Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Spycraft Updates June 4 , 2014 .........How The West Spies On The Middle East: The Location Of The GCHQ's Top Secret Internet Spy Base Revealed ....... NATO’s merry-go-round electronic surveillance in the Black Sea

How The West Spies On The Middle East: The Location Of The GCHQ's Top Secret Internet Spy Base Revealed

Tyler Durden's picture

It has been a year since the first of many Edward Snowden's groundbreaking revelations (which promptly relegated yetanother conspiracy theory into the compost heap of conspiracy facts) exposing not only the ubiquitous tentacles of the NSA, and its UK-equivalent, the GCHQ, but the incestuous relationships between the government's spy agencies, its pervasive snooping reaching as far as Angela Merkel's cell phone (which is finally the subject of a formal inquiry), and its (well-paid) contractors in the private sector: the bulk of the world's largest telecom and internet companies, not to mention the makers of your favoritehandheld spy smartgizmo.
And yet until yesterday, a piece of the puzzle was missing: not because it did not exist, but because certain of Snowden's preferred outlets had refused to reveal it. That piece, as Duncan Campbell of The Register (incidentally Campbell has been breaking exclusives for more than three decades: he was the first journalist to reveal the existence of GCHQ in 1976) revealed yesterday, is the GCHQ's (and thus indirectly the NSA's) top secret middle eastern Internet spy base located in Seeb, Oman (officially known as Oman Comms Link Site 1), smack in the middle of the middle east, located southwest of the Straits of Hormuz, and in close proximity to America's closest petroleum-exporting "friends": Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
According to the Register, "the secret British spy base is part of a programme codenamed “CIRCUIT” and also referred to as Overseas Processing Centre 1 (OPC-1).It is located at Seeb, on the northern coast of Oman, where it taps in to various undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian/Arabian Gulf. Seeb is one of a three site GCHQ network in Oman, at locations codenamed “TIMPANI”, “GUITAR” and “CLARINET”. TIMPANI, near the Strait of Hormuz, can monitor Iraqi communications. CLARINET, in the south of Oman, is strategically close to Yemen."
Wired further adds that the whole operation was referred to as Circuit and the Overseas Processing Centre 1 (OPC-1), and Seeb is just one of three bases extracting communications data from the cables going from the Strait of Hormuz (between the United Arab Emirates and Iran) into the Persian/Arabian Gulf in the heart of the Middle East. These access points, he says, are classified three levels above Top Secret and referred to as Strap 3. Campbell alleges the Timpani base is well-placed to monitor Iraqi communications, while Clarinet in the south is well positioned for Yemen. The location of the third base Guitar, was not given.
What was unsaid is that in addition to Iraq and Yemen, the bases most certainly are able to closely supervise America's petroleum exporting allies.
An aerial photo of the base is shown below:

And here is an interactive map via Google:

The reason why we learn about this base only now is that according to Campbell, as summarized by Wired, attempts to publish this type of material before, is something he says were met with "a wave of threats and intimidation; threats of injunctions", culminating -- in the case of the Guardian -- with the destruction of the Snowden hard drives, "when it was well understood it existed in at least three major cities around the world". After the Guardian withheld the additional details about the base, the pressure was off and there was no impending punishment for publishing "Strap 1" level security data.
Here is what Campbell had to reveal about Seeb?
The secret overseas internet monitoring centre, codenamed CIRCUIT, is at Seeb in the state of Oman. It is the latest of a series of secret collaborations with the autocratic Middle Eastern state, which has been ruled for 44 years by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, installed as head of state in a British-led and SAS-supported coup against his father. The Seeb centre was originally built in collaboration with the Omani government to monitor civil communications satellites orbiting above the Middle East. It has six large satellite dishes, forming part of the well-known and long running “ECHELON” intercept system run by the “Five Eyes” English-speaking (US/UK/Australia/Canada/New Zealand) intelligence agencies.

When GCHQ obtained government approval in 2009 to go ahead with its “Mastering the Internet” project, the Seeb base became the first of its global network of Internet tapping locations. Another centre, OPC-2, has been planned, according to documents leaked by Snowden.

The CIRCUIT installation at Seeb is regarded as particularly valuable by the British and Americans because it has direct access to nine submarine cables passing through the Gulf and entering the Red Sea. 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.
The reason we are learning about this just now:
Information about Project TEMPORA and the Seeb facility was contained in 58,000 GCHQ documents which Snowden downloaded during 2012. Many of them came from an internal Wikipedia style information site called GC-Wiki. GCHQ feared the political consequences of revelations about its spying partners other than the United States and English speaking nations, according to knowledgeable sources.

It was this which lay behind the British government’s successful-until-today efforts to silence the Guardian and the rest of the media on the ultra-classified, beyond Top Secret specifics of Project TEMPORA - the places and names behind the codewords CIRCUIT, TIMPANI, CLARINET, REMEDY and GERONTIC.
Well now we know. And now the Saudis and the Emirs know that we know. Will this change anything in the US relations with the friendly and not so friendly nations in the region. No.
But a bigger question is just how did Campbell get these files: if only Snowden had access to them originally, and he only provided his data dump to selected outlets, of which the Guardian was the primary when it came to UK-related matters (and which was subsequently and quite violently silenced), and then the data trove followed Glenn Greenwald who Snowden picked as his mouthpiece, at the new outlet, the Intercept, then why didn't someone post these previously? Or is there a new, even more secretive, leak within the NSA? Or, a third option: the usual suspects are no longer in control over when sensitive data gets to be disclosed and using what channels (such as the Register).
The last option is best: because these is nothing like a little competition between media outlets to get the NSA trove of data out into the public domain faster. As to whether the public will decide to do anything with said data is a different matter entirely.


GCHQ operates secret Middle East spy hub in Oman – report

Published time: June 04, 2014 03:15
Reuters/Kieran Doherty
Reuters/Kieran Doherty
The location of secret British spy bases in Oman, tapping undersea cables in the Middle East, has up until now remained unpublished because of pressure from the government, according to a new article that reveals those details.
British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has three “above-top-secret” spy bases located in Oman, “where it taps in to various undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian/Arabian Gulf,”Duncan Campbell reported for the Register, citing leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The bases, codenamed “CIRCUIT” reportedly focus on Iraqi and Yemeni communications.
GCHQ spends tens of million pounds annually to employ two telecom companies, BT (codename“REMEDY”) and Vodafone Cable (codename “GERONTIC”), to “run secret teams which install hidden connections which copy customers' data and messages to the spooks’ processing centres” and “install optical fibre taps or ‘probes’ into equipment belonging to other companies without their knowledge or consent.” GCHQ calls in engineers from BT whenever it wants to tap into a new international fiber optic cable, Campbell wrote.
Currently GCHQ is believed to have access to more than 18 submarine cables coming into the GCHQ, including from transatlantic submarine cable Hibernia Atlantic, as well as three European connections.
But the actual locations of their “access points” on the underwater, international cables are considered “Strap 3,” or three levels above Top Secret classification, while the names of the telecom companies are labeled one level lower, or “Strap 2.”
According to Campbell, the British government threatened to move against the Guardian newspaper, one of the main publishers of Snowden leaks, after it posted “Strap 1” information onProject Tempora, which allows the UK spy agency to intercept and store for 30 days huge volumes of data, like emails, social network posts, phone calls and much more, culled from international fiber-optic cables.
“The Guardian was forced to destroy hard drives of leaked information to prevent political embarrassment over extensive commercial arrangements with these and other telecommunications companies who have secretly agreed to tap their own and their customers’ or partners’ overseas cables for the intelligence agency GCHQ,” Campbell wrote in the article.“Intelligence chiefs also wished to conceal the identities of countries helping GCHQ and its US partner the NSA by sharing information or providing facilities.”
Since the Guardian did not publish the information, the British government dropped its threat of injunctions against the paper, Campbell told
Last August, Campbell revealed in the Independent the UK operated a secret station in the Middle East that tapped into international fiber-optic cables, but that newspaper would not reveal the exact location. He said the information came from Snowden leaks, but Snowden denied any contact with the investigative reporter.
I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger,” Snowden wrote in a statement published in the Guardian in August.
“It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others,” he continued. “The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act."
In the Register article, Campbell again cites the Snowden leaks. He refused to tell Business Insider how he got his information. “Journalists in the UK — just as in the US — do not reveal their sources, or respond to questions as to confidential sources. We protect them. That is our obligation and our duty," Campbell wrote in an email.
When asked him if he had copies of the documents he quotes, he responded, "I won't answer that question -- given the conduct of the authorities." But he went on to say, "I was able to look at some of the material provided in Britain to the Guardian by Edward Snowden last year."
He also pointed to the naming of one of the Omani locations involved in Circuit on Zone-Interdite, a website that finds covert bases around the world using photos from the public arena, as corroborating evidence.
Campbell told there was no reason to keep the exact locations hidden from the public. "This is not something that affects national security," he said. "The information has been reported before, and the site as you can see is perfectly visible and it's one of many things the UK government and GCHQ sought to suppress from entering the debate."

NATO’s merry-go-round electronic surveillance in the Black Sea

Published time: June 04, 2014 11:36
EU Naval Force French frigate FS Surcouf (AFP Photo/EU Navfor
EU Naval Force French frigate FS Surcouf (AFP Photo/EU Navfor
A French stealth frigate is reportedly conducting electronic surveillance of Russian coastal infrastructure in the Black Sea. The deepening political turmoil in Ukraine has prompted NATO to maintain warships in the region around the clock.
French stealth frigate Surcouf, which passed Turkey’s Bosphorus strait and entered the Black Sea on May 28, is conducting a SIGINT operation in immediate proximity to the Russia’s Black Sea Fleet installations in the Crimea peninsula, Itar-Tass reported, citing an unnamed source in the Russian diplomatic corps.
The frigate is maneuvering in the northern Black Sea, occasionally coming within 50 to 60 kilometers of the Russian shoreline, though not entering Russia’s territorial waters.
The Surcouf is believed to be busy eavesdropping “communications of military installations stationed along the coastline and collecting electronic intelligence on strategically important administrative infrastructure objects of the Crimea peninsula,” the source said.
The Surcouf replaced another French intelligence ship, Dupuy de Lome, which had been present in the Black Sea from May 14. Dupuy de Lome, a vessel designed for radar monitoring and capable of intercepting communications, including phone calls and e-mails, had previously been deployed to the Black Sea from April 11 to April 30.
The latest information suggests there are two NATO vessels deployed to the Black Sea now, the Surcouf and the US Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72), which entered the Black Sea on May 23. The USS Vella Gulf is reportedly moored in the port of Constanta, Romania.
Another NATO reconnaissance ship, Italy’s Elettra, is preparing to enter the Black Sea on June 15 and head close to Russian shores, RIA Novosti news agency reported Tuesday. The ship, with a deadweight of over 2,000 tons, has a crew of 100 and is equipped with over 30 systems of hydro-acoustic and radio-electronic reconnaissance, among them a submergence autonomous vehicle capable of making 1-kilometer-deep dives.
Following the meeting of the NATO member states’ defense ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told journalists that the ministers “agreed to go on with strengthening of the NATO collective defense by enhancing air and sea patrols… from the Baltic to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.”

Maritime turnabout

Over the last four months, there have been a number of NATO warships paying visits to the Black Sea.
The currently deployed in the area USS Vella Gulf replaced the USS Taylor, a frigate that was deployed to the region from April 24 through May 12, and its shift was in turn preceded by the presence of the destroyer USS Donald Cook, deployed to the Black Sea in early April.
US warship, USS Donald Cook (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)
US warship, USS Donald Cook (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)

All the American battleships took part in various training maneuvers with US allies in the region: Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania and Turkey.
The reason why NATO has to constantly replace warships in the Black Sea is the Montreux Convention, a US-authorized treaty from 1936, which bars outside countries from keeping warships in the Black Sea for more than 21 days.
According to the convention, the maximum deadweight of a non-regional warship in the Black Sea should not exceed 45,000 tons, which also bans passage of US air carriers into the Black Sea.
The caravan of NATO ships in the region began with escalation of the political crisis in Ukraine, particularly after Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum.
In early March, Washington sent USS Truxtun Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to the Black Sea to keep a closer eye on the Russian forces deployed to the Crimea peninsula.
The US Navy destroyer "USS Truxtun" (AFP Photo/Anton Stoyanov)
The US Navy destroyer "USS Truxtun" (AFP Photo/Anton Stoyanov)

At the time there was another American battleship in the region, the guided missile frigate USS Taylor, which had been assigned to the Black Sea for the Sochi Winter Olympics.
The USS Taylor actually became a rare example of a ship that violated the Montreux Convention by exceeding the limited time of deployment to the Black Sea by 11 days, as the crew claimed the vessel ran aground on February 12 and had to undergo maintenance in the Turkish port of Samsun.
U.S. Navy frigate USS Taylor (Reuters/Murad Seze)
U.S. Navy frigate USS Taylor (Reuters/Murad Seze)

Russian maritime experts have shared their concerns about the presence of US battleships with Aegis ABM systems aboard so close to the Russian shore.
Russian MP Mikhail Nenashev told RIA Novosti in April that the presence of such ships in the Black Sea “is only needed to show that they have not abandoned their intention to deploy sea-based ABM defense systems.”
The constant presence of NATO warships equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and SM-3 interceptor missiles allows them to function as part of the US missile shield program in Europe. And it comes as part of a wider buildup of NATO forces close to Russian borders against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis.
The deployment of US and NATO warplanes, ships and troops close to Russian borders hasprompted Moscow’s concerns.
“Our concern is caused by an increase of US air force and the American military personnel in the Baltic, Poland, and also the Alliance's ships in the Black Sea,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement, quoting Russia’s Chief of General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov.
NATO war games in Eastern Europe are also “not helping” to normalize the situation, Russia's defense minister Sergey Shoigu said earlier.
NATO military buildup in the Black Sea could explain an incident with the Russian Su-24 fighter jet and the USS Donald Cook destroyer that took place on April 12 close to the Crimea peninsula, when for 90 minutes an unarmed Russian Su-24 simulated low-altitude attacks on the US destroyer, flying by the battleship at a distance of less than 1 kilometer, at altitudes of 150 meters, and making overall 12 strike runs.
After the incident, the USS Donald Cook destroyer retreated to Romanian territorial waters.