A reader of my last post, Nell, commented:
The information in the story that came from Snowden-released files is from a slide already published by the Guardian. On reading the Independent story for the first time I had the impression they’d acquired docs themselves, but it’s clear on close reading that they don’t make that claim.
Nell didn’t have a link to the slide, so I went poking around. I think the one below, which accompanied the Guardian’s story on X-Keyscore, is the one Nell means. Those red dots are all data gathering sites and yeah, there’s one in the Middle East, more than one even:
…the system used 150 sites all over the world in countries such as Egypt, Australia, India, Pakistan, Russia, and France to collect e-mail addresses, phone numbers, web chat logs, and sites visited, among other things. Even in 2008, the system had the capability to show intelligence analysts “all the encrypted word documents from Iran,” for instance, or all users of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) in that country.
Put this together with previous disclosures about data mining from fibre optic cables and ask yourself if The Independent disclosed anything new when it reported this:
Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies, The Independent has learnt.
The station is able to tap into and extract data from the underwater fibre-optic cables passing through the region.
The information is then processed for intelligence and passed to GCHQ in Cheltenham and shared with the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States.
Unless I’m misreading, the only thing that seems potentially new here is the extent of GCHQ involvement. However, that the GCHQ is the UK eye in the NSA’s Five Eyes partnership (which also includes Canada, New Zealand and Australia) is well-known. In a Sydney Morning Herald article on X-Keyscore, Snowden singled out GCHQ for its uniquely intrusive Tempora program:
Tempora is the first ‘I save everything’ approach (‘full take’) in the intelligence world. It sucks in all data, no matter what it is, and which rights are violated by it.
The Independent article also offered more specifics than may have been disclosed elsewhere about where information about GCHQ’s place in the program resides:
Information about the project was contained in 50,000 GCHQ documents that Mr Snowden downloaded during 2012. Many of them came from an internal Wikipedia-style information site called GC-Wiki.
When considered alongside the cherry-picking of one listening post out of 15o, this is perhaps the most tantalizing nugget in relation to the article’s provenance. It’s also the only thing lending any credence at all to The Guardian’s hyperventilating about it, which seems oddly oblivious to how much of the Independent’s ‘exclusive’ the Guardian had already told. If the UK government wants to discredit Greenwald and Snowden, repackaging their own disclosures seems an odd way of going about it.