UK MINISTER of State for Europe David Lidington yesterday declined to either confirm or deny reports in the British press that 14 undersea cables which pass through Cyprus were being tapped by GCHQ intelligence.
The Telegraph reported that the cables, which stretch to Middle East, North Africa and Europe, were being tapped, allowing the agency to access “tens of millions of emails, telephone calls, instant messages and other web-based traffic”.
Responding in Cyprus, Liddington said: “I am sure you know that there is a long standing position of successive British Governments that we never comment on the operations of security and intelligence agencies.”
Liddington said however he would make two points: The first was that Britain had a very clear framework of law that binds what its agencies are able to do, that sets out their duties and statutory form and provides methods of holding them to account.
‘The second point that I would make is that I believe there are people in every country in Europe who are safer and probably are alive today because of what is done by security and intelligence agencies in combating terrorism throughout the world,” said Liddington.
According to the Telegraph the revelations came from an investigation into British espionage on the island by Ta Nea, a Greek newspaper, Alpha TV, a Greek television station, L’Espresso, an Italian news weekly and a German daily, Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Much of the information was gleaned from documents leaked by the American whistleblower and former NSA employee Edward Snowden.
“Undersea cable maps show Cyprus at the hub of numerous fibre-optic undersea cables, making it a natural site to spy on Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern communications,” L’Espresso said in a report published on Tuesday.
“In total over a dozen strategic cables are accessible in Cyprus and more are planned,” it added.
It said the British were able to monitor the submarine fibre-optic cables because of an agreement drawn up with Cyprus at the time that the island gained independence in 1960.
Specialist engineers use “passive optical splitters” to tap into the cables which come ashore on Cyprus, diverting the information to the Ayios Nikolaos station, the reports added.
Also they said American spies were also based in Cyprus at the bases, according to a document leaked by Snowden that was seen by Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“The document says the American intelligence staff are required to dress as tourists because the UK has promised the Cyprus government that only British staff will work there,” the Italian weekly said.
Meanwhile telecoms company CyTA said yesterday it had a number of safeguards in place to prevent and detect its equipment from being tampered with and that strict regulations were in place to ensure personal data was protected.
“CyTA operates under strict EU and international regulations which protect the personal data of its customers and has not participated in any activities that are against those regulations,” spokesman Lefteris Christou said.
The only cases when the state-owned telecoms operator is obliged to share personal data, Christou added, are when serious crimes have been committed, laws have been broken or in matters of national security and in each case a warrant must have been issued by the courts.
“The British Bases are CyTA’s customers, so it is not for the telecoms company to determine what is a matter of national security. That is the responsibility of the Republic of Cyprus,” he said.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said yesterday he had no knowledge of such goings on and had not been passed any information on the issue from the previous administration.