Location of UK’s ‘above top-secret’ Middle East spy base revealed
June 4, 2014 5 Comments
By 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”.