Cable & Wireless Aided GCHQ Spying Efforts – Snowden

Cable and Wireless (CWW) actively assisted GCHQ in the creation of its alleged surveillance programme detailed in documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, according to a report by Channel 4 News.

The broadcaster claims to have seen new documents which reveal that GCHQ entered into partnerships with private companies as part of a programme called ‘Mastering the Internet’, aimed at gathering and storing large amounts of data from web users.

In its role, CWW, using the codename ‘Gerontic’ carried out tests on equipment used to carry out the surveillance, came up with suggestions on how to tap its network and even had a GCHQ employee working full time at the company.

GCHQ spying

According to the report, in 2011, CWW even rented out space on cable owned by Indian firm Reliance Communications that stretched from Asia and landed in Cornwall, six miles away from where Reliance’s’ transatlantic cable also landed. It was here that an access point codenamed ‘Nigella’ was created, providing GCHQ spies with huge amounts of data.

CWW was paid tens of millions of pounds for its role with the Mastering the Internet initiative, costing GCHQ £1 million a month, and leaked documents suggest that the access point was still in operation until April 2013 – long after CWW had been acquired by Vodafone for £1 billion.

The network is primarily used for enterprise services but earlier this month, Vodafone revealed plans to offer home broadband services to consumers powered partly by the CWW infrastructure

Vodafone has denied the allegations, telling TechWeekEurope that it does not go beyond what it is legally required of it by law when responded to demands from authorities and that it does not provide direct access to its network.

Vodafone denial

“Cable & Wireless was not owned, operated or controlled by Vodafone until 2012,” a spokesperson told us. “However, in response to previous media reports (July/August 2013), we examined the past history of Cable & Wireless compliance prior to its acquisition by Vodafone and found no evidence that would substantiate these allegations.

“We have found no indication whatsoever of unlawful activity within Vodafone or Cable & Wireless and we do not recognise any of the UK intelligence agency programmes identified. Furthermore, Vodafone does not own or operate the cables referred to.”

The company did tell Channel 4 however that direct access was not given to the CWW network and that any interception could only take place with a warrant. Vodafone added that GCHQ can only access customer data of other operators if it has a warrant too.

Snowden’s leaks have uncovered alleged mass surveillance efforts by GCHQ, ranging from tapping Internet networks to exploiting vulnerabilities im popular mobile apps like Angry Birds and Google Maps.

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Steve McCaskill

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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