The Guardian reports: The US government has paid at least £100m to the UK spy agency GCHQ over the last three years to secure access to and influence over Britain’s intelligence gathering programmes.
The top secret payments are set out in documents which make clear that the Americans expect a return on the investment, and that GCHQ has to work hard to meet their demands. “GCHQ must pull its weight and be seen to pull its weight,” a GCHQ strategy briefing said.
The funding underlines the closeness of the relationship between GCHQ and its US equivalent, the National Security Agency. But it will raise fears about the hold Washington has over the UK’s biggest and most important intelligence agency, and whether Britain’s dependency on the NSA has become too great.
In one revealing document from 2010, GCHQ acknowledged that the US had “raised a number of issues with regards to meeting NSA’s minimum expectations”. It said GCHQ “still remains short of the full NSA ask”.
Ministers have denied that GCHQ does the NSA’s “dirty work”, but in the documents GCHQ describes Britain’s surveillance laws and regulatory regime as a “selling point” for the Americans.
The papers are the latest to emerge from the cache leaked by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has railed at the reach of the US and UK intelligence agencies. [Continue reading…]
Nick Hopkins writes: The influence the NSA has over GCHQ seems considerable. Whether this is down to the money, or the pressure a senior partner in a relationship can bring to bear, is not entirely clear.
Common sense suggests it’s a mixture of the two. What is clear is this: the Snowden files are littered with remarks from GCHQ senior and middle managers worrying about the NSA “ask” and whether the British agency is doing enough to meet it.
One budget report states GCHQ will spend money according to NSA and UK government requirements – in that order. Does GCHQ feel compromised by this? If it does, it seems the imperative of keeping close to the Americans is overriding. That appears to be the view of the Cabinet Office too.
Asked about the NSA payments, the American demands and the concerns that the UK might be vulnerable to being pushed about, the Cabinet Office said: “In a 60-year close alliance it is entirely unsurprising that there are joint projects in which resources and expertise are pooled, but the benefits flow in both directions.”
It may be entirely unsurprising in Whitehall that our subservience has been institutionalised in this way, but everyone else is entitled to ask whether that makes it healthy or right.
People are also entitled to ponder whether the price of keeping the Americans so close might involve undertaking some of their “dirty work” – developing intelligence-gathering techniques that are beyond the US legislative and judicial framework, but can be accommodated within ours. [Continue reading…]