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NSA Pays $150 Million To British Spy Agency In Secret

Bonded, James Bonded. The NSA has been paying over a $150 million to a British spy agency according to information leaked by Edward Snowden and revealed by the Guardian. The payments were apparently made to influence the British intelligence community and were kept secret from the British public. The revelation of the payments has sparked a debate over the ethics of taking money from foreign intelligence agencies, even ones of friendly nations.

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.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is the British equivalent of the NSA and is hence responsible for the country’s signal intelligence and considerable amounts of electronic surveillance. What would the reaction be in America if the situation were reversed?

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.

Nothing is true until it has been officially denied. The NSA could possibly be using GCHQ and other foreign intelligence agencies to bypass what little domestic surveillance laws there are in a quid pro quo – you spy on my citizens and I’ll spy on yours. In a sense, it is legal arbitrage.

The Western intelligence agencies are expected to spy on foreigners and leave its own population unmolested so paying each other and sharing an alliance is a way to spy on each other’s citizens without technically violating their respective laws. In any case why should the GCHQ have any qualms about spying on American citizens and handing the information over to the NSA? Especially when it’s getting over $150 million to do so.

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.