mmble mmmph? Pull down your pants so I can make out what you're saying better.

      1. Tom Wood

        Re: Loyal Commenter

        You don't have to have "signed the Official Secrets Act" for it to apply to you.

        The bit of paper they make you sign before giving you access to protectively marked information is just a reminder of your responsibilities under the Act. The Act still applies to everyone.

        1. localzuk

          Re: Loyal Commenter

          Slight issue - the OSA only applies to "persons who, as the case may be, are or have been crown servants, government contractors, or members of the security and intelligence services".

          So, unless The Reg works for the government, OSA doesn't apply...

          1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

            Re: Re: Loyal Commenter

            "OSA doesn't apply"

            I'm advised the OSA applies to all – it's a law not a contract so "individuals are bound by it whether or not they have signed it".


            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Loyal Commenter

              If you are aware of information which you believe is confidential and do not inform the authorities you have broken the OSA.

              1. localzuk

                Re: Loyal Commenter

                Forgot to mention, if you are referring to Section 5, it doesn't apply either, as it wasn't disclosed initially by a British Citizen or in the UK - it was disclosed by Snowden outside the UK, and the Reg is simply re-publishing what has already been disclosed.

      2. Roj Blake

        Re: Official Secrets Act?

        Everyone is covered by the OSA, whether they've signed it or not.

        1. Vic

          Re: Official Secrets Act?

          > Everyone is covered by the OSA, whether they've signed it or not.

          ...By *some* of the OSA. Not all of it.

          Specifically S5 and S6 seem to apply to everyone, whether they have signed or not. Much of the rest of it is specific to Crown Servants, Intelligence Service personnel, Armed Forces personnel, or people who have been specifically notified that they are subject to the Provisions.

          The Official Secrets Act 1989 can be found here.


    4. Steven Raith

      Re: Official Secrets Act?

      As the information is already in the public domain everywhere other than the UK, I'd suspect the chances of an OSA prosecution would best be described as 'pissing in the wind'.

      Context is important.

    5. Matt Fowler
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Official Secrets Act?

      For anyone not aware of Duncan Campbell's history in this area, he's been arrested under the Official Secrets Act before - and he ultimately walked out of court a free man. (See wikipedia "ABC trial", and deeper coverage on his own site)

      Then after that, there was the Zircon satellite affair in 1987 (again, google and youtube it).

      Duncan Campbell does not fear the British state. The British state fears having their monstrous unregulated surveillance machines exposed to the populace.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why are you publishing this?

    Have you thought through the consequences of your actions?

  8. Valeyard

    And the scariest thing

    Is that 90% of the population doesn't care and not much will change

    There was a bigger fuss over poll tax

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There was a bigger fuss over poll tax

      So ?

      Well over a million people physically marched through London to stop an illegal war, which happened anyway.

      Most people who "don't care" do so (or do not do so ;) ) because they realise there's no point in caring - the government will just do what it wants anyway. Instead people just ape the government and just do what they want to anyway. Sometimes it'll end in jail, yes. But it just adds to the general malaise which feels an awful lot like we'll end up with a guillotine on the steps of Whitehall.

  9. YetAnotherLocksmith

    This is Bollocks Telecom all over.

    As someone else said, they'll spend hundreds of millions putting fibre in 3rd world countries by hook or by crook, but won't help the UK out by sorting out decent connectivity for the UK? Not even when paid millions by a government scheme that specifically requests that!

    Hang on - or was the UK countryside broadband thing actually just a way to hide the money in the accounts? After all, it is quite possible no-one specified *which* countryside internet they had to speed up!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    just my views.

    In 1999 the government wanted every ISP to install a server in their data centres but there was widespread distaste by the IT administrators all against the government having a foothold inside their data centres because it would of cost any one of them a lot of customers if the customers found out,

    Then they went for the router and switch people and they said that they would lose customers if their customers found out,

    Next was the Heatbleed bug, left in the wild for years and abused by anyone who knew about it.

    Now people are finding out that they can intercept all trafic coming via international cables and only one person has the balls to say anything and to me it looks like the spooks are winning because we now distrust every communication we send via any digital telephone call, video message, facebook selfie and internet browsing.

    Moral of the story is dont do anything illegal and keep your data in your own home or business Never use the cloud (the cloud is still a server doh) and be responsible for spending money on IT technicians who know a lot of different technologies like generalists who can do a lot more than many of the muppets I speak to daily at ISP`s nowadays.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Moral of the story is dont do anything illegal [...]"

      Impossible. The last government alone passed some 3000 new laws to make you a criminal - to which the current lot have added many more. Ignorance of a law is no defence when arrested/prosecuted for allegedly breaking it.

      What they have fostered is an general attitude that the Law and its enforcing agencies are effectively arbitrary. It is a case of "J'accuse" and you are sunk - your actual guilt or innocence is largely irrelevant for the purpose of the political statistics.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Exactly, we have strict liability crimes and some 'catch all' crimes where its down to the judgement of the police officer.

        But at least we're still mostly in a society where unless its specifically forbidden its legal, which is why its hard to find out if something IS legal to do sometimes, because unless its a crime there is likely to be no reference...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "[...] unless its specifically forbidden its legal [...]"

          Unfortunately many laws now have vague threshold criteria. The lazy drafting idea seems to be to let the Appeal Courts rule on which nuances apply or not.

          Which doesn't stop the Police arresting people on those nuances subsequently - or even the CPS prosecuting. That causes people to avoid anything in that area in case they are thought to have intended to break the law. So effectively that law ends up with far more draconian limits than the legislation had promised.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "[...]"some 'catch all' crimes [...]"

          A retired police officer was commenting on the low threshold of evidence in the 2003 consultation paper on "indecent exposure". It had removed the need to prove a motive of "with intent" - and postulated that the "victim" would automatically be considered as a hypothetically "most vulnerable" person - even if no one was actually there. Almost a zen situation.

          He said it was the sort of law the Police liked - a "Martini Law" - anyone, anytime, any place.

      2. RobHib
        Thumb Up

        Re "Impossible. The last government alone passed some 3000 new laws" - - @ AC

        "Impossible. The last government alone passed some 3000 new laws".

        Absolutely correct! Long before Dreyfus and Zola, 'that ignorance of the law is no defence', was a fundamental conundrum for democracy (and, more than ever, it still is).

        No one in a democracy has a hope in Hades of being knowledgeable about all its laws. Thus, by definition (through logical argument) the 'democratic' state is both intimidatory and not democratic (at least in my understanding of the word).

        Any true law-abiding citizen would have to end up schizophrenic or do absolutely nothing for fear of breaking the law. The only other option is to put oneself in jeopardy and act without knowledge of the law—thus the conundrum. There is, of course, that other option which is for one to deliberately act unlawfully.

        This reasoning is as is old as the hills, it goes back to the Ancient Greeks/Pythagoras who was attributed with saying "No man is free who cannot command himself." Millennia later, [1762] in Book I, Chapter I of the The Social Contract Rousseau develops the idea with is famous statement:

        "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they." (p49 in my now very-yellowed Penguin Classic paperback—having just checked it.)

        Whilst Rousseau and his contemporary, Diderot, had the noble intention of pointing out that citizens were better off submitting to the The General Will of [all] the population than to be subservient to the will of more powerful individuals, it did nothing to stop the French Revolution of 1789 and The Terror which followed—albeit that The Social Contract was published over a quarter century earlier. In fact, The Social Contract is often attributed with contributing, even causing, the Revolution by fuelling the discontent.

        What I find so concerning is that so few citizens actually find this seeming paradox disturbing (i.e.: of there being no excuse for violating laws that cannot be substantially let alone fully known). In truth, it's definitely no paradox but a very unpalatable anomaly in our 'supposed' democracies that's used to keep the citizenry in check. Even though several centuries have passed—not to mention the many intervening wars and revolutions—since those famous words in The Social Contract, it seems, from prevailing attitudes, that little hindsight has been gained (and that history is again repeating itself).

        With a moment's thought, its consequences are clear: (a) most citizens never extend their freedom to the full extent for fear of 'unknown' law, (b) the bold and unlawful ignore such constraints and thus are often more successful in life than their law-abiding brethren, and (c) those in power exploit the anomaly to both the The State's and their own advantage (à la 'Yes Minister' and even more sinister—such as sending young soldiers off to war to be killed in the name of non-existent WMDs for instance).

        Remember, the more The State allows those to obfuscate in its name—no matter what the excuse—the fewer freedoms citizens have. Overwhelming citizens with tens of thousands of laws which they can never expect to fully understand is obfuscation, and every new law that's passed further restricts a citizen's freedom.

      3. T. F. M. Reader


        May I just point out that the reference to "J'accuse" hardly fits the context? ;-)

        1. RobHib

          Re: J'accuse -- @ T. F. M. Reader

          I assume you are referring to AC's comments and not my reply to him. I'll comment anyway.

          Whether it's relevant depends on one's worldview. As I see it, Zola's accusation of the French Govt. centres around the breaking of the covenant that existed between it and the citizenry and concerned matters of fidelity and (dis)honesty, etc. It's an archetypal case over a century old, it's well known and studied.

          (Moreover, in a dictatorship, what happened to Dreyfus would have just been another case of in justice; however in the French Republic where Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité were (and are) a big deal and taken seriously, what the Government did to Dreyfus was not only a mistake but also a disingenuous breach of the covenant—the Government was caught out doing what it thought convenient which was not right, its actions were unacceptable and its bigotry was exposed. Democracy was put under strain.)

          As with Dreyfus, current government spying etc. involves government(s) breaking covenants of trust (etc.) with their citizens, and the recent Snowden exposures have shown that, at minimum, they've been overly-secretive, disingenuous and distrustful to a point well above and beyond that which functional (operational) necessity would have dictated.

          Again, whether one holds my—and from these posts, a seemingly common view—or those of the NSA or GCHQ depends on one worldview. [Some of] Those in the French Government who read Zola's accusations on the front page of L'Aurore in 1898, considered Zola a traitor, he spilt the beans and blew the Dreyfus case wide open. Zola was a whistleblower par excellence.

          Irrespective of the position one takes in this case, the parallels/similarities between Zola's actions and those of Snowden are nothing but striking; it's very difficult to conclude otherwise.

          As with Zola, history will ultimately judge these actions.

  11. Ivan Headache

    I'm wondering how

    an interception point in Seeb monitors coms entering the Red Sea.

  12. Frederic Bloggs

    History is sometimes useful (or at least informative)

    The really interesting thing is that anyone is surprised - given that the UK has something like a century and a half of form in the "clandestine" submarine cable tapping business. The UK controlled every commercially useful submarine cable in the world up until (at least) the first World War. The official rationale being that the cables were there as a result of building, and to control, the British Empire. They were tapping away for 50 odd years before anyone either twigged or at least were in a position to get uppity about it. Is it any wonder that they continue doing it, and on any satellite links they can get hold of as well?

    As the UK is about to have yet another war anniversary orgasm (sigh), El Reg's readers might like to research some of the antagonism that the US had for the UK's wire tapping activities - and the use that the information gleaned therefrom was used for - against what the US saw as its interests. And how that coloured the US's attitude toward the UK during the 20th Century and since.

    So save the feigned anger. It's pointless and won't change anything. You should all know what to do, to obtain a measure of privacy, go ye forth and do it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I dont understand why everyone is acting so surprised that this is going on

    perhaps sig-int grows on trees like spaghetti....

    I am sure other nations have their own intercepts too, unless they are just tapping ours of course....

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: I dont understand why everyone is acting so surprised that this is going on

      That GCHQ would bother spying on potential enemies in a part of the world that has more than its fair share of wars.

      Rather than its proper job of making sure it has dirt on any potential opponents of the current government, local council or PTA.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am So Proud

    Despite some people's perception of our security services as bumbling idiots we seem to have a rather world class spying and surveillance network out there. Good on them I say...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I am So Proud

      Not that world class if we found out about them, were they?

    2. RobHib

      Re: I am So Proud -- @ AC

      "...we seem to have a rather world class spying and surveillance network out there."

      No one is doubting that, even its strong detractors would openly acknowledge that. GCHQ has its lineage in a long line of spies that go back many centuries.

      Take the case of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. In 1585/6, during the ongoing struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism, Elizabeth's secretary, Francis Walsingham successfully spied on Mary which led to her execution.

      Walsingham was the master spy of Elizabethan England, GCHQ's lineage goes back at least that far.

      Walsingham's well worth a read (scroll down to 'Espionage' and 'Entrapment of Mary, Queen of Scots'):

      Francis Walsingham

  15. Lionel Baden

    Question to the Mods

    Who approved Luke's post and How much did you giggle knowing what was going to happen :D

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Foreign Secretary David Miliband to sign a new warrant legalising what they wished to do

    he really is an unspeakable little shit.


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