An Idirlíon

I Spy eSpies On The eShore

An Idirlíon
An Idirlíon

Over the last three years  I’ve touched upon Britain’s mass surveillance of Ireland’s electronic communications traffic, internal and external, a number of times. Since the late 1980s the British intelligence services have expanded from a programme of targeted spying on certain individuals and organisations to a strategy of observing and where necessary recording all electronic information relating to telephone calls, faxes, text messages, emails and general internet activities on or from this island nation. In large part that change in tactics was due to the growth and importance of the internet and the increasing personalisation of computing technologies. However it also reflected the simple fact that if the institutions of a state believe they can do something that will serve the interests of their state they will probably do so, however questionable it may be.

Of course on a more practical level online and remote surveillance was expected to reduce employee numbers and budgets for intelligence-gathering organizations, as well as the obvious risks encountered in the deployment of field agents. For hefty initial investments long-term savings were expected from the new model of “spying by accountants” championed by the NSA and others (the resemblance to the war-lite model promulgated by the thinktank generals around Donald Rumsfeld is not coincidental). In reality the costs have far outstripped the savings as a sort of intelligence-industrial complex has arisen to exploit a new market of lucrative government contracts (not to mention a youthful generation of eSpies eager to prove their worth over their more traditional peers).

So to the latest revelations of British espionage activities against Ireland via the Irish Times newspaper:

“New documents released this week via the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden outline how Irish subsea telecommunications cables have been targeted by British intelligence.

A document titled “Partner Cables” list the cables that Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has accessed or sought to access. The commercial owners of the cables are identified by codenames.

The cables include the Solas undersea cable, which extends from the Wexford coast to southern Wales.

The owner of the cable is listed as “GERONTIC”, the password for Cable & Wireless, which is now part of Vodafone. The method of access is described as “DCO” or Direct Cable Ownership.

British intelligence also access the Hibernia cable, which connects Ireland to the US and Canada from Dublin to Halifax,Nova Scotia. It loops to the UK via Southport, on the other side of the Irish Sea.

It is listed as a cable to which GCHQ does not “currently have good access”.

According to the documents, the only providers assisting GCHQ with access to the Hibernia cable are called “VITREOUS” and “LITTLE”. They provide what’s called IRU/LC or “Indefeasible Rights of Use/Lit Capacity” access. An Irish company linked to the VITREOUS codename last night denied involvement.

Other cables highlighted in a master list that may be targeted include: “BT-TE1”, a cable that lands in Holyhead in Wales and is co-owned by Eircom and BT. This cable has not been in use for more than 10 years, according to Eircom. BT declined to comment last night.

A cable called ESAT 1, which goes from Kilmore Quay in Wexford and lands at Sennen Cove in Cornwall, is on the list, as is ESAT2, another cable that runs from Sandymount in Dublin to Southport, north of Liverpool in the UK.”

To make it clear to the reader this is not just a case of the British intelligence services secretly “tapping into” Irish telephonic and internet traffic via land and maritime cables. Rather in most cases they are being provided free (or commercial) access to the information by companies associated with the use, ownership or maintenance of these cables. And it is all information, every email you send, every message, every internet search or visit, every upload or download, albeit collated and filtered through layers of software programmes before being flagged up for human review (if required).

I am also minded that given the nature of An Sionnach Fionn and the range of political, historical, military and technological matters we discuss here this website almost certainly features on a watch-list somewhere in Britain’s automated intelligence gathering apparatus (as quite possibly does my own internet communications). Not because of its importance or influence – it has neither – but instead simply because the British now have the financial and technological resources to do so. So why not?

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32 comments

  1. If you’re not using any encryption, then everyone can eavesdrop on your communications – your ISP, owners of switches and routers that relay your info, British, American, Russian and Chinese spy agencies and god knows who else – that’s not a secret.

    And your website is publicly accessible and indexed by google and other search engines on regular basis anyway + there’s no problem for law enforcement to get all the necessary info from your hosting company in case something illegal appears on your site.

    There’s a reason why your bank uses https and criminals use tor or other darknet networks 🙂

    Privacy is your own responsibility.

      1. BTW the dark web was set up by the US secret State. either DARPA or the CIA or some such spooks. If you give them the benefit of the doubt, they will say they did it to prevent nation states from blocking content on the regular web.
        But If you know about Air America and Iran/Contra..you will see these types have no problem with “illegal” activity. such as drug dealing.( of which some happens on the dark web AFAIK )
        Many a South American death Squad was funded by the state sponsored selling of drugs.
        So, just say no kids.
        It’s what Ronald Reagan would have wanted.
        I bet they didn’t tell you that behind the Iron curtain. When Uncle Ronnie and Margret handbag Thatcher were telling you about Freedom…Eh???
        But you still love ’em no doubt.

        1. Tor was created by the U.S. government – that’s not a secret either.
          If you’re an U.S. spy in a hostile foreign country you can’t really connect directly to the CIA’s servers – that would raise a lot of red flags and you could get a long prison sentence or even death penalty for spying.

          That’s why Tor was created – to allow U.S. agents to work in hostile foreign countries and to reduce the probability that they’ll be arrested.

        2. I would take that even further, by raising the suspicion that the drug trade, in general, is most likely state-sponsored. They are sure keeping very good track of my money going from the U.S. to Europe for personal use and tax the s…e out of it if I am over, and that is really not a lot by any stretch of the imagination. But multiple (U.S.) billions of dollars in drug money have no problem passing to virtually anywhere in the world without any such scrutiny every year. That whole “western-world” apparatchik is so ethically amorphous and so completely corrupt, all of that rhetoric is just such a joke.

      2. Some closed source encryption software developers probably do hand over their keys.

        The only way to be sure is to use an open source solution and do a security audit yourself.
        Or write your own encryption software.

        Or better yet – don’t engage in illegal activities.

        1. The problem is only that what may be perfectly legal today may just well become illegal tomorrow. Like speaking your mind, or being part of a particular religion or conviction, in some cases, even being part of a particular race or ethnic group.

          1. Well – in that case internet privacy would be the least of your worries.
            My grandfather did not have a mobile phone or Facebook profile, but the Soviet occupiers still arrested him and deported him to Siberia in a cattle car.

            1. I am truly sorry for your grandfather (this is not meant to be sarcastic, I really mean that). God knows what he had to endure. Perhaps “Radio Yerevan” got him into trouble. My point exactly, though, the technology is just part of the time continuum. It is going to be much harder now to avoid the cattle car when the time comes.

  2. My impression is that most people don’t come remotely close to grasping the significance of this ubiquitous surveillance. Some folk indeed seem to think it’s really cool to come out with facile drivel such as: “Who cares about privacy? – I don’t give a shit if I’m being spied upon”. In fact privacy is the basis of civil society. Everything depends upon it – the integrity of the legal system, the integrity of the education system, the integrity of elections, the integrity of the media (though admittedly that ship sailed many years ago – especially in Ireland) industrial and commercial confidentiality, medical confidentiality, the integrity of sport and on and on. So it isn’t just a question of personal privacy, or keeping your communications with friends and family from the scrutiny of others – important though that is – it goes much, much deeper. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the gormless Mi5 assets in the Irish media to discuss any of that.

    1. Very true. Our more recent generations are completely aloof to privacy concerns. To put in American, “they are more than happy to put all of their business out there.” I find it very ironic that they have such an aversion to government spying on internet traffic, when they put everything out publicly anyway. In America, younger people really do not care. The want to walk into a store and as they enter, get their discount coupons on their phone, which they can “cash” in at the teller without having to print anything, We all know what is necessary technologically for that to happen. Spy agencies world-wide keep fronts as businesses, credit agencies, etc. (just like criminal enterprises) in order to “partner” with real businesses and obtain that information. So no matter what communication you issue out into the void, it is pretty much accessible to anyone. As phone traffic is a digital stream now as well, it is also easily accessible to “business partners.” We are rapidly assimilating to this “business model” here and in the rest of Europe (we still have a modicum of privacy laws). People rarely wonder how you can become so infinitely rich from running a “free” service such as Facebook, It’s not the advertisement that makes the money, it’s selling your information, personal and business, that does. If you want a little bit of privacy, leave your phone at home, have a pint with your friends at a pub, and pay in cash. Don’t post it or “tweet” it anywhere afterwards either.

      1. It’s naive and dumb to expect privacy from social networking sites – just treat everything you post on Facebook as public information.

        1. I don’t seem to recall mentioning anyone believing they expected any privacy from any of the media in use today. I just thought it odd that people expect for governments and their affiliated organisations to look away when they post everything dear and near publicly on the internet for everyone else to see.

      2. Sure you can leave your phone at home, but most pubs have security cameras and other people might film and take photos of you anyway and then post all that on social networking sites.

        1. That’s why I said “a little bit.” Unfortunately, even here as of late you have the person from time to time that just has to have their “selfie.” Most still chat person to person, however, and don’t have their face in their phone all day like they do in Dublin.

    2. As I said – if you want your communications to remain private – encrypt them.
      Sending unencrypted messages halfway across the world and expecting them not to be intercepted is naive and dumb – it’s like sending a letter without an envelope.
      Even if your ISP and local LE agencies are honest, foreign ISPs and spy agencies might not be.

      1. If you encrypt a message how does the recipient unencrypt it unless you send the key, which will presumably also be intercepted? It all seems a lot of fuss for nothing. Social media which include ‘private’ areas to share with selected other members certainly lull you into a false sense of security. It’s just a bloody great database and they’re datamined constantly. Never use your real name, never post your photo, include some misinformation maybe to screw the system up …

        But to come back to the original post, why shouldn’t the UK spy on Irish citizens, seeing as Ireland is a foreign country so they owe no obligation to its inhabitants.

        1. The recipient must first generate a public and private key pair and then send you the public key.
          You can then use the public key to encrypt the message and only the person who has the private key will be able to decrypt it.
          There’s a lot of complex maths behind it. You can read more about it here:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public-key_cryptography

          That’s how protocols like HTTPS work. You use it every time when you connect to your internet bank, for example.

  3. “..why shouldn the UK spy on Irish citizens, seeing as Ireland is a foreign country so they owe no obligation to its inhabitants.”

    An odd form of logic, to put it very mildly. One might just as well ask: “why shouldn’t Russia bomb UK cities, since the UK is a foreign country, so the Russians owe no obligation to its inhabitants”.

    In any case most sensible folk’s objections to being spied upon by corrupt intelligence agencies does not focus primarily, if at all, on the nationality of the spies. If those spying on Irish people were mostly from the Icelandic intelligence services I’d object just as strongly. But to the best of my knowledge, they’re not.

    1. I’m sure if it suited their purposes and they felt the benefits outweighed the costs, then the Russians would bomb us tomorrow. However the fact is the Russians haven’t bombed our cities, yet, whereas the Irish have form.

      1. The Brits bombed Dublin to hell in 1916. so you can put up with the IRA in your cities.
        No sympathy for youse.

        1. Well this is all a bit of a mess, but still …

          First, I’ve heard there were never any safe convictions for the British mainland bombings so they might all have been false flag ops. It was certainly a counterproductive strategy for the IRA, since it only enraged the average Brit and confirmed the widely held prejudice, at least amongst older people, that the Irish were little more than animals. Far better to have concentrated on the ‘army of occupation’ since as there hasn’t been conscription in the UK since the ’50s, they were all volunteers and after a few years of TV coverage can’t be accused of not knowing what they were in for. Again bear in mind that the average Englishman couldn’t care less what happens in NI, having no sympathy for either side.

          Likewise, it’s hard to see what the 1916 insurrection was supposed to achieve. Britain was in the middle of a major and very costly (and very foolish, but that’s not the point) war, so the government were hardly going to take a stab in the back lightly, what else could anyone have expected them to do, FFS! Secondly, there were apparently very serious plans for home rule (genuine HR not the rubbish currently being offered Scotland) in the offing, that had simply been suspended ‘for the duration’ (of the war). So it could be argued that Ireland would have become an independent republic within a decade or so, following a route similar to many other bits of empire, so the fruits of 1916 were, (1) the immediate destruction of bits of Dublin and the deaths of many Irish leaders, (2) a bloody war of independence, (3) an even bloodier civil war whose legacy probably still lingers, (4) an economic war with the UK, and (5) perhaps even partition might have been avoided, but that one is certainly a very big if.

          Seeing as SF is in government and/or opposition in different parts of Ireland, why would it not be prudent for the UK to carry out surveillance? I mean very many politicians are murderers by implication, e.g. Blair, but at least they’re not your actual hands-on terrorists.

          1. Hi Marconatrix. In relation to (P)IRA’s twenty-three year military campaign in Britain while there may be question marks hanging over a handful of operations (at least in terms of who was pushing whose buttons) there is little doubt that the vast majority of attacks were carried by (P)IRA and at the initiation of (P)IRA, free of any malign external influences. From the first attack in 1973 (a retaliation for the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday Massacres, the introduction of Internment or imprisonment without trial, etc. and a broadening of (P)IRA’s military strategy) to the last attack in 1997 there were around 550 gun and bomb attacks on military and economic targets in Britain, resulting in c.65 civilian fatalities and c.1700 civilian casualties.

            The huge “block-buster” bombs of the 1990s undoubtedly forced the British to the negotiations table. Few would argue with that. Without them there would have been no peace process, as such, since they levelled the military playing field at a time when (P)IRA was temporarily on the back-foot. They allowed the (Provisional) Army Council and (Provisional )Sinn Féin to negotiate from a position of – relative – strength.

            The Easter Rising of 1916 was planned as a national insurrection. Had confusing orders and counter-orders not been issued, had the German arms successfully landed in Kerry, the British would have faced at least several thousand revolutionaries across the country not one thousand confined to the capital and some other regions. The insurrection in Galway attracted 700 Volunteers and crowds of locals celebrating their “liberation” despite the contradictory instructions from GHQ in Dublin and lack of weapons (some men actually had pikes!). For a number of days they had free reign around Galway City until British reinforcements arrived by land and sea and a British ship in Galway Bay began a naval bombardment.

            Britain and Germany are allies in NATO and other organisations but I’m sure the British would be dismayed if Berlin was carrying out mass surveillance of all communications by the UK’s population.

            1. Canada, Australia and New Zealand achieved their independence completely peacefully.
              And without idiotic conflicts like the Irish Civil war.

              1. That is because they were overwhelmingly populated by Empire-loyal brits in the first place, the lot of them (the royal this- and royal that are a clue). All other British possessions where the population was not of such a favourable composition, separated violently. Like the “idiotic” American revolution, for example.

              2. If they were that loyal then why did they want to separate from it in the first place?

                Their peaceful separation proves that civilised countries like the UK can be reasoned with and that violence is unnecessary when dealing with them.

              3. Like what Ar an Sliabh says..Also the Brits would have “left” Canada as the USA would have kicked them out of the Americas anyway..So the Brits left before they were pushed.
                The USA Monroe Doctrine makes it quite clear that the USA sees all of NORTH, Central and South Americas as it’s playpen and European colonists are told Stay Away.
                As foe New Zealand and Australia I think there great distance saved them..The Britsh Royal Navy would have had massive difficulty in doing anything to protect ( read exploit ) these Countries that the Brits decided they couldn’t fool anybody.
                Ireland on the other hand was too close and they felt that it was a “Home island” Or Britise-I-Sh*te isles..
                So I hope this explains it some more.
                BTW the Soviet Union collapsed quite paeacfully…Why don’t you L-O-v-e Russia?????

              4. My grandfather still remembers how the Nazis took away his Jewish neighbours and shot them in the nearby forest (everyone in the town could hear it – the Nazis did not even bother to cover up their crimes).
                They murdered more than 60k of our fellow citizens.

                But I don’t hate Germany for that, because they have changed, they condemned the Nazi crimes, paid compensations and it’s very unlikely that they would do something like that again.

                Russia is different. They still refuse to admit that they occupied the Baltics and say that we joined the USSR voluntarily. (Basically – they don’t fully recognise my country)
                They are whitewashing Stalin and glorifying the Soviet Union. Putin himself said that the breakup of the USSR was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the XX century”,

                And now they’re invading Ukraine and stealing their land. And openly threatening my country as well.

                So why should I love them?

          2. The Hr offered to Ireland.
            left Britain in charge of taxes, the police Foreign affairs and the military….It was exactly the same as the rubbish on offer to the Scots..In fact the Scots will have greater powers..
            In fact I don’t know what the hell home rule did offer the Irish..And I can’t see why the proto Brit Unionists were so opposed to..If they had of accepted it..Ireland all 32 Counties would still be under the British yoke even today..
            The Irish owe Carson and Craig and the UVF a debt of gratitude really..Without them there would be no free state or 26 Counties!!!!!!!!!
            So, it’s a funny old World.

            1. The British have always viewed the Irish as somewhat subhuman and this greatly influenced the manner in which they ruled. I therefore do not believe HR would have stopped the daily atrocities committed by the governance, the military and the RIC, and it only would have taken a few years longer to reach the boiling point.

              1. I read a comment somewhere that the Brits view Ireland as a Cuba off their shore.
                They most certainly never had Irish interests at heart..
                What really boggles the mind is just how many West Brits think otherwise.
                I read a letter written by a Corkman in his 60’s into the Oirish Independent.
                Among other things he makes the case that the Irish and the Briits should be friends.
                because the Brits never were that good to their own working classes/poor.. that this means the Irish should Not feel angry at how the Brits treated the Irish.
                I was livid that such views exist.
                By that Logic Germany can gas Polish Jews because;Didn’t they gas their own German Jews, first?
                Some them Nazi lads were grand lads altogether.
                The mind really boggles.
                My view is that If the Brits treated their own population so shabby and with such contempt what reason Did they think they could act to occupy other Countries?
                That is how this should be viewed..as a reason NOT to spread their incompetence or Chronic mis managment.

              2. Yes, the Irish and the British should be friends (and from what I’ve seen – you are) – there’s not much difference between both of you anyway.

                The Germans did a lot of harm to my country, but I don’t hate them, because Germany of 1940 and Germany of 2014 are very different places.

                The same can be said about the UK and the USA as well.- they don’t glorify their past and have admitted their wrongdoings.

                The UK of 1916 and the UK of 2014 are very different places as well.

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