The latest leaks by Edward Snowden reveal the extent of the NSA’s global reach and it is nothing less than stunning . I eschew the word shocking, because when it comes to surveillance and spying on communication, nothing surprises me anymore concerning the NSA. The NSA’s infamous “collect it all” strategy was actually born in the UK, according to the article.
Snowden’s most recent disclosure focuses on a sleepy plot on the map in the UK ,called Menwith Hill, which has grown geometrically in a few years, both in size and reach. That is not surprising, because the UK is also at the forefront of the assault on privacy by monitoring private communications, and the Brits are a major player in this arena. The length and breadth of the surveillance, however, is nothing short of breathtaking – even for super-sleuths.
To give you an idea of the scope of the monitoring, The Intercept noted that in a single 12-hour period in May 2011,
“Its surveillance systems logged more than 335 million metadata records, which reveal information such as the sender and recipient of an email, or the phone numbers someone called and at what time.”
This is a mind-boggling haul by even NSA standards, and it is but another example of the NSA’s influence on its allies when it comes to surveillance.
The facility at Menwith Hill, which spans 545 acres and has approximately 30 domes, is now the largest NSA overseas operation. Consistent with NSA and GCHQ practice, a Royal Air Force base serves as a front for its true purpose – unlimited surveillance with impunity ,and, of course without warrants. The domes, codenamed FORNSAT, intercept transmissions from foreign communications satellites, while a program dubbed OVERHEAD employs US government satellites to find and monitor cell-phone calls and WiFi signals on the ground.
These radomes at the Misawa Security Operations Center in Japan are similar to the ones used by the NSA at Menwith Hill
This represents a breakthrough, in comparison to the spying of the past via fiber-optic cables on land. But the NSA’s efficacy does not depend just on the golf-ball shaped domes. It can interact with US spy satellites, too, in order to target ground signals, including mobile phones and even Wi-Fi networks.
Thankfully, the massive Menwith Hill facility is not just dedicated to spying on civilians and governments. It has military applications as well, and can be an effective tool when utilized against terrorist elements. Under a program with the moniker GHOSTHUNTER, it is able to discern the habits and patterns of terrorists, even when they use otherwise innocuous internet cafes to communicate and plot their treachery.
The NSA is responsible not only for disrupting terrorist activities, but also for many “capture-and-kill operations” – primarily in the Middle East. But, alas, the success of these operations abroad will also translate into more success domestically in spying on private citizens’ communications – count on it.
But beyond the probable increase in friendly communication, there may be another peril for UK citizens. They most likely are engaged in helping the NSA to kill enemy combatants with whom the UK is not at war. The recent Snowden leaks suggests as much. In that case, the UK would run afoul of the efforts of UK barrister, Jemima Stratford QC, who back in 2014 published an extensive legal brief in which she warned that,
“An individual [working at GCHQ] involved in passing that information [used for US drone strikes against non-combatants] is likely to be an accessory to murder.”
This is a notion that could wreak havoc for the spymasters if it gains traction.
One would also think his might give employees pause to think about the ramifications of their actions at Menwith Hill. Or (less likely) to give the spy agencies reason to reign-in their activities, or at least limit their reach. This, of course, is just wishful thinking, or akin to trying to put toothpaste back into the tube once it’s out, or the genie back in the lamp.
Government “mission-creep” always advances, never retreats. The best we can do is to monitor its activities closely, and hold the government to account when it strays too far afield.