Digital Conflict

By Kevin Coleman

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Kevin Coleman

Are NSA's capabilities outclassed by GCHQ?

This will not surprise many of you, but more leaked information about cyber intelligence collection activities has surfaced. This time the leaks are about British Government Communications Headquarters: The disclosure is of a British intelligence initiative that secretly gained access to some 200 fiber-optic network cables, which carry much of the world's phone calls and Internet communications traffic. Each cable had the capacity to transmit approximately 10 gigabits/sec. Reports on this program state that the program collected the content of phone calls, email and Facebook posts. The Guardian reported the secret initiative was able to create a history of any Internet users’ access to websites.

One cyber intelligence analyst I spoke with commented, “I would have like to have gotten the commission check on that sale of storage.”

Another source stated that “companies were obliged to cooperate in this operation,” but the Guardian's reporting “suggests some companies have been paid for the cost of their cooperation.” The article went on to note that GCHQ went to great lengths to keep the names of the cooperating companies secret.

The Guardian article also states that GCHQ shared this initiative's information with the National Security Agency. This information was obtained from documents shown to the Guardian by -- you guessed it -- NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He was quoted as saying, "It's not just a U.S. problem. The U.K. has a huge dog in this fight. They [meaning GCHQ] are worse than the U.S."

It is important to note one source knowledgeable about the program stated that it was legal, had built-in safeguards, and the data collected under this initiative has led to breakthroughs in detecting and preventing serious crime. Yet the controversy continues.

One thing seems guaranteed: The Snowden leaks have caused significant issues for the U.S. and British intelligence organizations. Many wonder how much more will come out. Only time will tell.

Posted by Kevin Coleman on Jun 27, 2013 at 7:39 AM


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