‘Mastering the Internet’ Program : how telecom firms worked with GCHQ

New documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal a widespread wiretap program undertaken by the British intelligence agency, GCHQ with the help of many telecom companies  GCHQ helped these firms in laying for undersea networks in return for wiretapping of data that is transferred over these undersea networks.  The program which was called ‘Mastering the Internet’ took help of Cable and Wireless,  presently Vodafone-owned company in wiretapping of undersea cables for massive surveillance.

As per the reports on Channel 4 News ,  Cable and Wireless Worldwide, which is now owned by Vodafone, even went as far as providing traffic from a rival foreign communications company, handing information sent by millions of internet users worldwide over to spies. Channel 4 writes,

The firm, which was bought by Vodafone in July 2012, was part of a programme called Mastering the Internet, under which British spies used private companies to help them gather and store swathes of internet traffic; a quarter of which passes through the UK. Top secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by Channel 4 News show that GCHQ developed what it called “partnerships” with private companies under codenames. Cable and Wireless was called Gerontic.

The new documents point out towards the existence of a secret British spy base located at Seeb on the northern coast of Oman, a strategic position that allows the GCHQ to tap several undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian/Arabian Gulf. Which means that all the data passing from Asia to the western hemisphere was being regulated/wiretapped by the British intelligence under the Mastering the Internet program.

The program was so entrenched into the system that  the company carried out tests on equipment used to carry out the surveillance, it came up with suggestions on how the spies could go about tapping its network.  GCHQ even had a full time employee working within the company on this project.

And a 2011 document reveals that Cable and Wireless went further. The company rented space on a cable owned by Indian telecoms company Reliance Communications that stretched from Asia across the Middle East and landed in Porthcurno in Cornwall. Reliance’s transatlantic cable lands in Sennen Cove six miles to the north. And the two cables come together at nearby Skewjack Farm. Documents show that in 2011, this allowed Britain’s spies to access all traffic from Reliance’s main cable and send it to the GCHQ base up the coast in Bude.

Other document details the operations conducted in other major spy base located in Bude in Cornwall, in this plant the British intelligence access network feeds Internet data from more than 18 undersea cables coming into different parts of Britain either direct to GCHQ in Cheltenham.


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