The U.S. government has paid at least £100 million to the U.K. spy agency GCHQ over the last three years to secure access to and influence over Britain’s intelligence gathering programmes. This underlines the closeness of the relationship between GCHQ and its U.S. equivalent, the National Security Agency (NSA).
The papers are the latest to emerge from the cache disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden,who had warned about the relationship between the NSA and GCHQ.
The documents reveal that the amount of personal data available to GCHQ from Internet and mobile traffic has increased by 7,000 per cent over the past five years — but 60 per cent of all Britain’s refined intelligence still appears to come from the NSA. They also say that GCHQ blames China and Russia for the vast majority of cyber-attacks against the U.K. and is now working with the NSA to provide the two militaries with a cyberwarfare capability.
The details of the NSA payments, and the influence the U.S. has are set out in GCHQ’s annual “investment portfolios”. The papers show the NSA gave GCHQ £22.9 million in 2009. The following year the NSA’s contribution increased to £39.9 million, which included £4 million to support GCHQ’s work for NATO’s forces in Afghanistan, and £17.2 million for the agency’s Mastering the Internet project, which gathers and stores vast amounts of “raw” information ready for analysis.
One document, setting out spending plans, said that GCHQ must ensure there has been “an appropriate level of contribution ... from the NSA perspective”.
Keeping U.S. happy
U.K.’s biggest fear, as per the papers, is that “U.S. perceptions of the ... partnership diminish, leading to loss of access, and/or reduction in investment ... to the U.K”.
In one review, GCHQ boasted that it had supplied “unique contributions” to the NSA during its investigation of the American citizen responsible for an attempted car bomb attack in Times Square, New York City, in 2010.
No other detail is provided — but it raises the possibility that GCHQ might have been spying on an American living in the U.S. The NSA is prohibited from doing this by U.S. law.
Though the sums represent only a small percentage of the agencies’ budgets, the money has been an important source of income for GCHQ, coming during a period of cost-cutting.
The overriding necessity to keep on the right side of the U.S. was revealed in a U.K. government paper that set out the views of GCHQ in the wake of the 2010 strategic defence and security review.
Called “GCHQ’s international alliances and partnerships: helping to maintain Britain’s standing and influence in the world”, it said: “Our key partnership is with the U.S. … GCHQ must pull its weight and be seen to pull its weight.”
Another pitch to keep the U.S. happy involves reminding Washington that the U.K. is less regulated than the U.S. The British agency described this as one of its key “selling points”.
This was made explicit two years ago when GCHQ set out its priorities for the coming years.
“We both accept and accommodate NSA’s different way of working,” the document said. “We are less constrained by NSA’s concerns about compliance.” GCHQ said that by 2013 it hoped to have “exploited to the full our unique selling points of geography, partnerships [and] the U.K.’s legal regime”.
The Snowden documents show GCHQ has become increasingly reliant on money from “external” sources over the last seven years. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013