Cable and Wireless handed GCHQ keys to the internet (Wired UK)


The GCHQ listening post at Bude, Cornwall is located near to cables that carry vast amounts of internet traffic around the world

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One of the UK’s biggest telecoms companies worked with
GCHQ to ensure the spy agency had unprecedented
access to vast swathes of UK internet data. Cable and Wireless,
which was taken over by Vodafone in 2012,
also worked intimately with GCHQ to hand over the internet data of
millions of people around the world.

Documents seen by Channel 4 News and German broadcaster WRD show that Cable and Wireless gave GCHQ direct access
to its network infrastructure. In 2007 GCHQ devised a plan called
Mastering the Internet, whereby private companies would collect
internet data for them — in this case Cable and Wireless. Vodafone
has denied any knowledge of the intelligence agency programmes
identified in the leaked GCHQ documents.

Leaked documents reveal that GCHQ worked closely
with Cable and Wireless under the codename Gerontic. Regular
meetings took place between GCHQ and Cable and Wireless, while
payments were also made to the telecoms company to fund the huge
costs of siphoning off so much internet traffic for government
surveillance. 
Cable and Wireless was paid
millions of pounds a year for its cooperation, with the cost of
running the project spiralling to £1 million a
month. 


GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Ministry of Defence/Wikipedia


The documents, from whistleblower Edward Snowden, further reinforce his
assertion that GCHQ has “probably the most invasive network
intercept program anywhere in the world”. Snowden has said that
GCHQ is able to collect content and metadata on every piece of
internet traffic coming into and out of the UK. Intercontinental
fibre-optic cables, which come ashore on the Cornish coast, were
tapped by GCHQ with the help of Cable and Wireless.

In weekly status reports GCHQ project groups shared
their progress. Gerontic is mentioned countless times, with
meetings scheduled with “project teams” in 2008. An
update from February 2009
reveals a GCHQ employee had joined
Gerontic as an “integrated” project manager.

An Excel spreadsheet from 2009 shows which internet
cables GCHQ had access to. Of the 63 listed around half of them are
controlled by Gerontic, a secret company operated by Cable and
Wireless. The document reveals that at the time GCHQ had access to
7,000 gigabits of data per second, with nearly 70 per cent of this
coming from Gerontic.

Cable and Wireless even helped GCHQ gain access to the
cables of Indian telecoms company Reliance Communications. The
firm, which also lands intercontinental cables in Cornwall, had its
customer data tapped by GCHQ, giving British spies access to the
private data of millions more people. In June 2011 a top-secret
access point codenamed Nigella, owned by Cable and Wireless, let
GCHQ gather all the data on Reliance’s network as it passed through
the UK.

Top-secret documents show that the Reliance cable was
still being tapped as recently as April 2013. Vodafone, which
purchased Cable and Wireless in 2012, denies any knowledge of the
top-secret data intercepts described in the leaked documents.
Vodafone insists that it operates within the law and that access to
or interception of data can only be carried out with a warrant. The
company is not able to reveal details of any current arrangements
due to a legal gag.

“Vodafone does not go beyond our legal obligations to
collaborate with any security or intelligence agency in any country
by opening up our networks to any form of mass observation,” a
Vodafone spokesperson said.

“Direct access would be illegal under UK law. If we
are presented with a formal warrant from any agency or authority
which is appropriately authorised, Vodafone — in common with all
other operators — is required in law to provide access to the
specific data requested.”

A June 2014 exposé by  The Register also showed close links between Cable
and Wireless, Gerontic and GCHQ. It detailed top-secret listening
stations and intercepts being operated in the Middle East. Once
again GCHQ paid telecoms companies tens of millions of pounds to
run top-secret, hidden intercepts to send customer data for
analysis by British spies.

GCHQ has said that all the work it has carried out is in
accordance with UK law and is “authorised, necessary and
proportionate”. But top-secret documents reveal that in the first
decade of the new millennium GCHQ was engaged in mass-scale
interception of data at a rate of one trillion gigabytes per
second.

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21 November 2014 | 4:35 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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