A last revelation on the surveillance activities of British intelligence GCHQ confirms the existence of spy base tapping undersea cables in the Middle East.

In the last year Edward Snowden has leaked many disconcerting documents for the surveillance activity conducted by the NSA and GCHQ intelligence agencies, the last revelation is related Britain covert spying programme, in particular the information on clandestine British base tapping undersea cables in the Middle East.

The Register has published information on a secret British spy base located at Seeb on the northern coast of Oman, a strategic position that allows the British Government to tap to various undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian/Arabian Gulf. The documents also revealed the existence of other spy bases located in secret places identified with codes “TIMPANI”, “GUITAR” and “CLARINET”.

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The Register reports that the secret structures of GCHQ are part of the surveillance programme codenamed “CIRCUIT” and also refers to an Overseas Processing Centre 1 (OPC-1), while another centre, OPC-2, has been planned, according to documents leaked by Snowden.

The base is located at Seeb, on the northern coast of Oman, it is used by the GCHQ to tap in to various undersea cables, Seeb is one of a three site GCHQ network in Oman, location codenamed “TIMPANI” is near the Strait of Hormuz and is used to monitor Iraqi communications, “GUITAR” and “CLARINET” bases  in the south of Oman to spy on communication in Yemen.

The Intelligence agencies received the support of the British national telco BT (codenamed as “REMEDY” in top secret documentation) and Vodafone Cable (which owns the former Cable & Wireless company, and referred as “GERONTIC” is the confidential dossier) which received secret payments running into tens of millions of pounds annually by British GCHQ.

“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”.” States the Register.

Information about the secret Seeb base and the Project TEMPORA was contained in 58,000 GCHQ documents leaked by Snowden in 2012 from an internal Wikipedia style information site called GC-Wiki.

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Last year the British Government forced the Guardian Newspaper to destroy hard drives of leaked information to avoid political embarrassment over extensive commercial collaboration of GCHQ agency with telecommunications companies for overseas cables tapping.

“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 fiber 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).

The Newspaper also remarks the necessity to authorize GCHQ interception of overseas communications with a general “external” tapping warrant. In 2009, Foreign Secretary David Miliband signed a new warrant for TEMPORA which authorized GCHQ to collect information about the “political intentions of foreign powers”, terrorism, proliferation, mercenaries and private military companies, and serious financial fraud.

The British intelligence 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.

“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.” States the Register.

These new revelations are a blow to ‘British intelligence.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Editor-In-Chief, CDM)

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