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Spies listening to Island’s communications

Bermuda’s undersea communications cables are monitored by UK and US security services, according to documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

The documents — the latest to be revealed after the whistle-blower computer expert released data obtained while working for the US security services — show that the Cable & Wireless and GlobeNet cables from Bermuda are monitored by the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which works closely with the NSA.

According to reports, Cable & Wireless, taken over by UK telecommunications giant Vodafone in 2012, worked with GCHQ and provided the most data to GCHQ — and received millions of dollars in compensation for its assistance.

On-Island services once provided by Cable & Wireless are now run by LinkBermuda — but the firm still uses a Cable & Wireless connection to the US.

“It is longstanding policy not to comment on security issues so I can go no further than that,” Deputy Governor Ginny Ferson said.

US Consul General Bob Settje is off the Island and had not commented by press time.

The claims came as a result of a joint investigation by German media and the UK TV station Channel 4, based on documents leaked by Snowden, who is now living in Russia.

A spokesman for Vodafone told Channel 4 that an internal investigation had found no unlawful conduct — but stopped short of a denial.

“What we have in the UK is a system based on warrants, where we receive a lawful instruction from an agency or an authority to allow them to have access to communications data on our network,” the spokesman said.

“We have to comply with that warrant and we do and there are processes for us to do that which we’re not allowed to talk about because the law constrains us from revealing these things.

“We don’t go beyond what the law requires.”

The Royal Gazette reported earlier this year that a loophole in the deal banning the US from spying on the UK and other close allies — Canada, Australia and New Zealand — excluded the UK Overseas Territories because the NSA interception system would be slowed down too much if they were excluded as well.

But US security expert William Arkin, who worked in US intelligence in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War, said that the NSA had no need to spy on Bermuda — because the UK or Bermudian authorities would do it for them.

“The United States and its four closest allies collect intelligence on everything they perceive to be of interest,” Mr Arkin said.

He explained that America may want intelligence for threat assessment on ports where its ships visited — or information on money laundering, terrorist activity or tax avoidance by US citizens.

“Having said all that, the country that is monitoring Bermuda is Britain — Bermuda should not be looking in the direction of the NSA, they should be looking in the other direction,” Mr Arkin said.

Mr Arkin added, however, that surveillance “did not necessarily mean that Bermudian communications were being monitored or that Bermudian civil rights had been violated”.

He said that examples where surveillance might be carried out were where there was tax avoidance or money laundering, or a person was subject to an investigation by the FBI or other agencies.

“That’s the world we live in and I want that to happen and have effective law enforcement and want it to be targeted,” he said.