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Date: 1999-07-17

UK: Echelon/site gefilmt

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Wie eine Reportage von Channel 4 aufdeckte, hat das
birtische Verteidigungsministerium jahrelang den zivilen
Telefonverkehr von und nach Irland systematisch abgehört.
Ein Team von Channel 4 hat in den Abhör/tower direkt
hineingefilmt und unter anderem Galsfiber/equipment von
British Telekom gefilmt.

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relayed by via via


THE MINISTRY of Defence "Electronic Test Facility", a rather
mysterious 150-ft high tower stands isolated in a British
Nuclear Fuels Limited site at Capenhurst, Cheshire. Locals
knew that the tower housed a dark secret but did not know
what it was. That secret is now out.

The tower was craftily erected between two BT microwave
radio towers carrying telephone traffic. The ETF was the ideal
place to discreetly intercept international telephone calls of
the Irish government, businessmen and those of suspected of
involvement with IRA terrorism.

Channel 4 filmed extensive BT equipment inside the building,
including optical fibre cables linking the tower to the MoD's
communication system.

The hi-tech white ETF tower included eight floors of advanced
electronic equipment and three floors of aerial galleries.

These were used to extract and sort the thousands of
communications passing through every hour. Fax messages,
e-mails, telexes and data communications were
automatically sorted by computers scanning their contents
for key words and subjects of interest. Telephone calls could
be targeted according to the numbers dialled or by identifying
the voice of the speaker.

At the time the tower first came into operation the IRA
campaigns were raging.

Relations between the British and Irish government's were not
always smooth, with the British suspecting their Irish
counterparts of being sympathetic to the IRA.

Since the early 1990s, the British electronic spy agency
GCHQ and its American counterpart NSA have developed
sophisticated libraries of voice profiles to use in scanning
international telephone messages.

The ETF tower was operated by personnel from an RAF unit
based in Malvern, Worcestershire. The "special signals"
section of the RAF "Radio Introduction Unit" install and run
projects for GCHQ.

According to local residents, the site was manned 24 hours a
day by a team of two to three people, until the start of 1998.

Besides the Capenhurst tower, communications to and from
the Irish Republic were also intercepted at a similar but
smaller GCHQ station in County Armagh. This intercepts
microwave radio and other links between Dublin and Belfast.

A third GCHQ station at Bude, Cornwall, intercepts western
satellite communications, including to and from Ireland.

>From 1990 until 1998 the Capenhurst ETF tower intercepted
the international communications of the Irish Republic
crossing from Dublin to Anglesey on a newly installed optical
fibre submarine cable, called UK-Ireland 1.

>From Anglesey, the signals were carried across Britain on
British Telecom's network of microwave radio relay towers,
centred on the BT Tower in London.

The key link, from Holyhead in Anglesey to Manchester,
passes directly over the Wirral peninsula to the south of
Birkenhead. The ETF tower was built to pop up into this

When the new cable was planned in the mid 1980s,
intelligence specialists at the Defence Ministry and GCHQ
Cheltenham, the electronic spying headquarters, realised
that the radio beams passed directly over the nuclear
processing plant at Capenhurst.

During 1988, a temporary interception system was built on
the roof of the BNFL factory. When tests of the Irish
interception system proved successful, intelligence chiefs
decided to go ahead with a full-scale system.

Within the Defence Ministry, the project was classified "Top
Secret Umbra". The codeword Umbra is used to designate
sensitive signals intelligence operations.

Not even BNFL, on whose land the ETF tower was built, was
let into the secret.

The Ministry of Defence held a meeting with residents early
in 1989 and urged them not to talk about the site. In return,
they were given free fencing and double glazing.

The architects were told that the tower had to contain three
floors of aerial galleries, each with four special "dielectric"
windows. These are opaque to visible light, but allow radio
beams to enter.

By building the tower in this way, no-one could see what
aerials were inside, or where they were pointing.

But the architects' plans, lodged at the local authority offices,
revealed the true purpose of the tower.

The plans revealed that the radio transparent windows had to
be aligned on an extremely precise compass bearing of
201.12 degrees to magnetic north.

Aerials pointing through these windows would point precisely
at the British Telecom towers at Gwaenysgor, Clwyd, and
Pale Heights, near Chester. These are the towers carrying
the Ireland's international communications links through

During installation in 1989 and 1990, defence officials were
concerned to conceal what was going into the tower. To
disguise it, contractors vans were repainted in the livery of BT
and other public utilities. BT refused to say whether this had
been done with their knowledge and consent.

Since the Irish telecommunication moved onto a different
system over a year the Capenhurst tower has been made
redundant. The Ministry of Defence are trying sell it off.

It would not make a very comfortable home and it is hard to
see what legitimate business might now be interested.

The Defence Estate organisation said this week that it had
extended the time for offers to be made. It would accepts
bids for the tower up to midday today.

The Home Office said: "In accordance with standard practice,
the Government does not comment on alleged interception
activity." BT said it did not wish to comment.

The Irish government said it would comment later.

History of the Eavesdropping Agency

THE BRITISH Government's eavesdropping agency, the
Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), is
based in Cheltenham.

It was set up 1946 after the success of the Government Code
and Cipher School in Bletchley of cracking the German
Enigma codes during the Second World War.

It is responsible for monitoring telecommunications and
telephone calls in Britain and around the world and employs
some 4,000 people. It works closely with MI6.

GCHQ uses state-of-the-art equipment for a wide range of
operations to decrypt diplomatic traffic and to identify the
voices of individuals who are of interest to the West's
intelligence services.

GCHQ officers have been closely involved in the British efforts
to tackle the IRA. GCHQ also works closely with the US
eavesdropping operation, the National Security Agency. The
agencies work together on a system called "Echelon", an
intergrated global surveillance network intercepting
international satellite and communications links. It is said to
have benefited the US and UK with information about arms
and trade deals.

Until 1975 few people outside the intelligence community
knew about the existence of GCHQ.

In the Eighties, Margaret Thatcher took union rights away
from GCHQ staff on the basis that trade unionists were a
potential threat to national security. Those rights have now
been restored. After the Cold War, GCHQ cut back on staff
numbers. The Cheltenham headquarters is being rebuilt at a
cost of pounds 300m.
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published on: 1999-07-17
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