GCHQ Intercept Sites in Oman

Last June, the Guardian published a story about GCHQ tapping fiber-optic Internet cables around the globe, part of a program codenamed TEMPORA. One of the facts not reported in that story—and supposedly the fact that the Guardian agreed to withhold in exchange for not being prosecuted by the UK authorities—was the location of the access points in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, the Register disclosed that they are in Oman:

The secret British spy base is part of a programme codenamed “CIRCUIT” and also referred to as Overseas Processing Centre 1 (OPC-1). It is located at Seeb, on the northern coast of Oman, where it taps in to various undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian/Arabian Gulf. Seeb is one of a three site GCHQ network in Oman, at locations codenamed “TIMPANI”, “GUITAR” and “CLARINET”. TIMPANI, near the Strait of Hormuz, can monitor Iraqi communications. CLARINET, in the south of Oman, is strategically close to Yemen.

Access is provided through secret agreements with BT and Vodaphone:

British national telco BT, referred to within GCHQ and the American NSA under the ultra-classified codename “REMEDY”, and Vodafone Cable (which owns the former Cable & Wireless company, aka “GERONTIC”) are the two top earners of secret GCHQ payments running into tens of millions of pounds annually.

There’s no source document associated with the story, but it does seem to be accurate. Glenn Greenwald comments:

“Snowden has no source relationship with Duncan (who is a great journalist), and never provided documents to him directly or indirectly, as Snowden has made clear,” Greenwald said in an email. “I can engage in informed speculation about how Duncan got this document -­ it’s certainly a document that several people in the Guardian UK possessed ­—but how he got it is something only he can answer.”

The reporter is staying mum on his source:

When Wired.co.uk asked Duncan Campbell—the investigative journalist behind the Register article revealing the Oman location—if he too had copies proving the allegations, he responded: “I won’t answer that question—given the conduct of the authorities.”

“I was able to look at some of the material provided in Britain to the Guardian by Edward Snowden last year,” Campbell, who is a forensic expert witness on communications data, tells us.

Campbell also published this on the NSA today.

EDITED TO ADD (6/16): Cyprus is another interception point for Middle East surveillance.

Posted on June 5, 2014 at 3:58 PM68 Comments


Petréa Mitchell June 5, 2014 4:58 PM

The Register and Guardian both report the name of the program as TEMPORA. TEMPURA would be their secret squid recipe…

flaphound June 5, 2014 7:39 PM

What I find most distressing about this story is that I am not surprised. The only way I’d feel shocked is if there was a government entity somewhere on the globe not trying (or at least wanting) to collect every scrap of e-data it could. Ed Snowden did a great job at conveying what the G-men are up to.

But the one thing I think Snowden didn’t consider is that his actions would make it more difficult, rather than easier, for the like minded whistle-blowers following him to sound off without ending up like Kiriakou. I know there’s Bill Binney and Thomas Drake, but until someone else steps forward, there is always going to be a majority of people discrediting and blowing off Snowden’s message. And the unwarranted surveillance will roll on.

David C. June 5, 2014 9:06 PM

Duncan Campbell is another total traitor and jerk. I am surprised he has lasted this long. I think reporters revealing highly classified information is a crime and simply because you are a reporter should not exempt you from appropriate punishment for the damage you have done. Campbell is an idiot and traitor and should be treated as such.

Chris Abbott June 5, 2014 9:11 PM

Well, the secretive cooperation with the telcos is disturbing though. Funny how BT was involved and Bruce chose to leave BT.


Did you have a clearance or know about any of these things? I don’t really expect you to answer that but still…

Withheld June 5, 2014 9:13 PM

Not interesting? It IS interesting to hear about how the British government again forced their reporters to hold back on important information.

Chris Abbott June 5, 2014 9:18 PM


After reading the article I changed my mind, it’s just more warantless mass surveillance.

@David C.

If journalists cannot do their jobs there can be no democracy. Citizens can’t choose leaders while in the dark. Think Pravda and RT: Putin may be popular in Russia, but that’s because people don’t get to hear the other side!

David C. June 5, 2014 9:23 PM

Reporters can do their jobs without revealing highly classified information that comes into their hands. Why, just because they receive highly classified information should this mean they have the right to publish it without consequence? You certainly can continue to have Democracy without a traitor being a traitor and a reporter not revealing damaging classified information. Democracy is a lot stronger than this.

Chris Abbott June 5, 2014 10:10 PM

@David C.

You can’t possibly think for a moment that what the NSA does is legal, ethical, AND constitutional. The notion that the government could hide violating the constitution and hide heinous crimes against it’s own people by simply classifying it is very disturbing. I won’t vote for candidates that support the NSA’s criminal behavior, and I wouldn’t know they were doing it if it weren’t for the journalists that covered it. This is why our Founding Fathers incorporated freedom of the press into the constitution. They knew that without it, the government would be free to abuse it’s power in total darkness and that there would be no accountability. It’s all about the constitution…

As for the alleged damage: Where is it? How come thousands of people haven’t died in a terrorist attack yet? How come nobody has been able to prove any damage or demonstrate a single instance of any of this putting anyone in danger? How come there is no evidence whatsoever that these programs prevented a single terrorist attack and nobody has even cited an example where a plot was foiled by these programs? I don’t see damage to the American people. I see damage to their reputations and embarrassment for them.

DasBub June 5, 2014 10:20 PM

@David C.

Are you the ghost of Margaret Thatcher? If you couldn’t silence Duncan Campbell in life, the chances of doing so from The Beyond are nil.

P.S. Secret Society was a great series.

gremlin June 6, 2014 3:08 AM

The leak didn’t just happen. Someone gave the info to Duncan.

Lets begin a logic tree.

Greenwald says it wasn’t Snowden.

If it was snowden then Greenwald is lying and will probably be outed by someone like Bruce with access to the Snowden data.

I dont think the location was in the Snowden data dump. I could be wrong.

If it wasn’t Snowden, then someone else leaked the data to Duncan.

In that case, one can wonder what there motives are.

If this location was already in AQ hands, then no informational harm was done and leakers like Snowden are morally discredited.

If this location was not in AQ hands, then a bunch of possibilities exist:
A. The leaker was deliberately sabotaging the site
A1. A rival agency wanted the site revealed; this is part of an intra 5eyes budget war
A2 The site was useless because strong encryption started being used
A3 The site was obsolete and no advantage was given to AQ.
A4 The leaker was a plant of some foreign agency
B The leak was an accident and someone is being sent to Antarctica in punishment

We will probably never know.

Mike the goat June 6, 2014 6:45 AM

Chris: marvelous reply! You pretty much covered everything I wanted to say to the O.P. More on the general side of things, I find it hard to believe that anyone can side with the way that the US gov’t has been handling things. Snowden is a true hero – showing the populace just how little the government cares about the Constitution. Because of the NSA and FVEY’s program(s) we are now considered untrustworthy and this will ultimately hurt Intel, AMD and pretty much every other business in the realm of IT that is based in the United States. This permeates right through; if we start with semi fab, then go onto software (Microsoft, Google), service providers (Verizon, AT&T), etc – it just doesn’t stop. The powers that be want this whole thing to just ‘blow over’, but thanks to places like EPIC and the FSF it hopefully isn’t going to just go away. We need to fight and make them aware of the fact that the Internet – as a collective – votes and can do damage to a standing party. This may not upset them if the NSA have already pwned the voting machines 😉

Bruce Schneier June 6, 2014 12:08 PM

“Did you have a clearance or know about any of these things? I don’t really expect you to answer that but still…”

I did not have a clearance (either US or UK), and I had nothing to do with BT’s government dealings. So I didn’t know anything about their relationship with GCHQ. I could guess as easily as anyone else, though.

Bob S. June 6, 2014 1:28 PM

Re: “You may want to move to Iceland at this point” ~Duncan Campbell

Campbell’s article is a devastating indictment of the NSA, GCHQ and Five Eyes. Their goal is totalitarian domination and control of all electronic communication, everywhere, all the time.

Here at home a variety of agencies such as FBI, DEA even the IRS have jumped on the bandwagon. Meanwhile, hundreds of local police departments are grabbing every device and hackers trick they can for their own purposes. It seems the entire government has gone rogue in regards to electronic imprisonment. Standing law and the Constitution be damned for all they care.

I think all of that is becoming common knowledge. The facet I would like to add is it seems all the governments and corporations of the entire world are trying to copy NWO STASI practices. India, China, Russia, Brazil come to mind. They ALL want a piece of OUR data.

With maybe the exception of Iceland and a few others.

Back at home again, the President, Congress and the Supreme Court fiddle or worse are complicit in taking power from the people, seemingly in direct contradiction of long standing law, Constitution even possibly the Magna Carta.

If this electronic New World Order politik was Newtonian we would have to assume at some time there will be a equal and opposite reaction.

If so, I think I do want to be in Iceland when it happens.

Douglas N. Letter, Champion of Justice June 6, 2014 5:31 PM

I am grateful to patriots like David C. who hold the line against treasonous journalists. If we didn’t have state secrets, every Tom Dick and Harry could find out how the US government illegally refouled Binyam Mohammed and had our tame goons slit his penis open like a bloomin’ onion day after day and pour caustic chemicals into the bloody slits. Where would we be then? People would start to think they could criticize America for even the most well-intentioned government crimes. Then the terrorists would win.

David C. June 6, 2014 6:41 PM

@Douglas N. Letter

I would not support the torturing of someone in the manner described. Just for the record. I do not support any kind of torture. I do support intelligence gathering activities, where SIGINT is one example, provided they are not directed against our own populations. It seems people who write to this blog do not support any kind of intelligence activities which I find remarkable. Perhaps you do not support having a military either? There are many countries in the world who would do the West harm. Would you not support intelligence activities against any of those countries (Iran, North Korea, China and Russia are a couple of examples that come to mind)?

David C. June 6, 2014 7:17 PM

@ Chris Abbott

I do support most NSA activities provided they are not directed against US citizens. I do not condone people leaking classified information from the types of Snowden to include journalists. However I do support the Freedom of the Press and I would think that journalists could write their articles without divulging masses of classified information directly. Cannot the point be made without the journalist being a leaker themselves? As for the damage that has been done. Companies have been revealed as accomplices to NSA intelligence gathering activities. Those companies revenues and hence employees are affected. Jobs lost. Current intelligence gathering activities are affected. Possibly future wars cannot be won as easily. You would probably only know the real damage if you worked at NSA and had the clearances.

Bill Kelly June 6, 2014 7:45 PM

@David C.: You are naive in support of the NSA if you assume they can be trusted to conduct only foreign intelligence-gathering activities.

The whole point of Snowden’s revelations is that they lied to (and deceived) their (supposed) civilian overseers, then lied on multiple occasions after the evidence was revealed by Snowden, then have continued to discredit Snowden, thinking to do so will somehow discredit the evidence against them.

NSA is a branch of the military/intelligence community, typically headed by some 4-star Pentagon brass. So, under our system of governance, it is required that the military be overseen by democratically elected civilian leadership. Otherwise, you have a military junta and not a representative democracy.

For the NSA to blantantly violate oversight laws and court rulings is tantamount to undermining civilian authority. It’s best we don’t go down that road, if we hold our freedom dear.

So you say you support freedom of the press? Maybe you should study what that means by recent history in Central- and South America. The test of free speech is whether unpopular speech also gets the same protection as that of the mainstream. It’s the same with a free press. There’s a long history of what that means, and often it means breaking the letter of law or regulation to uphold a higher principle.

Nick P June 6, 2014 8:00 PM

@ David C

All your statements presume classified information should be put before every other interest and be treated with total immunity to press. The first problem is there’s never been any grounds for this. The second is it’s nearly impossible to expose wrongdoing in a believable way without using actual source material. Without docs, govt claims hearsay, speculation, exaggeration, etc. (Like they did pre-Snowden.)

The first point is important though. The Bill of Rights comes first over any Executive Order in legal power. The EO’s got solidified into law by Congress later on. Yet, even then, there were requirements on what could be classified, what justifies its release, and how long before auto-declassofication. The biggest requirement is classification must never be used to cover up illegal activity.

So, we have all kinds of politicians using fear and lies from 9/11 onward. These included obfuscated evidence to start wars costing tens of thousands of lives, claims that no intentional collection was done on Americans, claims NSA submissions to crypto standards were strengthening our protections, and promises that there were plenty of safeguards for these programs. The actual data about all this was classified. Over time, data was leaked showing every above claim was deception leading to damage to American citizens.

You claim classified information shouldnt ever be released by media. The laws governing classified information say criminal activity must not be classified. Other laws say executive branch should never lie to Congress. Yet others say the chain of evidence in trials should be preserved for evaluation by defense. Another Amendment or two talk about unreasonable searches and due process. All in all, the NSA activities seem to violate plenty of laws and constitutional principles. Yet, Congress won’t touch them abd court cases routinely throw out evidence thats “classified.” (Even though crimes can’t be classified legally…)

So what’s a democracy left to do to get a handle on such a situation? The public, Congress, and the courts were all lied to. The only thing left is our press protection partly designed to expose government corruption. And insiders whose conscience wont tolerate it. So, the leaking began. Previous leaks were testimony rather than documents, much like you prefer, yet didnt inform or accomplish almost anything. Govt dismissed claims. So, next ones were just a big document dump.

Now, for first time, they’re admitted they lied about things, they do target Americans, and were caught red handed weakening all US goods they were supposed to protect. Absent a leak of “classified” material we couldn’t prove it. They’d just call accusers conspiracy theorists while harrassing them at airports and gaving FBI kick their doors in.

woz once in governmet June 6, 2014 8:27 PM

I was once in Government and had clearances. I had to go to a meeting at a security agency. A special “delivery” turned up. I identified myself, they opened the case and handed me a double sealed envelope, marked “Top Secret”. I opened the letter… it just told me where the meeting was…

The problem with classified material is that it scoops up vast amount of data that really shouldn’t be classified. The reason the location of the meeting was classified was because I was going to a security agency, the meeting wasn’t classified though.

So is the case with much of the mass surveillance. The data that is being slurped isn’t classified the purpose is – so you get this chain event of all things associated being classified.

What needs to happen is a lot more honesty. We have to have security agencies protecting us, we really do. However we need to create the right framework that allows Governments to be honest where they can and honest where they can’t.

moz June 7, 2014 2:46 AM

A large part of the activities of GCHQ and NSA are clearly illegal. Admitted activities such as mass gathering of private personal information of citizens in their homes (“meta data” let alone content) is a breach of both the Magna Carta and the US constitution and ranks as one of the most serious crimes possible for a security system. Deliberately disadvantaging honest foreign companies by negotiating trade agreements is simple theft. Working to help a criminal organisation to avoid punishment is conspiracy.

@David C. and @Skeptic
I have a simple proposal. If you guys arrange for yourselves, and everyone else who have been conspiring to support the NSA by pushing attention away from their crimes and towards Snowden and his personal situation to be locked away for life without internet access, then I will support bringing Snowden home to the USA for a fair trial. Sounds fair to me; how about you? Obviously this will involve the majority of US and UK politicians of most parties, but we wouldn’t want people to avoid justice, would we?

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons June 7, 2014 2:52 AM

@ David C.

It seems people who write to this blog do not support any kind of intelligence activities which I find remarkable. Perhaps you do not support having a military either?

What I find more interesting, people writing about complex issues with less than an inkling of the basis, causation, or purpose for systems and structures–in either a scientific or sociopolitical context. I have argued frequently that I find little evidence of intelligence, natural or artificial.

  1. We, collectively, represent a species that for example when having developed a telescope was:
    • irate and irrational, the center of the universe was in question
    • took over 300 years to find a galaxy.
  2. A majority of humanity holds to superstition, irrational fear, and in general behaves no different than in the 18th century.

Bruce’s book ‘Liars and Outliers’ includes significant coverage of the psychological and sociological theories that “describe” how this is driven…

Another problem I have, it’s when the general population ignore their history and see the world without the advantage of understanding the past and the mistakes (and triumphs) that others did well to document and pass on. For example; the author of the Constitution of the United States, James Madison, was truly the first social hacker. He also mentioned, fervently, that standing armies are the tools of tyrants. And that the framers; Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, Washington, et al understood that other tools of tyranny are easily instituted in law or edict–what kind of surveillance are you addressing–that which is legal–or is it the type that flagrantly flogs the history and progress the framers delivered to self-governance and humanity?

We would all do well to mimick the sensibility, honor, hope, and trust in “[wo]men”.
My impression with totalitarian states–including the United States–need to be addressed directly. For example, I see many U.S. senators skipping off to the Ukraine to speak of “freedom” or some such thing. But, even though they are in the hood, they fail to stop by and say hello to Putin and speak directly to him about their concerns. To my way of thinking, this would carry a lot of weight and make problem resolution more likely and war less.

Are you a patron, peasant, or a patriot?

moz June 7, 2014 3:17 AM

@woz once in governmet

Probably lots of this is ritual. Basically they are trying to say that you are important. This helps you to understand how much more important the Prime Minister / President is than you since I bet most of his meeting invites are delivered this way; let alone the head of the secret services.

One interesting question though; couldn’t this sending of low grade information also help resistance against traffic analysis?

Bob S. June 7, 2014 6:52 PM

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

David C. June 7, 2014 7:38 PM

@ name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons

I am a free person the last time I checked. I am free to contribute to this blog also with my opinions no matter what they may be. You can criticize me without stating your name. You are free to do so. However I believe you are a coward for not stating your name. I believe in and support the work of our Intelligence Agencies providing they are not directed against our own populations. I support the quest to bring freedom to other countries whose populations are not free. I may not be an expert in all areas of science but I am an expert in several areas. I am free to think about, write about complex issues. The United States is clearly not a totalitarian state. You are a complete fool to believe it is. Try living in North Korea for a couple of days. Then you would experience what a real totalitarian state is like, to have no freedom of thought or opinions.

Clive Robinson June 7, 2014 7:52 PM

@ Bob S.,

It depends on how you define sound…

Sound waves are not sound, they are the compression and decompression of a working fluid that is compressable and thus transfers sound energy through the fluid.

Sound is the result of the working fluid coupling energy into the mechanism of a sensory organ such as a creatures ear. This in turn changes the mechanical energy into chemical energy that by a process of sodium transfer couples an electric field into the nurons of the brain. Where the creature interprets the firing rate of the nurons as sound intensity and the particular nuron paths firing as representing the pitch of the sound.

So if there is no creature with an appropriate sensory organ in the vercinity, then although sound waves and energy are produced by the tree fall, they are not percieved as sound, ergo the tree did not make a sound on falling.

Thus similar could be said for vision, if the sense organ of a creature does not pick up the change in light reflections then “the tree is not seen to fall” either.

Now what of a recording device, untill a creature hears/ sees the recording of the tree falling, then arguably the tree is like Schrodinger’s cat neither fallen nor not fallen. Thus you have a state of indetermancy for the tree.

Daft as this may sound this is exactly what the NSA are arguing, that is even though the data or meta data is recorded it’s in a state of indetermanency untill an analyst or other creature percieves the recording in what passes for their brain…

And there is a degree of logic behind it, that is if the recording is destroyed befor it is percieved then whatever data or meta data was recorded, it remains unknown and thus in a state of indetermanency…

Now I don’t know what you know of Schrodinger’s cat, but it was a thought experiment designed to show the ludicrous nature of the quantum state being in all states untill measured, ie only when you look in the box does the alive/dead probability of the cat resolve to one state or the other. Whereas common sense says the cat was either alive or dead prior to you looking in the box.

Now I don’t know about you but perhaps we should start talking of the “NSA Cat” and how Ed Snowden let “the cat out of the bag”, and thus the indetermanate nature of the NSA activities over the past fifty years ceased to be a probabilites argument and became a certainty, in which privacy had been killed.

David C. June 7, 2014 7:52 PM

@ Nick P.

You make several good points that I had not previously considered. I am not dogmatic in my beliefs and am willing to consider other people’s opinions. If the release of information had only been about the collection of information against our own populations then I might support it. However such a massive document dump went way beyond this and has clearly damaged foreign intelligence collection activities which is a worthy goal to protect our democracy. Target weakening of foreign networks would have no effect on our own populations and our own democracy.

David C. June 7, 2014 9:02 PM

The fact that someone like Greenwald thinks Duncan Campbell is a great journalist reveals how bad they both are. The are both traitors of their respective countries as Snowden is of the USA. If Snowden has stopped at just revealing NSA collection against its own population then maybe he could have earned some respect. But the fact he and people like Greenwald and Campbell reveal secrets that damage foreign intelligence collection and dont blink an eye is proof of them all being traitors.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons June 7, 2014 9:11 PM

@ David C.
Okay, I’ll bite. First if you could find the courage to come out from behind your ignorance. Is this the type of constructive/instructive discourse. You’re going to have to do better than that. Arguing, without a basis in fact, makes one appear ignorant. Your feelings about what is right is not a philosophical or sociopolitical stance–and your are entitled to them. Using theses “feelings” to denigrate others is not going to produce results that others could come to appreciate.

Try citing a source that instructs your moral or ethical position. I guess blindly embracing the military is a demonstration of loyalty–I’d argue it is displaced. Loyalty should be to the ideals that have shaped our history for the last two hundred and thirty five years. A frame of reference for understand my thoughts and thesis on related subjects is “Common Sense” penned by Paine. His observations and understanding of human nature the the late 18th century is nothing short of brilliant. If you could muster the effort to achieve “brilliant” I’ll be impressed. Until then, pointing your finger at the lesser (N. Korea, etc.) and proclaiming greatness seems hollow and empty. Please insert another quarter and try again.

You have rights, and I will do what’s necessary to defend them. Every citizen matters and I do not draw distinctions (including citizens of the world). Nor do I exercise rhetoric that less substance, amounts to mere conjecture, platitudes, and opinion. Truth and Justice, of which trust and honesty comprise, is not subjective. If your arguments rest in hyperbole the scope and depth of any debate, discussion, or discovery will be challenged. I understand your statements, but not.the reasoning (of which I can guess) or rational that lead you to your conclusions/convictions remains a mystery.

Nick P June 7, 2014 10:53 PM

@ David C

That’s a fair position. The problem with it is that exposing spying on Americans means exposing that they’re backdooring certain products and services. That tips foreigners off by implication. Sometimes you can’t protect one without the other. That’s the limit I’d put on it, though, with regard to risking operations with leaks.

moz June 7, 2014 11:59 PM

@David C;

Target[ed] weakening of foreign networks would have no effect on our own populations and our own democracy

Had the NSA only been involved in targeted weakening, then your arguments might be valid. However the NSA has

  • gathered in one place huge amounts of data about communications of all people
  • incompetently put their key documents where spies likely had unfettered access
  • tried to block the widespread use of encryption
  • deliberately weakened encryption protocols
  • attacked the logistics of their own companies on their own soil
  • worked to weaken the security of systems used in financial institutions
  • deliberately left bugs they could have fixed in consumer operating systems

Each of these are things which have had a disproportionate, large and negative influence on the security of Americans who are far more likely than the average non-American to use electronic communication. If Duncan Campbell and Greenwald are traitors for weakening foreign intelligence gathering then you must be a super-traitor for consipiring with the weakening of the overall security of every American and American ally in their own homes? Right?

Even Snowden gave his documents to a Journalist who is filtering them to ensure only the ones showing clear misconduct are released whilst the NSA seems to have kept all their/our secrets in a Microsoft Sharepoint database with no effective access control whatsoever. If you want to do something sensible, forget about Snowden, Greenwald and Campbell; have the NSA and co fix their own mess and come back to discuss about your right to secrecy once you are more or less a valid part of the security apparatus of the USA.

Dave B June 8, 2014 4:47 AM

The Americans on this comment thread seem happy for their security organisations to conduct mass surveillance on citizens of other countries without any due process or oversight, including those of us who live in allied countries. Well, you may be (self-)satisfied about that arrangement but I hope you can understand that those of us being spied on by your security organisations are not quite so blase at the prospect. Duncan Campbell is a British journalist and is revealing the extent to which our daily lives are being spied upon by a foreign power, with the collaboration of our own government. That is a relevant fact that deserves to be in the public debate of our country regardless of whether the NSA spies on Americans as well. As is the fact that internet security standards and equipment have been deliberately sabotaged by our government.

I am repeatedly disappointed by the arrogance of some Americans who think it is perfectly OK for the NSA to spy on me as long as the NSA doesn’t spy on them. Often these are the same Americans who talk of the USA spreading freedom around the world and you don’t even seem to notice the contradiction in what you say.

anon June 8, 2014 6:26 AM

the vast databases they are compiling through this blanket capturing of all wire traffic (data, video and voice) is scary… you might be doing things right now that would be very embarrassing at a later date should they decide to trawl back through their databases after you ping their radar so to speak by say deciding to attend a protest meeting…

They photograph all attendees and keep tabs on them and their other contacts…

also that same collection of data is very useful to them to find blackmail information to keep judges, officials and politicians in line with their aims…

and it makes it very easy for them to trace journalist’s sources if they use normal means of communication…

Jericho Trumpet June 8, 2014 8:28 AM

To Chris Abbott:

Putin may be popular in Russia, but that’s because people don’t get to hear the other side!

They do, in fact. No matter how hard (hint: not hard enough and thank God for that) the government tries to censor ‘inappropriate’ information. What is probably worse, plenty of people there do not want to hear the other side, writing it all off as ‘enemy propaganda’.

Jericho Trumpet June 8, 2014 8:49 AM

Their goal is totalitarian domination and control of all electronic communication, everywhere, all the time.

I wonder if there’s a programme for that, called ‘AQUINAS PROTOCOL’ for example.

Iggy June 8, 2014 10:28 AM

Just guessing here, on the recent TrueCrypt disruption: maybe Snowden is about to release info on TrueCrypt as an NSA project, but he tips off the team at TC in advance, and they respond by asking everyone to migrate away from TC. I don’t have any inside info; just a guess.

KnottWhittingley June 8, 2014 11:15 AM

Dave B,

I suspect I speak for most Americans here on this site when I say that we are unhappy about US spying on everybody, not just US spying on its own citizens & residents.

I am even more concerned about the latter, though, because of the potential for political control and corruption, such that the government can act toward other countries in ways that even the US public would object to.

Spying on your own citizens is easier to use to consolidate your power than spying on foreigners. Controlling your own citizens makes it even easier to do whatever the hell you want to foreigners, with no accountability of any sort.

I’d rather be spied on by Putin than by Bush or Obama, despite thinking Putin’s worse than either of them, because Putin doesn’t have the power over me that a US President has. (If I were Russian, I’d rather have Bush or Obama spying on me than Putin, not that either is anywhere near acceptable.)

(As always, the main threat is not to personal privacy, but to political integrity. I’m not nearly as worried about the US spying on me personally as the US spying on my elected representatives, etc.)

Speaking for myself, I understand the rest of the world being very unhappy about the US spying on everything and everybody it can, internationally, because the US is already the most powerful country in the world and that’s just terrifying.

I think the rest of the world should be particularly afraid of the US spying on its own people, though, because of its potential for internally corrupting the worlds most powerful country, making it even more dangerous to others.

Moderator June 8, 2014 12:11 PM

Jun was a sockpuppet of a banned commenter. That’s why his comments (and one reply to him) disappeared.

DB June 8, 2014 4:30 PM

@Dave B

I am another American on this thread who is VERY disgusted at the US Government treating foreigners as less than human, by claiming it’s perfectly fine to violate any Human Right they please, as long as it’s not against US citizens on American soil. I see it as much worse than mere “American exceptionalism” or “patriotism” but closer to human slavery or Nazism, and an invasion of sovereignty close to invading and annexing the world. And I see all non-US governments accepting this in any degree as close to becoming vassal states to the US and accepting their annexing as valid.

But as great of a war crime as all that is… I also see it WORSE THAN THAT when the US Government decides, oh, guess what, now that we’ve enslaved the world… let’s enslave America too… bye bye Human Rights here on US soil too!

The main reason I see this as worse, is NOT because Americans are somehow better than others or more important though. More because, in order to fix all this and clean up this mess, we NEED to compartmentalize, and clean it up piece by piece. The problem is too big to tackle all at once. And if we hit the problem here at home first, and hardest, and clean that up primarily first, it will trickle out into a better foreign policy too. So it’s more “important” only as an order of priority in what to fix first and what will get at the root of the problem more sooner, not that the US people or citizenry are more important.

Unfortunately there are 2 or 3 vocal people on this forum who disagree with me, and they really do think that foreigners are worth less than Americans (i.e. somehow not human). And I also believe that, while the percentage of Americans who agree with me are high on this forum, I think the American population at large has a larger percentage who disagree, especially among American politicians is that percentage very high. So we have our work cut out for us.

David C. June 8, 2014 4:41 PM

Paul Szoldra carried a list of Snowden related leaks over the last year:

The total number of leaks is about 111.

The total number of obvious foreign intelligence related leaks is roughly 57.
(I only went through the list once and did not double check my numbers).

So about 50% of the leaks were unnecessary if the goal was to point out that NSA collects on its own citizens. The other 50% of the leaks show Snowden is a traitor to the cause of Democracy by clearly weakening our foreign intelligence collection capabilities by making this information public.

moz June 8, 2014 5:05 PM

@David C.

Earlier in this conversation there’s a fairly clear and specific list of reasons why you are a traitor by conspiring with those weakening the security of your fellow citizens, yet you completely and repeatedly ignore it as if you were a hired publicity person. Please could you address when you will be locking yourself, your political allies, and your colleagues away so that we can come back to the Snowden issue once we have higher priority issues, such as flood protection in Mongolia, dealt with.

BTW The person who must answer to the necessity of the leaks is the idiot in the NSA who thought that putting information about domestic surveillence (which should be primarily a policing matter and must be ready to be discoverable) together with information about foreign intelligence (which should be primarily a military matter and kept isolated from discoverable material) was a good idea. Now there’s a criminal act.

Clive Robinson June 8, 2014 5:34 PM

@David C.,

Do you actually read what you write before posting it?

For instance you make the following accusation against another,

However I believe you are a coward for not stating your name.

Yet you hide behind what is an equally anonymous name as well.

Do you realise what effect this has on your basic credibility?

Then you say other things that at best show very muddled thinking that lacks in basic logic as others have pointed out, and further you actually fail to address counter points that have been put to you.

I don’t know who you are or to be honest even care, likwise with what you might actually do for a living if anything. However I sincerly hope for the well being of others that you don’t apply the thinking and reasoning you have shown here to your work lest it prove as dangerous to others as driving under the influence would.

David C. June 8, 2014 5:39 PM


Your earlier comment said this:

“Target[ed] weakening of foreign networks would have no effect on our own populations and our own democracy

Had the NSA only been involved in targeted weakening, then your arguments might be valid. However the NSA has

  • gathered in one place huge amounts of data about communications of all people
  • incompetently put their key documents where spies likely had unfettered access
  • tried to block the widespread use of encryption
  • deliberately weakened encryption protocols
  • attacked the logistics of their own companies on their own soil
  • worked to weaken the security of systems used in financial institutions
  • deliberately left bugs they could have fixed in consumer operating systems”

First I have not revealed any classified information to anyone so am not a traitor. I have consistently said I do not support NSA collection against its own citizens. I do not believe NSA should be involved in weakening encryption and security protocols used by US citizens within the US. One of its goals is defense – to protect the US not weaken it to allow outside attacks to succeed. However weakening encryption, protocols, consumer operating systems used by foreign (non Five Eyes) countries is fair game for NSA and GCHQ.

DB June 8, 2014 5:52 PM

@David C.

“However weakening encryption, protocols, consumer operating systems used by foreign (non Five Eyes) countries is fair game for NSA and GCHQ.”

Explain to me why foreigners have NO HUMAN RIGHTS WHATSOEVER. WHY ARE THEY NOT HUMAN? Why should they be our dogs and slaves, whose sole purpose is to serve us?

If foreigners are less human than Americans, then maybe some Americans are less human than others… all of democracy, freedom, and liberty, the very foundations of our country collapses. Why can’t you see this?

David C. June 8, 2014 6:20 PM

@ Clive Robinson

You make a good point. I withdraw that comment as for now I wish to maintain some degree of privacy. As for my thinking I think for the most part it is logically consistent.

@DB Not all countries in this world are Democracies. The USA is the most important Democracy and must maintain its dominance in the world. It has many enemies. Gathering intelligence on our enemies is a worthy activity in order to maintain our dominance and our Freedom.

Nick P June 8, 2014 7:04 PM

@ db

I actually agree with him on that. Nations compete for territory and resources. Much of our treaties and business deal are about that. Gathering information on the competition has been a good strategy to survive and thrive for a long time. The number of nations with an intelligence service or aiding others’ shows how many believe this. There are many.

The US wants to be ahead of the curve across the board. So, they use their spies as leverage for that. Other countries, including our allies, do the same. It’s a game that goes back thousands of years. The only thing that will happen if we stop is our competition, including enemies, will get ahead of us. So stopping isnt an option.

The necessity of intelligence work goes hand in hand with the existence of nations themselves. Until Utopia, Singularity, etc magically appear to eliminate all conflict. Im not holding my breath on that.

DB June 8, 2014 7:55 PM

There’s a big difference between “gathering intelligence on enemies” and “total and complete domination in the world, treating all non-citizens as non-humans”

The whole reason for the word “right” in the phrase “human right” is that all humans are supposed to have inalienable rights based on being human. Just like truth is true whether anyone believes it or not, rights exist also regardless of whether they are being infringed or not. Otherwise, if humans are no different than dogs other than having slightly larger brain organs and walking upright, what’s wrong with slavery? Why did we bother fighting a civil war, or even Hitler? Really ONLY to dominate? With no utopian or moral ideals figured in whatsoever?

This is wrong wrong wrong. It it totally wrong to think that the strong deserve to dominate the weak (ultimate domination being simply mass killing off the weak). Seriously, go to a totalitarian country if you believe that. That does not belong in a Democracy.

And if this is really what most Americans believe now, is that we are special and we deserve to dominate the rest of the world using any and all means possible… then will it be a wonder that the rest of the world might rebel against us, just as surely as the world rebelled against Hitler’s push to dominate the world? It should be WWIII out there and we should be crushed, with that Axis power philosophy, just as Hitler was!

DB June 8, 2014 8:07 PM

By the way, if humans have no right to privacy at all, you all should be in prison for not revealing your real names publicly, right? Tor, SSL/TLS, all forms of encryption, all should be outlawed, right? And everyone who walks down the street should publicly display an ID card that clearly says their real name too, kind of like a human license plate. It’s like getting a license to live.

Nick P June 8, 2014 10:56 PM

@ DB

That’s a lot of idealism. Reality is that there are no “rights:” there’s protections people negotiate with individual governments. They might be local, national, etc. The protections vary by area, majority/minority group, etc. The governments also often try to get more for themselves. Governments similarly negotiate the goals of their people and use their power to accomplish that. International “rights” agreements are often lip service because there’s no international government: there’s individual governments that decide what they’re going to do, treaty or not. Makes me wonder why people cite such things here so much.

So, let’s look at the United States. A long while back the government decided to be an empire. There were a number of empires. They all used a combination of persuasion, shady negotiations, and military force to acquire territories. Some of these they controlled directly, some they got extra benefits from. The U.S. for one reason or another became quite a vast empire of influence and control. American people supported (or didn’t prevent) most of the military actions we’ve done in dozens of countries to promote this agenda. Now, we have trillions of capital invested in countries everywhere that we have to protect. We also have hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars worth of military-intelligence-industrial complex to do exactly that.

You’re “non-human” is almost correct albeit too emotionally charged. It’s more like stockbrokers, private security firms and others looking after a rich fat cat’s investments. The U.S. is the fat cat. To maintain it’s empire, it needs intel and influence all over the world. There’s at least two other countries aiming for similar levels of influence and success via intelligence work. Our vast SIGINT capabilities are supposed to be a competitive edge against them and a first mover advantage in the world in general. And don’t let terms like “ally” or “neutral” fool you: almost all of them are our competition in some way that can cause a capitalist empire problems if left unchecked. Keeping an eye on everything, esp the dozens of countries doing the same, is exactly what you’d expect a $20+ trillion military/industrial/I.P. empire to do.

Now, there is a solution. Americans just have to be willing to totally focus inward by ending all foreign spying: putting their currency’s future value in hands of opponents, letting their trillions of dollars worth of assets operate blind against enemies using their agencies, and taking on extra risk in areas such as WMD’s. Americans would also have to disavow all forms of covert influence on foreign countries and withdraw all military units (parts of our empire) from them as well. As America is so foreign-dependent, I’d imagine our new-found sense of fairness would result in the competition giving us the largest butt-kicking in our history. It would be called the Second Great Depression.

Just my guess. Maybe you’re right, though, in that Americans shouldn’t spy on other countries and maybe they’ll all just start being extra-virtuous toward us. Maybe… Not…

DB June 9, 2014 4:00 AM

@Nick P

“there’s no rights, there’s protections”

This means, in other words: “Humans are all naturally just slaves to their governments. There is NO SUCH THING as freedom, democracy, liberty, justice, fairness, equality, goodness, morality, ethics, human rights, etc, etc, etc….” There is just our god-like masters in government, and the limited amount of rope we citizen subjects are doled out by our masters in exchange for our unquestioning loyalty and obedience. This is totalitarianism. I don’t want to live under totalitarianism, so I MUST do whatever I can to not have that, no matter how small my contribution may be.

I don’t believe that anyone will “just start being extra-virtuous” if we lead by an actual good ideal example… that’s why we have to actually put money into real defense. And by defense, I don’t mean attacking everything that’s electronic and reducing all humankind to slaves of the US Government, I mean things like, take all those billions of dollars of money away from the NSA that they use to make us all weaker and dump it into making systems that NOBODY can break into ever again…

Without our ideals, and with just treating everyone else so badly, I fear we ARE headed into a Second Great Depression, directly caused by this. Because we’re so foreign-dependent and that foreign support just dries up. Poof. Gone. Don’t blame Snowden, blame the people who thought they could get away with secret totalitarianism.

Merry Ones June 9, 2014 8:28 AM


This means, in other words: “Humans are all naturally just slaves to their governments. There is NO SUCH THING as freedom, democracy, liberty, justice, fairness, equality, goodness, morality, ethics, human rights, etc, etc, etc….”

I’d say it’s true albeit I’m not sure about the slavery part. Freedom is dubious, especially with all this surveillance stuff and tons of strange, sometimes incomprehensible laws; democracy – I’ll use a quote from Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English language’:

The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

  • it is actual even today; liberty – see freedom; justice and fairness are rather relativistic (Snowden, Manning, Swartz, Brown, Kiriakou – who’s guilty and for what? traitors or whistleblowers? and these are just the latest ones); so are goodness and morality; human rights, considering all above, are mostly fancy words applied fairly selectively.

I think this point has been covered by some philosophers in the past century. I don’t remember the names though.

Clive Robinson June 9, 2014 9:56 AM

@ Merry Ones,

Language does evolve and thus meanings change sometimes to have an almost oposit meaning (look up what “manufacture” originaly ment).

When it comes to society and the words that describe it George Orwell’s essays and books highlighted just a few of the issues surounding the applicable words and their meanings old and new (look up terrorist for an example of how they change).

However wirh regards “rights” these go back thousands of years and in many cases as far as we can tell befor even the written record.

One right is that of not being unlawfully killed, even those claiming “devine right of rule” tend to avoid unlawfull killing wherever possible as they generaly realise despite their cliams they actually rule by consent, to keep their own heads on their shoulders… It is only with modern weaponary that some rulers publicaly break this taboo and some have paid the price with the “hessian dance” in recent times, a lesson that even those who think they sit atop the world should be mindfull of.

What we tend to regared as rights tend to arise from the notion of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” which is actually a social/moral code that millenia later was codified in religious texts and teachings.

Often these codes become civil laws that most accept are the way to reduce fear and promote social cohesion. And as with rulers obayance of these rules is wise

Nick P June 9, 2014 10:52 AM

@ DB

“This means, in other words: “Humans are all naturally just slaves to their governments. ”

You’re reading words into my statement. I said people are people and there’s no inherent rights/expectations of anything. Human nature leads to problems with people that necessitate forming governments to ensure protections or the group’s goals being met. Those governments are made of people too, leading to similar issues. Any laws are one group pushing something on the other. Sometimes that involves a compromise benefiting both parties, but more often it’s government leveraging its power.

So, there’s no inherent slavery, no inherent rights, no inherent anything. There’s just people making deals and compromises with each other. Rules, rights, agendas and so on. They vary from country to country. The U.S. agenda, whether I like it or not, is one of forcing trade on the globe to enrich capitalists located in U.S. and certain partner countries. So, these countries’ spies monitor countries the wealthy do business in to maximize their ROI. Other countries have different agendas, such as getting our commercial or military I.P. Or trying to destroy us (more rarely).

I agree that how the U.S. is behaving will lead to a collapse. That’s more for economic reasons than the spying [which most are doing]. I just think people miss the spying is for very practical reasons. Did you see the number of countries on the many slides spying with us? It’s not a U.S. thing: it’s an international thing. We’re just better equipped at the SIGINT part. That doesn’t count those spying against us. The number gets larger. Leading by example wouldn’t change anything except that countries spying on us for contract and I.P. advantages would have upper hand. They’d know our companies were operating blind and theirs were informed. Most of those deals Benni mentioned that we won would’ve gone a different direction. We’d have the “moral high ground,” whatever that is, while they’d have the money and influence.

I’m just failing to see how such a situation is a good thing. The world would have to change a lot before I’d think we should stop spying on the competition. However, I’m 100% with you on shifting massive resources from offense to real defense. I think U.S. can still do its empire thing, it’s corrupt defense industry thing, and the other problems that aren’t going away while still defending its people & I.P. Of course, that it’s consistently allowed and voted in shows where the real problem in this “republic” is: The [Sleeping] People.

Anura June 9, 2014 11:55 AM

@Nick P

Economically, I don’t think the US’s current course of action is best for the citizens of the US in the short term, let alone the long term. Income for most of the population is shrinking, which is a failure of the US economic model. US economic growth has been weakest in the past 15 years since the great depression, and the three decades before that were all worse than the 50s and 60s.

I would go as far as to argue that our current course of action is not even best for the elite of this country, despite the fact that they have seen the most gains. A weak economy means that wealth isn’t being created at as fast of a rate as it could, meaning there is less wealth to go around. A better model would lead to more wealth to go around.

However, long term, the infinite growth model is unsustainable. To ensure security and quality of life, we need to see a new economic model, and we need to see new foreign policy based on enriching the world, and not necessarily the US. The thing is, if the US reduces inequality, we could significantly improve the quality of life for most of the population, while actually cutting hours and reducing overall production. This would allow for a more environmentally sustainable economy, which is necessary if we want to have a world where people can actually survive in 100-200 years from now. If we continue the way we do now, not only is it going to be harmful to the environment, but the inequality is going to cause massive economic instability.

I am a strong believer that what is best for the rest of the world is what’s best for the people of the US, and that means reducing global inequality. That means a global economy in which we are cooperating to maximze the quality of life for all people. A world with high poverty, starvation, and inequality, a world where the US foreign policy is to try and consume as much of the world’s resources as possible, which exacerbates the problem, is one in which the security and economic stability of the world on the global level suffers. If the US becomes the focus of blame, then this becomes a threat to US security.

DB June 9, 2014 4:51 PM

Thanks everyone for your comments, it’s given me things to think about… especially those of you who disagree with me in some sort of a logical way 😉

moo June 9, 2014 5:57 PM

@Nick P:

You seem to be offering the U.S. need to maintain its worldwide empire (economically and in other ways) as some kind of justification for the activities of the U.S. in spying on foreigners. While there probably are “legitimate” spying activities that would further such a purpose, do you really think mass-surveillance of the populations of entire nations is necessary to that purpose?

It seems to me that 99.99% of the people (and an even larger percentage of the communications) caught up in the NSA’s dragnet are mundane, irrelevant communications with no implications for U.S. national security, whether that be physical or economic or any other kind of security. They are invading everyone’s privacy on a vast scale, just to catch the 0.01% of “interesting” communications which there ought to be more targeted ways to access anyhow. That’s the whole point of their TAO capabilities, after all.

They are metaphorically straining the entire ocean through their nets, to try and catch a few big fish who are hiding out on the bottom. Whether the world will allow this vast and mostly-pointless invasion of their privacy, just to pacify the compulsive urge of the uber-rich to defend their empire, is still undecided. But it obviously also has a lot of harmful effects (chilling effect on free speech, decreased trust in U.S. hardware and software products, potential for domestic corruption/political blackmail, and so on).

David C. June 9, 2014 6:01 PM

As I mentioned above and now updated:
Paul Szoldra carried a list of Snowden related leaks over the last year:

The total number of leaks is about 111.

The total number of obvious foreign intelligence related leaks is roughly 54.

The total number of obvious collection of Five-Eyes data related leaks is roughly 14.

So about 50% of the leaks were unnecessary if the goal was to point out that NSA collects on its own citizens. This 50% of the leaks show Snowden is a traitor to the cause of Democracy by clearly weakening our foreign intelligence collection capabilities by making this information public.

Interestingly no-one in this blog has commented on these statistics. Perhaps because they do not support the thesis that Snowden is a hero and should receive awards and journalists involved in revealing our nations closest held secrets win Pulitzer prizes?

As I also mentioned elsewhere, if the Enigma secrets had been revealed during WWII the war might have been lost. Perhaps the totality of Snowdens foreign intelligence related leaks might do the same thing for future wars. This is the real damage that has been done.

However, I do support the revealing to the Five-Eyes populations of the fact that their own data has been collected by their own intelligence organizations. This information should be made known to a free people. But this does not justify the damage to foreign intelligence capabilities that has gone along with it.

Nick P June 9, 2014 6:49 PM

@ moo

(Being brief b/c Im on mobile)

I’m saying that’s how they justify it. It works under the doctrine that each country will do whatever they can get away with.

Re large net

The specific collection to intel ratio is irrelevant. In intelligence work, most information is background noise spooks aren’t interested in. The extra info they collect merely represents opportunity. They increase collection to increase opportunities for intel. They also increase analysis and filtering tech to reduce noise. Far as ethics and cost, theyve apparently decided it was worth it along with key Congressmen funding them.

Far as world’s acceptance, that’s another thing entirely. I recall one discussion like this involved France accusing us of spying on their companies during negotiations. In response, a leak occurred of an internal catalog from French intelligence of I.P. they stole from us and were selling. Most countries that control the most assets do similar things far as spying. So, if anything, they’ll use this as leverage against us while continuing to spy right back.

There is no moral high ground for most successful western countries. They all collect foreign intelligence on allies far as anyone can tell. Hard for me to see US govt as especially evil just because they’re better at it. And this is all despite my preference that everyone werent spying on each other.

Figureitout June 9, 2014 11:21 PM

David C RE: stats (that never lie)
–We (or me) were more focused on actual attacks prevented (strike 9/11 off that list), which was downgraded from “54” to “maybe 1 or 2″…I’ve said in past, I’ll say again, what actual economic benefit does all this spying entail if they’re gathering a bunch of garbage and playing video games?

At the end of the day, what kind of assurance do you have on the truth of that info? Probably none, NSA wouldn’t known if Snowden didn’t go public so I’m sure there’s been many actual traitors steal secrets and compromise our networks…

And again you didn’t make note that if operational info isn’t mentioned then people are written off as conspiracy theorists, true silence though on exploits is the name of the game.


Nick P June 9, 2014 11:48 PM

@ David C

Thanks for the Szoldra link. That should help me in my future cost-benefit analysis.

Sharonto June 10, 2014 2:15 AM

It will arouse the public’s dissatisfaction that India intercepts personal data. My ex-boyfriend have ever used Mobile Spy to pry into my privacy. He read my text messages, call logs as and even my whatsapp messages. I was very angry and broke up with him right away.

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