How the West Bugs Middle East Revealed, But Who Leaked It?
Curious 'exclusive reporting' by the Independent raises more questions about government behavior over spying and journalism
According to exclusive new reporting by the UK Independent, citing information contained in documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the British government maintains a secret monitoring station that allows Western intelligence agencies to tap into telecommunication systems across the Middle East.
Though the reporting did not reveal the exact location of the station, which sifts through electronic data extracted from "underwater fibre-optic cables passing through the region," the British government claims the program is a centerpiece of the US and UK's so called "war on terror" as key agencies, including the CIA, NSA, and GCHQ, pour over the information provided.
If Snowden or Greenwald didn't leak the info, who did?
Strikingly, the Independent's reporting caused Glenn Greenwald, the journalist behind much of the reporting so far on the NSA documents, to question publicly how the newspaper received the information contained in its 'exclusive.' At the Guardian on Friday morning, Greenwald wrote:
This is the first time the Independent has published any revelations purportedly from the NSA documents, and it's the type of disclosure which journalists working directly with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have thus far avoided.
That leads to the obvious question: who is the source for this disclosure?
The indication, it seems, was that following the recent detention of Greenwald's partner David Miranda at Heathrow Airport and the confiscation of his electronic equipment—widely believed to contain at least portions of the information provided by Snowden--that it may have been the government itself who leaked portions of that information to the Independent.
Greenwald, who has been in consistent communication with Snowden via email, then quoted the whistleblower himself, who said:
I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.
It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.
The suggestion that his newspaper was "duped" their reporting was met with derision by the Independent's Oliver Wright, who tweeted: "For the record: The Independent was not leaked or 'duped' into publishing today's front page story by the Government."
But still, argued Greenwald:
Leaving aside the fact that the Independent article quotes an anonymous "senior Whitehall source", nobody said they were "duped" into publishing anything. The question is: who provided them this document or the information in it? It clearly did not come from Snowden or any of the journalists with whom he has directly worked. The Independent provided no source information whatsoever for their rather significant disclosure of top secret information. Did they see any such documents, and if so, who, generally, provided it to them? I don't mean, obviously, that they should identify their specific source, but at least some information about their basis for these claims, given how significant they are, would be warranted. One would think that they would not have published something like this without either seeing the documents or getting confirmation from someone who has: the class of people who qualify is very small, and includes, most prominently and obviously, the UK government itself.
What the Independent reported
According to the Independent, the authority of the secret program was sanctioned from the highest levels of government, with certificates reauthorizing it are renewed every six months. In addition, indications exist that
"The data-gathering operation is part of a £1bn internet project still being assembled by GCHQ," the newspaper reports.
In addition, the monitoring of fiber-optic cables seems to be part of a larger surveillance, code-named “Tempora”, which includes separate infrastructure that monitor satellite dishes and telephone lines and "whose wider aim is the global interception of digital communications, such as emails and text messages."
As the newspaper reports:
The Middle East installation is regarded as particularly valuable by the British and Americans because it can access submarine cables passing through the region. All of the messages and data passed back and forth on the cables is copied into giant computer storage “buffers” and then sifted for data of special interest.
Information about the project was contained in 50,000 GCHQ documents that Mr Snowden downloaded during 2012. Many of them came from an internal Wikipedia-style information site called GC-Wiki. Unlike the public Wikipedia, GCHQ’s wiki was generally classified Top Secret or above.
The disclosure comes as the Metropolitan Police announced it was launching a terrorism investigation into material found on the computer of David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of The Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald – who is at the centre of the Snowden controversy.