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. Flyberius

    Yawn

    Are we still harping on about this?

    Get over yourselves.

    Spies are doing their jobs. Trust them to show some discretion and to keep their house in order. Do not assume that they will do ANYTHING a politician asks them to do.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Yawn

      The problem appears to be that spooks are not proving themselves to be smart enough to lead politicians to programs which don't target them and render them to the perception of the general population as incompetent idiots and ugly media muppets.

      Politics is showbusiness for ugly people

      Come on, spooks, get your fcuking act together or be rendered a problem which the system has to re-engineer in another manner.

    2. WatAWorld

      Re: Yawned but found it interesting enough to be the one thing today he commented on

      Yawn, old news, but new enough and important enough that it was the article you chose to comment on today.

      What gets commented on gets further stories -- even when those comments say "yawn". Kardasians are a prime example.

  2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Old news again.

    The Imperial Iranian Air Force used to intercept (and sink) dhows carrying arms to rebels fighting the old Sultan of Oman back in 1975. Rumours amongst the ex-pats in Muscat then was that the RAF at Seeb were directing the Iranian Phantoms using telephone intercepts of Saudi phone calls. Which suggests the Sultan has a very good knowledge of what goes on at Seeb and, given the current Shia-Sunni turmoil in the Middle East, a good reason to be thankful it is still there. Once again, Snowjob and chums are simply rehashing old news.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon

      Re: Old news again.

      "Snowjob and chums are simply rehashing old news"

      Which obviously explains why the government has been leaning on the media to not say anything about it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Old news again.

      A few errors there Matt. The old Sultan went in to exile in 1970 when Sultan Qaboos took control.

      I was at Seeb in 1976 and there were no RAF there except for a few secondee officers helping to run SOAF (Sultan of Oman's Air Force). and fly. As far as I can remember, the RAF left Masirah island in 1974 (thereabouts) and similarly Salalah at about the same time.

      The only Iranian aircraft I ever saw were C130s bringing in support for the rather lacklustre ground forces that the Iranians were providing to assist in fighting the Yemeni insurgents in Dhofar. None of my contemporary military history books of the time indicate that Iranian Interceptors (Phantoms) were ever used against the adoo, but the RAF secondees certainly were with the Strikemasters. That may be an omission on behalf of the writers to big up the Brits but as none of them mention Phantoms......

      Again in Salalah from 1976 there were no RAF personnel to my recollection but the the NAAFI and BFPO were still there as there was still a significant (but largely unseen) Army presence. It was a training ground for the SAS.

      There was a slight increase in the number of RAF pilots on secondment when the Jaguar aircraft arrived in 1977.

      Things changed dramatically when the Gulf War happened - but by then I was long gone.

  3. Derek Kingscote

    Re TRAITORS

    Luke 11

    There was a great article in the Guardian last Thursday by Eben Moglen

    http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/27/-sp-privacy-under-attack-nsa-files-revealed-new-threats-democracy

    I didn't see the article the previous Tuesday [which is the first part of this link] and the paper is now recycled.

    The Thursday article starts below the picture of one of four server rooms at the Facebook data centre in North Carolina.

    Extracts below:

    Edward Snowden has revealed problems for which we need solutions. The vast surveillance-industrial state that has grown up since 2001 could not have been constructed without government contractors and the data-mining industry.

    In this context, we must remember that privacy is about our social environment, not about isolated transactions we individually make with others. When we decide to give away our personal information, we are also undermining the privacy of other people.

    Many people take money from you by concealing this distinction. They offer you free email service, for example. In return, they want you to let them read all the mail. Their stated purpose is advertising to you. It's just a transaction between two parties. Or, they offer you free web hosting for your social communications, and then they watch everybody looking at everything.

    This is convenient, for them, but fraudulent. If you accept this supposedly bilateral offer, to provide email service to you for free as long as it can all be read, then everybody who corresponds with you is subjected to this bargain. If your family contains somebody who receives mail at Gmail, then Google gets a copy of all correspondence in your family. If another member of your family receives mail at Yahoo, then Yahoo receives a copy of all the correspondence in your family as well.

    The same will be true if you decide to live your social life on a website where the creep who runs it monitors every social interaction, keeping a copy of everything said, and also watching everybody watch everybody else. If you bring new "friends" to the service, you are attracting them to the creepy inspection, forcing them to undergo it with you.

    If you have a Facebook account, Facebook is surveilling every single moment you spend there. Moreover, much more importantly, every web page you touch that has a Facebook "like" button on it which, whether you click the button or not, will report your reading of that page to Facebook.

    If the newspaper you read every day has Facebook "like" buttons or similar services' buttons on those pages, then Facebook or the other service watches you read the newspaper: it knows which stories you read and how long you spent on them.

    Every time you tweet a URL, Twitter is shortening the URL for you. But it is also arranging that anybody who clicks on that URL will be monitored by Twitter as they read. You are not only helping people know what's on the web, but also helping Twitter read over everybody's shoulder everything you recommend.

    This isn't transactional, this is ecological. This is an environmental destruction of other people's freedom to read. Your activity is designed to help them find things they want to read. Twitter's activity is to disguise the surveillance of the resulting reading from everybody.

    Commercial surveillance then attracts government attention, with two results that Snowden has documented for us: complicity and outright thievery.

    The article is quite long so you probably won't bother to read it.

    If you have a Google or Yahoo email account, use Twitter or Facebook are you happy with what they do with your data?

    1. Carl W

      Re: Re TRAITORS

      The Onion covered this a while back http://www.theonion.com/video/cias-facebook-program-dramatically-cut-agencys-cos,19753/

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Luke 11:1 GCHQ, Hallowed be Thy Name

    Your Kingdom Come,

    Give Us Each Day Our Daily Feed.

    Forget our profiles,

    For we also forget everyone's profiles.

  5. This Side Up

    It's about time

    that intercept evidence was allowed in court, since how it's obtained is hardly a secret any more.

  6. Jim 59

    BP considered unfair

    Sir, I wish to complain about this so called "Bletchley Park" and the way is it so secretive especially from 1939-45. They have these ariels everywhere it is a cover up, what with this Doctor Tourer or whatever you call him is listening in to us all, when we are innocently watching Gogglebox with the kiddies and---

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: BP considered unfair

      History is not my strongest subject, but AFAIK Turing wasn't involved in mass surveillance on his own country or other countries the UK wasn't at war with.

  7. Tom 11

    faith

    Lost. In you www.theregister.co.uk. Under the belt, cutting off your nose etc etc

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Derek Kingscote, who downvotes posts like yours?

  9. Ian Michael Gumby

    Funny.

    Its one thing to assume that you are being watched and your communications are being monitored.

    Its another to actually have proof that it is.

    Its a third thing to actually believe that anyone really cares how much internet porn you watch on your own PC at home, or the contents of your emails.

    Its definitely no secret that governments spy. Yet its poor form to violate your country's security laws.

  10. Jim 59

    UK Govt implicated in massive cover up

    A massive conspiracy has come to light involving the US, UK, Australian and other governments. The public was cynically duped on a scale barely to be believed. Yes, there was far too much secrecy around this so called "D Day" thing, and it is disgusting the the vast majority of-

    1. WatAWorld

      GCHQ, the NSA, CSEC, in a D-Day scenario they'd be on the side being invaded.

      D-Day was launched against our enemies, a bunch of dictatorships that spied on their own civilians and the civilians of their allies.

      What GCHQ, NSA, and CSEC are doing is against our own people and against democratic movements.

      GCHQ, the NSA, CSEC, in a D-Day scenario they'd be on the side being invaded.

  11. Chris G Silver badge

    Late to the party

    I read the article this morning at work but have had no time to comment until now. All I can say is WELL DONE EL REG!

    Most of the positive comments are excellent, as for Luke the Super Troll, Jim 59 and like minded thinkers; GET A SPINE then you can stand up for yourselves instead of relying on governments and their agencies that have only their own interests and those of their corporate backers at heart not yours.

  12. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    WASPy Spookbots? ...... Vainly Trying to Keep What Safe for Who and from Whom .....

    ..... and for Why and Vice Versa is the Question?

    And 42 is not the right answer and wrong question?

    Here be a real and present danger which only the fool would not realise is an elephantine trap to not fall into if and when tasking protection of the indefensible and inequitable..... Eric Holder Announces Task Force To Focus On "Domestic Terrorists"

    One hopes and trusts in Global Operating Devices and Networks InterNetworking JOINT Applications that Blighty IntelAIgents and GCHQ are Astutely Actively Aware of the Enigmatic Dilemma that Riddles All Such Solutions with Massive Vulnerabilities for Catastrophically Disruptive and/or Creatively Communicative Exploitation ........ Unprecedented Unpresidented Change.

    WASP ...... Wickedly Astute Stealthily Programmed

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    26.368629, 56.359364

    Tympani?

  14. corestore

    I'm not surprised about BT being in serious cahoots...

    I used to be a senior field guy for a large computer company I won't name (DEC).

    I worked on systems in GCHQ. No drama apart from getting searched, and not taking parts offsite, especially hard drives!

    I worked on special branch systems; those were built-in to safes in secure rooms at the back of police stations. But no drama.

    But when I went to work on a system at one of the... more dodgy bits of the BT facility at Martlesham Heath, they wouldn't even let me anywhere near the server installation; they eventually wheeled it out to reception and had me work on it there.

    1. Truth4u

      Re: I'm not surprised about BT being in serious cahoots...

      Well that doesn't sound very secure does it? Build a secure location and move the computers outside when people need to use them?

  15. AndyFl

    Just down the road from me

    The red dot in Seeb is about 1km from where I live, will have to eyeball the place. This area is a good one to land fibre and it is near to the expensive area called The Wave where expats are actually allowed to own property. I may have been standing next to a GCHQ spy in Costa Coffee there :p

    Good on TheRegister in posting this story, I'm sure that the (so called) intellegence community know all about the place so publishing the story doesn't change anything security related but at least now the public have the possibiity of asking questions about cost and whether the place should exist.

    Andy

  16. Jim 59

    Dear Sir I wish to complain about the undue secrecy surrounding the identities of the Bothan spies. I demand their names be published forthwith because they are probably just ripping us all off and...

  17. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    Wow. 1 warrant to cover *everything* on a whole undersee cable.

    This would be "Operation Fishing Trip"

    Due process? Just cause? WTF is that?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TRAITORS Pt2

    Couldnt agree more with the original poster of the TRAITORS comment.

    Lets all give China, Russia, North Korea, Iran etc all the propaganda they need eh - FFS you idiots, to sustain democracy you unfortunately have to fight fire with fire - merely taking the high ground im afraid just opens a vacuum into which those who want to disrupt your way of life will very quickly step in and begine to overwhelm you.

    This ultimately is the law of nature - eat or be eaten. If you dont want our government to spend the money on it, start surrendering your rights to freedom as we know it now.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Oh dear, oh dear...

      You forgot one small but very important thing - short of a full-on invasion by China-Russia-North Korea it is our government that is the only one capable of taking away our rights to freedom. Consequently, if you want to protect your freedoms you must watch what your government is doing, not those scary exotic Sino-Russo-Norky incarnations of evil.

  19. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    US vs THEM: The Human Condition

    We all subscribe to the US vs THEM system. It doesn't really matter who THEM are as they can range from your neighbours or the driver in front of you, to the Premier of PsychoDictatorLand. Because we want to be protected from THEM we hand ridiculous powers to certain people, powers to control us, to snoop and poke and ferret in our name. But we don't want to know what our proxies are doing in our name because then we are tarred with the same brush. So, when someone exposes some of it, it's "La La La,.. I can't hear you" or Outraged from Sometown ranting about how the someone has endangered lives when he's actually scared that the PDL Premier is gonna use him as a condom. The upshot is that we elected the Pollys, they appointed the Civil (sic) Servants so it is OUR action, our responsibility and we are ALL GUILTY! Which means I am a spy! Cool! :-)

  20. Rastus

    Snowden insists he only wants to inform people about what is going on. He has done that; he has achieved his goal. Now we all know. What he is doing now is nothing more than grandstanding, name-making, and destruction.

    He WAS an informant. He is NOW a traitor. I hope he gets what is coming to him.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      don't you have more important things to do than posting here, Mr President?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. Oh dear oh dear...

    Seeing as the UK Government were actually caught issuing classified patents (google "Invention Secrecy Act", its entirely possible that there are hundreds if not thousands of people in the UK who are living under virtual house arrest because their ideas happened to infringe on a classified patent through no fault of their own.

    I am actually working on a device that could revolutionize transportation, and have run into this first hand with intercepted and damaged mail (verified, even managed to speak to someone) and even discovered that some asshat had installed spying software on my router that was interfering with very specific energy related searches and causing DSL dropouts and other random issues.

    Only discovered by accident that this was the case, as soon as it was replaced and the router locked down like Alcatraz all the unexplained problems went away.

    The problem it seems is that it only takes one asshat at CQHG or other TLA to decide that someone is a "Person of Interest" and they can ruin their life by blacklisting them, denying loans or employment, tampering with their internet and other nefarious activities.

    Also relevant, it seems that many innocent people have had their internet tampered with in this way because I tried to do the very same searches with the same parameters on a colleagues PC and found the same pattern. Yup, same model of router and again replacing it (it just broke one day) fixed the problem.

    Don't believe me, I have evidence in the form of firmware dumps of said router(s) proving the existence of customized firmware that detects and reports back searches to a variable address meeting particular criteria.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Oh dear oh dear...

      Anonymous router person, email me. cwilliams@theregister.co.uk - PGP public key.

      C.

    2. tybalt

      Re: Re. Oh dear oh dear...

      Not quite sure what you mean by "caught issuing classified patents". The relevant statute is s22 UK Patents Act 1979, and it states that if a patent application includes information that might be prejudicial to national security, it should not be published. It will not grant until after the order is lifted.

      You can read more http://www.ipo.gov.uk/downloads/practice-manual.pdf under section 22 if you really want to understand how it works.

  22. smartypants

    I wish I had read this on 'The Verge'

    - mainly because of the insight offered by the commentards there...

    "Euuuuh"

    "That is so gay"

    "This"

    "Iphone 6"

    "troll harder"

    "no you troll harder"

    etc..

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SigInt might have casued the Iraq war

    One theory is that Saddam's weapons researchers knew that Saddam might easily execute them if they did not make progress. They thus started a flurry of activity, memos, e-mails, meetings etc, so that if questioned they could say they had done something. Sanctions meant that little real progress could be made. The acitivity created a lot of signals that were picked up by GCHQ & NSA and mistaken for real progress. This false positive from signals intellegence gave Blair his excuse for war.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: AC Re: SigInt might have casued the Iraq war

      ".....Sanctions meant that little real progress could be made....." Yeah, the "WMD was a myth" myth. People that peddle that claptrap have no idea what Saddam's busy scientists had already achieved, or how much still has not been accounted for:

      http://www.iraqwatch.org/profiles/nuclear.html

  24. Jim 59

    Congrats

    Once again congratulations to The Register for putting the secret information into the hands of those who really need it. Sure those guys may not like us and our democratic ways, and sure there may be some explosions on Channel 4 news down the line but, whatever.

    And I am sure members of our armed forces would salute you for this brave stand, which can only make their jobs more eventful. Likewise the people at the locations mentioned, they must be terrified so excited !

    1. WatAWorld

      Re: Congrats

      Jim, this sort of thing is only secret from us taxpayers, our enemies know all about it.

      It is kept secret from us because it can be and is used against us, against our democracy, by our own government employees -- government bureaucrats in and out of uniform -- pond scum whose loyalty to their unit trumps any thought of loyalty to the nation and its people.

  25. Yugguy

    Next week - The Machine

    So, I'm looking forward to next week's expose of The Machine.

    After all, what's the point of amassing all this data if you can't analyse and use it?

    As to that silly child's post, I doubt there was a serious rival intelligence anywhere who didn't already know it was there.

  26. Roj Blake

    No Need to Worry

    If they relied on BT to do stuff, they're probably still waiting for the engineer to visit.

    1. Glostermeteor

      Re: No Need to Worry

      Or its the other way around, we wait so long for a BT engineer because they are all off on GCHQ funded missions.

  27. Glostermeteor

    We have a right to know what is being done, but perhaps a little too much detail?

    I absolutely support our right to know what is being done in our name. We are paying for all of this, they have absolutely no democratic legitimacy to do any of this kind of tapping they are doing, and they have lied to us time and time again for decades. Government is a law unto itself, and needs to be brought back under control by its shareholders (i.e. us).

    HOWEVER, is it really necessary to publish the exact locations of these monitoring sites? Saying GCHQ has a listening station in Oman would have been enough without putting people at risk directly.

    1. Roj Blake

      Re: We have a right to know what is being done, but perhaps a little too much detail?

      About the only people who didn't already know the location were the British public.

    2. WatAWorld

      Re: We have a right to know what is being done, but perhaps a little too much detail?

      The people in Oman don't need sophisticated equipment to look out their car windows as they driver past.

      This was only secret from us.

  28. Otto is a bear.

    Said it before

    Just exactly what do you expect out intelligence services to do? How do you expect them to do it?

    They really can't monitor every single communication in the world, they are looking for the needles in the haystack, not the straw.

    1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Re: Said it before

      Just exactly what do you expect out intelligence services to do? How do you expect them to do it?

      I expect them to stop mass and untargetted surveillance. Surveillance within the UK should require a warrant, issued by a court not a politician, and be limited to a named target person. Surveillance of our allies should be exceptional -- it should require authorisation from the Prime Minister (who would bear responsibility for authorising it when it eventually came out, as all secrets do). Surveillance of non-allies would be more routine and would not require warrants but it should still be limited and focused on specific targets or purposes: there should be a robust and effective programme for making sure that non-relevant data is destroyed, not archived and certainly not shared with others (so that, for example, the CIA cannot use this to get round their own government's restrictions). All of the above policies should be publically debated and published, with oversight from parliament.

      Unfortunately, it is unlikely we can directly enforce these restrictions. They should be in place, with very visible punishments for senior management when they are inevitably ignored (on the basis that whistleblowers will expose some proportion of abuse). However, the only real lever we, the people through parliament, have is money: GCHQ and MI5/6 budgets need to be cut substantially as a public response to the Snowden revelations, and there needs to be continuous effective oversight of their budgets. BT & Vodafone will not work for free, and other MoD agencies will be unkeen on hiding spy budgets within their budgets, so there is an opportunity to limit their activities at least in some way through money.

      The budget, and the activities, of the intelligence services should be proportionate to the real threat and very focused on the most critical threats to public safety. It certainly doesn't include "serious financial fraud"!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tapping cables is old news ... move on ...

    The first few chapters of "COLOSSUS : Bletchley Park's Greatest Secret" by Paul Gannon talks about intercepting cables traffic etc. since before the WW1. This was predominantly done by ... the British because London was the main hub for such traffic.

    So should anyone be even faintly surprised that similar surveillance continues to be done to this day?

    1. WatAWorld

      It was new enough news that you took time out of your busy day to comment on it.

      It was new enough news that you took time out of your busy day to comment on it.

      How many other news articles were that important today?

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Been going on for years....

    This sort of thing has been going on for years......take a look at this photo. It shows White Lund mid way between Lancaster and Morecambe.

    http://i636.photobucket.com/albums/uu84/trevnhil/MORECAMBE%20AREA/Fullscreencapture29082009200001.jpg

    See the WWII H-blocks in the centre just above the road / rail intersection? That was a top-secret branch of the Post Office Research Labs dedicated to phone / wire / cable tapping. Lots of local people worked there, but no-one ever talked about it. If you ask any of the locals, none of them knew about it. Ironic that something like that still remains secret, yet newer sites are known and discussed.

    The site has gone now - replaced by housing and a school, but remained in use until the early 1980's. Nice and close to the BT cable and microwave links to Ireland, with - according to Peter Laurie - a microwave link to Menwith Hill from the tower at Heysham

    T

    1. WatAWorld

      Red Herring Re: Been going on for years....

      There is spying on foreign militaries, spying on hostile governments and so on. Yes been going on for years.

      But that is a red herring. This is not about that.

      This is about the new type of spying we're doing where we capture all traffic, all civilian conversations, it is spying on the process of democracy, spying on peaceful political discussion.

      This new type of spying we're doing is incompatible with democracy at home and abroad.

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