A newly released Snowden doc, published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, shows how Cable and Wireless (now a Vodafone subsidiary) made millions of pounds illegally installing fiber-taps to help GCHQ conduct its programme of mass surveillance.
Other telcos participated in the program, and the NSA also paid US-based "partners" to help them conduct indiscriminate spying.
The extent of the cable taps had been hinted at before in Snowden documents detailing Turbulence and Xkeyscore, the global distributed mass surveillance platform deployed by the NSA to search through the contents of Internet traffic. Taps into trans-oceanic cables were also revealed to be part of the NSA's MUSCULAR program, which tapped into the private connections between the data centers of Yahoo and Google.
But the latest documents reveal the actual names of the cables the NSA and GCHQ had access to as of 2009 as well as their "egress" speed—the volume of data that the agencies could pull from the cables. As of July of 2009, relationships with three telecom companies provided access to 592 10-gigabit-per-second pipes on the cables collectively and 69 10-gbps "egress" pipes through which data could be pulled back. The July 2009 documents included a shopping list for additional cable access—GCHQ sought to more than triple its reach, upping access to 1,693 10-gigabit connections and increasing egress capacity to 390. The documents revealed a much shorter list of "cables we do not currently have good access [to]."
It's not clear from the documents whether any of the 63 cable taps on the GCHQ list are NSA-provided, though a number of them have US landfalls—including Pacific cables connecting from the US to Japan and China and a number of cables serving the Caribbean, South, and Central America.
New Snowden docs: GCHQ's ties to telco gave spies global surveillance reach [Sean Gallagher/Ars Technica]
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