The US National Security Agency (NSA) and UK intelligence agency GCHQ are collaborating on cyber weapons, the latest documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal.
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GCHQ blames China and Russia for most of cyber attacks against the UK and is working with the NSA to provide each country’s military forces with a cyber warfare capability, according to the Guardian.
According to the report, the ISC believes that military cyber “could involve disrupting an adversary’s systems to prevent cyber attacks on the UK, or actions in cyberspace that support a conventional military operation”.
The report adds that while defending the UK against attacks in cyber space must be a priority, there are also “significant opportunities” which should be exploited in the interests of UK national security.
“These more proactive cyber capabilities must be closely linked to cyber ‘defence’: the lessons learned from one can feed into planning for the other,” the report said.
Snowden has also revealed that GCHQ received at least £100m from the US in the past three years, raising questions about US influence over UK intelligence gathering and what the US expected in return.
The funding included £4m to support GCHQ's work for Nato forces in Afghanistan, and £17.2m for the agency's Mastering the Internet project, which gathers and stores vast amounts of data for analysis.
The NSA also paid £15.5m towards a Cornwall-based centre for intercepting communications from the transatlantic cables that carry internet traffic.
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According to Snowden, there is a very close relationship between the NSA and GCHQ, which have jointly developed ways of harvesting and analysing internet traffic.
A 2010 document reveals that the US had “raised a number of issues with regards to meeting NSA’s minimum expectations” and that GCHQ at the time remained “short of the full NSA ask”.
UK officials have denied doing “dirty work” for the NSA, but reports say the documents reveal that GCHQ describes the UK’s surveillance laws as a “selling point” for the US.
One document shows that the NSA pays half the costs of one of the UK's eavesdropping capabilities in Cyprus in return for taking the US view into account when deciding what to prioritise.
The documents also reveal that GCHQ is working to be able to gather information from mobile phones, that some GCHQ staff expressed concern about the level of deception involved in their work, that data from internet and mobile traffic has grown by 70 times in the past five years, and that 60% of all UK refined intelligence still comes from the NSA.
In response to the revelations, a Cabinet Office spokesman told the Guardian that in a 60-year alliance it is “entirely unsurprising” that there are joint projects in which resources and expertise are pooled, but said the benefits flow in “both directions".
Another government spokesman said not all information was shared automatically
The Snowden documents show GCHQ has become increasingly reliant on money from "external" sources, which has grown from £14m in 2006 to £151m in 2012.