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New Snowden leaks unravel mystery behind NSA's UK base

Engadget Engadget 6/09/2016 Cherlynn Low

Just when you thought you couldn't be shocked by the NSA's snooping anymore, new leaked documents show the agency's reach extends far beyond American borders. According to files obtained by The Intercept from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, a US base in the UK has been eavesdropping on satellite and other wireless communications around the world.

The base in question is the mysterious 545-acre wide Menwith Hill Station (MHS) in North Yorkshire, which fronts as a Royal Air Force facility to provide "rapid radio relay and conduct communications research." It's piqued the interest of protesters, journalists, and even terrorists for decades, and the new revelation finally sheds light on what's been going on at MHS.

According to the documents, the NSA has been intercepting international communications at the British base in two main ways. One is called FORNSAT, which uses the giant golf ball-shaped domes housing powerful antennae to eavesdrop on transmissions between foreign satellites. The other, named OVERHEAD, employs US government satellites to find and monitor cellphone calls and WiFi signals on the ground below.

The information the NSA can glean from these systems is huge, and gets pretty specific. The Intercept noted that in a single 12-hour period in May 2011, the "surveillance systems logged more than 335 million metadata records, which reveal information such as the sender and recipient of an email, or the phone numbers someone called and at what time."

What does the agency do with the information it obtains? It turns out there's a whole system in place called GHOSTHUNTER that is designed to "directly aid military operations." This lets the NSA zoom in on the specific locations of targeted people or groups, so that, and here's the chilling quote, "they could then be captured or killed."

It appears really difficult to evade GHOSTHUNTER, as the program is described to "locate targets when they log onto the internet," and has reportedly enabled "a significant number of capture-kill operations." Examples of such targets include a "suspected al Qaeda 'facilitator'" and an "alleged al Qaeda 'weapons procurer.'" The latter was detained a few days after location by a special task force, along with his family members and associates.

These new leaks add more weight to what the intelligence industry has suspected about the base for awhile, and is just another example of how far the NSA's reach extends. It also raises more questions on suspected UK involvement on targeted killings, about which the British Ministry of Defence declined to respond to The Intercept. Back on the home front, the intelligence agency is reportedly investigating new ways to snoop on its citizens. To really scare yourself into never using the internet ever again, check out The Intercept's detailed report, which has links to all the spilled classified documents.

The Intercept

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