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. Read more of this post

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UK to probe Chinese telecoms firm over security concerns

Huawei TechnologiesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The British government has confirmed that it will review the involvement of a Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer in a cybersecurity testing center in Oxfordshire, England. The facility, called Cyber Security Evaluations Centre, has been operating since 2010 in the town of Banbury, 64 miles northeast of London. Its establishment was part of a 2005 agreement between firm British Telecom and Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei. According to the stipulations of the agreement, British Telecom would purchase switches and other hardware equipment from the Chinese company, if the latter agreed to set up “the Cell”, as it is known, in Banbury, to test the equipment’s security features. However, last month, a report (.pdf)  by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) raised strong concerns about Huawei’s involvement at the Centre. The ISC report called the government’s attention to “the risks of Huawei effectively policing themselves” and stressed that Britain’s national security could potentially be compromised by Huawei’s alleged links to the Chinese military. The report based its concerns on the fact that virtually every member of staff at the Banbury testing facility is an employee of Huawei, barring its Director, who is a former deputy director of Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The parliamentary report urged the government to overcome its “fear of jeopardizing trade links with Beijing” and pressure British Telecom to amend its agreement with Huawei. Instead of Huawei technicians, the ISC report suggested that the Banbury Centre should be staffed exclusively with personnel from GCHQ —Britain’s communications intelligence agency. Late last week, the UK Cabinet Office announced it was in agreement with the principal recommendations of the ISC report and said that a review of the Banbury testing facility will take place. Read more of this post