Reports such as the June 23 AP article “U.K. surveillance operation ‘bigger than’ U.S. effort” demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the agreements that underpin the U.S. National Security Agency’s worldwide eavesdropping system and its practicalities.
The UKUSA system, so-called because it is founded upon the secret UK-USA signals intelligence treaty signed at the end of World War II, now has more than five partners, since the United Kingdom and the United States were joined in the late 1940s by Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
NSA maintains bases worldwide, including a significant one at Misawa Air Base in Japan, and is provided with signals intelligence by many more. Before the PRISM revelations, it was generally referred to as the ECHELON system after a previously revealed codename. Edward Snowden is far from the first NSA whistle-blower; we already know a great deal about how NSA works.
Certainly a great deal of information collection and analysis goes on in the U.K. due largely to its historical location as the landing point for trans-Atlantic undersea communications cables. Yes, some of this is done by GCHQ, the British signals intelligence agency. But most is done by NSA even within the U.K.
Menwith Hill, which the article referred to as a GCHQ eavesdropping site, is not run by GCHQ. It is officially designated as a Royal Air Force base, but it is an NSA field station, the largest outside the U.S. It is run entirely by the NSA. The RAF commanding officer is not even allowed in most of the secret parts of the base.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.