Yep, Britain Is Spying on the Middle East

Here’s the latest on high-tech surveillance among Western intelligence agencies:

Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies, The Independent has learnt.

….The Independent is not revealing the precise location of the station but information on its activities was contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden….Information about the project was contained in 50,000 GCHQ documents that Mr Snowden downloaded during 2012. Many of them came from an internal Wikipedia-style information site called GC-Wiki. Unlike the public Wikipedia, GCHQ’s wiki was generally classified Top Secret or above.

….The data-gathering operation is part of a £1bn internet project still being assembled by GCHQ. It is part of the surveillance and monitoring system, code-named “Tempora”, whose wider aim is the global interception of digital communications, such as emails and text messages. Across three sites, communications — including telephone calls — are tracked both by satellite dishes and by tapping into underwater fibre-optic cables.

This isn’t all that interesting at the level of pure substance. After all, most of us probably already figured that Middle East fiber-optic cables were being tapped by someone. The fact that it’s GCHQ rather than NSA is an intriguing tidbit, but that’s about all.

But it does raise some other questions. How did the Independent get hold of some of Snowden’s documents? There are a limited number of sources, after all. And is this exposure truly in the public interest, or should it have been kept secret since it doesn’t really hint at either wrongdoing or even a broader scope of surveillance than anyone expected? Comments?

UPDATE: Snowden denies that he was the source; Glenn Greenwald denies that he was the source (and is skeptical that any other journalist working with Snowden was the source); and the Independent seems to deny that the British government was the source. Very strange.