The Fourth Eye

Britain Betwixt and Between: UK SIGINT Alliance Strategy’s Transatlantic and European Connections

Rudner, M. (2004). “Britain Betwixt and Between: Uk SIGINT Alliance Strategy’s Transatlantic and European Connections.” Intelligence and National Security 19(4): 571-609.

Describes intelligence alliances as ‘among the most intimate and enduring international security relationships’

 

  • Collaboration among allies has been crucial for extending the range and scope of geographic coverage
  • “Historically, SIGINT alliances have been treated as among the most secretive of international security arrangements, just as SIGINT technologies, methods and targeting were among the most highly classified elements in the domain of intelligence” p. 572
  • In WW II UK took on Ultra – decryption of German SIGINT and the US took on decryption of Japanese signals in the Magic
  • Initial BRUSA of 1943 facilitated full sharing and secure dissemination of what was gathered, but divergence in interests and objectives and conflicting plans and ambitions for postwar settlement.
  • Britain sustained huge cut backs in empire and in being able to afford resources and traveled to Washington in April 1945 to explore feasibility of continued SIGINT cooperation – IN THE FIELD OF military and clandestine radio traffic, not diplomatic interceptions.
  • The Yanks understood they needed worldwide coverage Brits could offer. Negotiations continued
  • September 1945 agreement in principle on a national (not departmental from each armed service etc.) framework for a peacetime partnership in communications intelligence collection and processing and product sharing
  • The Brits went to Canada and Australia to elicit their collaboration under the aegis of the UK. This resulted in the BRUSA of March 1946 – that established a collaborative architecture for SIGINT collection in peacetime involving a division of responsibilities for geographic coverage coupled with a sharing of intercepts among the participating organisations.” P. 573
  • Further consultations followed in Feb-March – which “produced an agreement, still classified, resolving all outstanding details regarding the SIGINT partnership between the US, the UK and the self-governing dominions.” P. 573
  • Crisis between UK and USA prompted by UK Labour govs decision to sell jet engines to the Soviets – “the US reacted by placing intelligence cooperation ‘under review’ and stopping any further disclosures of intelligence ‘sources’ ‘methods of acquisition’ and ‘information pertaining to cryptography ad cryptographic devices’.
  • Early 48, the US negotiated its own bilateral separate agreements with Canada and Australia
  • By June 1948 this had simmered down, and the UK-USA Security agreement on communications intelligence cooperation was signed.
  • So “UKUSA is not a single treaty but rather a set of Anglo-American agreements negotiated over two years, Memoranda of Understanding and exchanges of letters which have been acceded to also by Canada, Australia and New Zealand…Details of all these agreements stil remain highly classified today” P 574
  • “It has become an underlying principle of UKUSA that the partner countries do not target one another or their respective nationals.’
  • As an expression of intimacy of their cooperation these otherwise highly secretive organisations exchange liaison officers. “staff swapping”
  • Intelligence is collected through
    • COMINT – Communications Intelligence – terrestrial, microwave, radio and satellite communications
    • ELINT – electronic emissions
    • SIGINT – enciphered communications and electronic emissions for cryptanalysis, also clear language interceptions, traffic analysis, direction findings through radio interception, some listening stations, VHF and microwaves can only be intercepted from closer proximity) so sometimes clandestine, miniaturized ground station posts as well as shipboard, submarine and airborne platforms for COMINT and ELINT interception. Consular premises also used for covert in country listening.
  • Prior to 1960s, most int and long distance domestic telecoms traffic carried by High Frequency radio – that get long range from bouncing between the ionosphere and the earth’s surface and therefore vulnerable to interception.   The move to higher capacity and more directional Very High Freq and Ultra High Freq radio and microwave networks spurred new SIGINT tech for surveillance from close proximity, covert interceptors or space satellites. Since most microwave comms networks converge in capitals, clandestine embassy posts are well suited to monitor domestic and int comms from that nation.
  • By 1950s Soviets had shifted to landlines, invulnerable to radio interceptions. So more intrusive methods needed.
  • Several GCHQ stations in the UK, in addition to 18 listening posts run by armed forces at GCHQ behest. 1972-3 the intercept station at Morwenstow near Bude in Cornwall was established. Many overseas posts too, including Hong Kong that was run with Australian help.
  • By late 1940s undermined by Soviet penetrations of the NSA and GCHQ. “Historians claim that no Soviet diplomatic communications were ever decrypted after Venona.” P. 577

So the tech overcome by the human.

  • “From the 1970s onwards, a covert arrangement between NSA and Crypto AG effectively compromised the communications security of successive models of their encryption machines.” P. 578 leaving about 130 countries communications available to NSA, reading the messages faster than the intended recipients.
  • So Bude = Atlantic & Indian ocean, Europe and the Middle East
  • Yakima = Pacific
  • Hong Kong = Western Pacific and eastern Indian ocean intelsats, Plus Kojarena plus Leitrim and Waihopai, at Sabana Seca Peurto Rico and Sugar Grove WV)
  • Spy satellites and devices that tap directly into a land based telco network.
  • SIGINT satellites
    • Canyon – interception station at Bad Aibling
    • Rhyolite / Aquacade / Magnum / Orion
    • Jumpseat / Trumpet
  • COMINT satellites
    • Chalet, Vortex, Mercury
  • Dish down and dish up capabilities
    • Dish down = space based interception of communications or electronic emissions emanating from land sea and air
    • Dish up = ground based facility for the interception of communications relayed by satellite
    • Immense intake from the Soviet microwave circuits – had to download to a earth station in line of sight =
      • Buckley Field – Denver Colorado
      • Menwith Hill – UK
      • Pine Gap – Australia
    • “In accordance with the terms of the UK/USA alliance, GCHQ and other partners shared fully in the product of these satellite intercepts.” P. 580
    • Britain toyed with its own SIGINT satellite – Zircon – after Falkland’s, but didn’t. Too expensive. Instead contributed in 1988 500 million towards the American designed Magnum class, the first of which was launched in 1994. The orbital positioning and targeting remained in control of US
    • Echelon = extensive refinements to wide-area networking technologies made a virtually seamless global operational capability for HF radio, space based and local in country methodologies.
    • Echelon is a networked dictionary software that enables the intercept stations to function as parts of an integrated, virtually seamless SIGINT interception and processing network.
    • “Echelon had a broad banded capacity to monitor virtually all types of electronic communications among pubic and private sector organisations and individuals in almost every country.” p. 581
    • “The Echelon network facilitated reciprocal access to networked stations and a full exchange of interceptions among the UKUSA partnership. This Echelon system is said to be able to sort through vast flows of intercepted telecommunications traffic in order to identity specifically targeted messaging. Given the closely integrated networking achieved under Echelon, each participants Dictionary computer contains not only its parent organisations designated keywords but also a target list for each of the other partner SIGINT agencies. “ p. 581
    • “The reciprocity arrangement under UKUSA allowed partner SIGINT orgs virtually automatic access to British interception facilities without GCHQ necessarily being aware of their targets. In return GCHQ gained access to the global capabilities of the Echelon system of COMINT collection and processing p. 581
    • Private sector – the US transferred some SIGINT tech to the private sector, but in the last 1990s private sector-led encryption capacities running ahead of government.
    • 1995 – Australia NSA GCHQ operation to intro eavesdropping devices into the China Embassy in Canberra.
    • End of the Cold war saw less national security and more globally defined tasks – terrorism, sanctions enforcement, counter proliferation, peacekeeping and transnational crime, money laundering, concerns.
    • New legislation in 1994 – Intelligence Services Act – with structures for accountability and oversight in the FCO of SIS and GCHQ with overall authority in te office of th Prime Minister, and a Joint Intelligence Committee that tasks the GCHQ and SIS on foreign intel collection.
    • There is a mandate for intelligence gathering “in the interests of the economic well being of the UK” = GCHQs K Division is tasked with this.
    • THIS introduces a strain in the “special relationships” “The impulse towards economic intelligence collection injects a competitive strain, not to say outright conflicts of interest, into the otherwise cooperative ethos of UKUSA. …Within the UKUSA, the practice seems to have evolved that each signatory country confines the tasking and collection of economic or commercial intelligence from SIGINT solely to their respective national intelligence assessment organisations…Whether or not the economic or commercial intelligence products are disseminated onwards to private or parastatal companies is decided by these other government instrumentalities and not by the SIGINT orgs themselves.” P. 587
    • “Unlike some of its UKUSA partners like the United States and Australia, the British government does not have an institutional mechanism for the dissemination of (even sanitized) economic intelligence to the private sector.” FOOTNOTE FROM IC2000 report “In Australia, commercially relevant Comint is passed by DSD to the Office of National Assessments, who consider whether, and if so where, to disseminate it. Staff there may pass information to Australian companies if they believe that an overseas nation has or seeks an unfair trade advantage. Targets of such activity have included Thomson-CSF, and trade negotiations with Japanese purchasers of coal and iron ore. Similar systems operate in the other UKUSA nations, Canada and New Zealand.” So the Brits disseminate it on an “informal, casual basis to corporate executives.” P. 588
    • 90% of intel the UK has is of US origin, so they are prepared to do a lot to assure the flow – “use its resources deliberately for operations addressing targets that might help meet US requirements. “ p. 589
    • The UK was managing EU / US relations well, “until the issue of Echelon exploded with sudden and sensational effect in 1999.” P. 589
    • France in particular drove the anti-US agenda, and European self sufficiency – which France invested a lot in but other nations fell out of projects like Horus and Helios-1 and 1A, Helios 2 because of sheer expense. French were also motivated to drive a wedge through US UK
    • Scientific and Technical Operations (STOA) Committee of the European Parliament’s Directorate-General for Research issued a report in April 1998 – An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control – Omega Foundation
    • The controversy this provoked prompted the EU Parliament’s Committee on Citizens’ Freedom’s Rights, Justice and Home Affairs to commission 4 follow up sties, on The Development of Surveillance Technology and the Risk of Economic Information, Interception Capabilities 2000 (both by Duncan Campbell) on Echelon.
    • “Led by the Greens, European Parliamentarians exploited some of the more sensationalist disclosures of Interception Capabilities 2000, in particular in order to demonise Echelon”
    • On the day the Committee started hearings on the report, Le Monde had a headline, “How the United States Spies on You”
    • By March 2000, 171 our of 626 MEPs had signed a demand for a EU Commission of Inquiry into Echelon. – An Ad Hoc Committee under Portuguese MEP Carlos Coelho was in charge and the report was due March 2001.
    • The French National Assembly denounced ‘the Anglo Saxon Echelon eavesdropping network” and a French judicial investigation was launched into Echelon. The French Minister of Justice called on all French firms to encrypt commercial communications. The German and Danish governments did the same.
    • The US tried to sooth. Woosley write an article in the Wall St. Journal and did a press conference, saying the US only targeted European firms that used bribery to obtain advantage. Most of Europe’s technology, “just isn’t worth our stealing”
    • “NSA Director Hayden reassured Congress that electronic surveillance conformed strictly to US statutory and oversight requirements.”
    • Advances in communications technology that favour communication security over interception, protection over penetration and encryption over cryptanalysis are commercially available.
    • …”foreign Intelligence requirements in an unpredictable, volatile, increasingly predatory and ever threatening global environment.” P. 602

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