Snowden documents allege GCHQ is tapping undersea cables connected to Ireland

2 Dec 2014

Documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and published by a German newspaper indicate that UK intelligence agency GCHQ is targeting undersea telecoms cables connected to Ireland.

Revelations by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reveal the British spy agency can spy on internet traffic in and out of Ireland as if on a whim.

Included in the documents is a chart that meticulously lists over 63 undersea cables that are being monitored by GCHQ.

In keeping with good old spy traditions, Cable & Wireless appears to have even been given the code-name “Gerontic” and is responsible for 29 of the 63 cables being monitored. Mobiles comms giant Vodafone acquired Cable & Wireless in 2012.

A master list of the cables being monitored contains references to cables like ESAT1 which connects Kilmore Quay to Sennan Cove and ESAT2 which goes to Southport, as well as cables belonging to Hibernia and the SOLAS cable which connects Kilmore Quay with Oxwich Bay.

Dark times and dark fibre

Revelations about British spy activity in Ireland are nothing new, especially on the technology front.

During the Troubles and the Cold War spooks deployed a system called Echelon that effectively monitored all phone traffic in Ireland, listening for key words that could warn of terrorist activity, for example.

Since the Snowden PRISM revelations the UK’s GCHQ has emerged as something of a keen innovator that has attracted the admiration of the NSA for its zealous approach.

Among the arsenal of technologies created by GCHQ to monitor global internet traffic is a system called Tempora created mainly to spy on vast streams of data flowing through fibre optic networks.

In July it emerged that a number of ISPs in the UK, Netherlands and Belgium planned to take legal action against GCHQ over alleged attacks on their network.

Among the allegations are claims that employees of Belgacom were targeted by GCHQ and infected with malware to gain access to network infrastructure.

Digital spy image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years