Secret documents leaked by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate that Britain is running a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East, the Independent reported Thursday.
The report indicated that the station is used to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies.
The station is able to tap into and extract data from the underwater fibre-optic cables passing through the region, according to the report.
The information is then processed for intelligence and passed to GCHQ in Cheltenham and shared with the NSA in the United States. The Government claims the station is a key element in the West’s “war on terror” and provides a vital “early warning” system for potential attacks around the world.
While the Independent would not reveal the precise location of the station, it noted that information on its activities was contained in the leaked documents obtained by Snowden.
The Middle East installation is regarded as particularly valuable by the British and Americans because it can access submarine cables passing through the region. All of the messages and data passed back and forth on the cables is copied into giant computer storage “buffers” and then sifted for data of special interest.
Information about the project was contained in 50,000 GCHQ documents that Snowden downloaded during 2012. Many of them came from an internal Wikipedia-style information site called GC-Wiki. Unlike the public Wikipedia, GCHQ’s wiki was generally classified Top Secret or above, notes the Independent.
The disclosure comes as the Metropolitan Police announced it was launching a terrorism investigation into material found on the computer of David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of The Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald – who is at the center of the Snowden controversy.
Scotland Yard said material examined so far from Miranda’s computer was “highly sensitive”, the disclosure of which “could put lives at risk”.
Miranda was arrested at the Heathrow airport last week and detained for nine hours by British authorities.
Miranda's lawyers told the BBC he had had nine items, including his laptop, mobile phone, memory cards and DVDs, taken during the detention.
After the arrest, Greenwald – who still has access to the files – indicated he would be “far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I have many more documents on England’s spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did.”
One of the areas of concern, reported the Independent, is that details of the Middle East spying base which could identify its location could enter the public domain.