Location of UK’s ‘above top-secret’ Middle East spy base revealed

GCHQ's Seeb spy base in OmanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The location of a British listening base in the Middle East, which is classified by the British government as “three levels above top-secret”, has been revealed by a technology website. The information had been previously leaked by American defector Edward Snowden to several British newspapers, but the latter refrained from airing it following pressure by the British government. However, the highly classified material was published on Tuesday in online technology review The Register. The author of the revelatory article is Duncan Campbell, a longtime investigative journalist and researcher who has been reporting on intelligence matters for over three decades. In his article, Campbell alleges that the secret British spy base is located in Seeb, in northeast Oman, and is operated by the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency. The base’s primary operational goal is to monitor undersea telecommunications cables serving the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, which pass through the Strait of Hormuz. According to Campbell, the listening facility was initially constructed with British funding as a joint intelligence center with the Omani authorities, with the purpose of intercepting the signals of civilian communications satellites orbiting in the wider region. But it has since developed into one of three high-value GCHQ locations in Oman (referred to as Overseas Processing Centres —OPCs). The three locations, codenamed TIMPANI, GUITAR and CLARINET, form part of a region-wide communications interception program codenamed CIRCUIT. Through CIRCUIT, London has allegedly managed to gain access to nearly a dozen underwater cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz, which link a host of Arab countries, including Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Interestingly, GCHQ relies on the close cooperation of several telecommunications service providers to meet its interception targets, says Campbell. These include British Telecom, codenamed REMEDY in internal GCHQ documents, and Vodafone, the world’s second-largest mobile telecommunications company, which GCHQ has codenamed GERONTIC. These two companies have groups of technicians working within GCHQ in especially designated Sensitive Relationship Team (SRT) contingents. In return, the companies receive “secret GCHQ payments running into tens of millions of pounds annually”, says Campbell. It is worth noting that American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who published the initial leaks by Snowden, confirmed on Tuesday that the CIRCUIT information was indeed given by the American defector to several newspapers, including The Guardian, but remained unpublished. Responding to a question about how Campbell acquired the classified information, Greenwald said it was a query that “only he [Campbell] can answer”.

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5 Responses to Location of UK’s ‘above top-secret’ Middle East spy base revealed

  1. Peter Wallerberger says:

    I’m amazed that Duncan Campbell has lowered himself to the position of the proverbial ‘Town Crier’ by falling for such an cunningly designed Russian script (despite the facts as stated may well be close to the truth.)

    I’m sure Mr Campbell could have ‘chosen a more appropriate time in the future & in book form’
    (I.E: like “A suitable piece of Real Estate – a must read) – rather than acting as a ‘go between’ for Edward Snowden and by default actually playing a part in a very very complex play staged by the Kremlin.(There are enough pawns in this game without it getting any more complicated)

    I’m alittle surprised that Joe Fitsanakis published the above article . If no one bothered publishing Snowdens revelations then Snowden & his Associates will have failed miserably
    and not surprisingly, Edwards arranged vacation in Moscow will come to an end rather suddenly !!

  2. intelNews says:

    @Peter Wallerberger: My editorial view on this piece is that it contains value beyond the “town-crier” aspect you indicated. The most important revelation in Campbell’s article is not that the UK is tapping underwater cables. They have been doing that since before World War I. What interests me –and I believe the British public– is the SRT contingents. I have worked extensively on the institutional interface between the British intelligence community and telecommunications service providers, and these revelations are clear indications of the increasing operational proximity between the two. [JF]

  3. Mike Walsh says:

    @Mr. Wallerberger: one cannot unring a bell. The information is out there (and for the record I absolutely believe Snowden is a traitor) and it seems to me that this is what would be called “inevitable discovery” in the criminal justice system. Therefore,, an analysis by this forum (which is the purpose for its existence) is appropriate, not to mention interesting.

    @intelnews: Thanks for this editorial. Very interesting story. I agree with Mr. Wallerberger in that there are likely more players involved than are currently known, and I, for one, can’t wait to read about it in future on this site!

  4. Paul Beaumont says:

    I have to agree with Peter on Duncan Campbell’s action. I might also add that far from just having six satellite dishes there’s other stuff visible too – a small antenna farm as well as what appears to be an RDF installation along the lines of the well known AN/FLR-9 antenna. With so much satellite and radio stuff prevalent is this really where the undersea cable takes place or is it in one, two or all three intercept installations?

  5. Pingback: Location of UK’s ‘Above Top-Secret’ Middle East Spy Base Revealed | IIS-MU Blog

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