US spies have widespread access to Britain’s bases on Cyprus and share information ‘daily’ with their Israeli counterparts, leaked top secret documents show.
The British so-called Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) on Cyprus, which comprise 3% of the island’s landmass, sit just 200 miles from Gaza. The bases are said to be the largest British intelligence facilities outside of the UK, although they have never been officially acknowledged.
“Cyprus hosts a wide range of UK and US intelligence facilities”, notes a top secret document from GCHQ, Britain’s largest spy agency. The document adds: “Cyprus collection facilities are acknowledged by NSA as important assets”.
The main US spy agency working on the British territory in Cyprus is the National Security Agency (NSA).
Another top secret document, meanwhile, notes that the NSA maintains a “far-reaching technical and analytic relationship” with the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU) “sharing information on access, intercept, targeting, language, analysis and reporting.”
SIGINT stands for signals intelligence, which describes the interception of communications between people—or other types of electronic signals.
The documents, leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, are significant in light of current US activities on Cyprus. It is likely intelligence obtained from Gaza by US spy agencies on British Cyprus is being fed to the Israelis, further implicating both countries in Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
The US and British militaries are key partners of Israel, and have supported its bombing of Gaza. The documents show intelligence gathered on Cyprus is likely to be part of this support.
The GCHQ document admits that intelligence gained from Cyprus is integrated “with military planning and operations”, noting that “the symbiotic relationship between GCHQ and MoD [Ministry of Defence] on Cyprus requires close interaction”.
Declassified recently revealed that over 30 UK military transport flights have flown from the Cyprus base to Tel Aviv since the bombing of Gaza began. But the MoD has so far refused to say what equipment or forces have been on those flights.
Meanwhile, US surveillance drones are known to be flying over Gaza, while the US is moving arms to Israel from around Europe using RAF Akrotiri, Britain’s vast air base on Cyprus. The MoD has also refused to tell Declassified what American aircraft are flying or what weapons are on board.
For 50 years, the US and Britain have attempted to keep secret the size and activities of the American presence at the UK bases and “retained sites” on Cyprus.
But Declassified recently revealed that 129 US airmen are permanently deployed to RAF Akrotiri, which is a staging post for bombing campaigns across the Middle East. The US spy force, the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, is also permanently deployed at Akrotiri.
The documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 stipulate four sites for NSA spying facilities on Cyprus.
One is a communications interception facility at Ayios Nikolaos in the Eastern SBA, Dhekelia, which is believed to hoover up calls, texts, and emails from across the Middle East and North Africa.
The Ayios Nikolaos facility also hosts a measurement and signatures intelligence, or MASINT, component. This highly technical field detects and describes the specific characteristics of target objects and sources.
The document observes that the NSA provides half of the funding for the UK’s listening post at Ayios Nikolaos.
Two more MASINT locations operating in partnership with the US are found on the Western base, including an unmanned facility at Cape Gata, just up from RAF Akrotiri.
At RAF Troodos, a British “retained site” near the border with northern Cyprus, the US operates another listening post, which utilises covert electronic intelligence gathering. The Troodos site, GCHQ noted, “has long been regarded as a ‘Jewel in the Crown’ by NSA as it offers unique access to the Levant, North Africa, and Turkey”.
“Weapons-related collection from Troodos is used to support technical [signal intelligence] analysts in the US and UK,” the document noted.
Relationship with Israel
The intelligence relationship between the NSA and its Israeli counterparts is shown in the documents to be unusually close.
The top secret agreement formalising US and Israeli intelligence sharing notes that a “dedicated communications line between NSA and ISNU supports the exchange of raw material, as well as daily analytic and technical correspondence.”
It adds that “NSA routinely sends ISNU minimised and unminimised raw collection [intelligence]”.
The relationship had recently undergone “an expansion to include other Israeli and US intelligence organisations such as CIA [and] Mossad”. The document continued that “this SIGINT relationship has increasingly been the catalyst for a broader intelligence relationship between the United States and Israel.”
US-Israel “cooperation covers the exploitation of internal governmental, military, civil, and diplomatic communications and…intelligence organisations”, the document noted.
The GCHQ document, meanwhile, hints that intelligence collected on Cyprus is being shared with other foreign governments.
Under the “partnerships” section of the GCHQ document it is noted there are “on island initiatives with other government agencies where these support joint working aims”. It continues that these intergovernmental relationships have “clear intelligence benefits”, but it is unclear if this includes Israel.
The document then adds: “The Cyprus Stakeholders’ Conference will continue to be an important forum for resolving issues and strengthening relationships.” It is again unclear who attends the stakeholders conference, but it could include Israel.
US-Israel intelligence sharing is also shown to focus on the Middle East, the region covered by the NSA sites on Cyprus.
“The single largest exchange between NSA and ISNU is on targets in the Middle East which constitute strategic threats to US and Israeli interests,” the top secret document notes.
It adds that “the Israeli side enjoys the benefits of expanded geographic access” to NSA sites.
US and Israeli spies “have explored and executed unique opportunities to gain access to high priority targets”, the document continues. A key priority for the ISNU is stipulated as “Palestinian terrorism”.
Meanwhile, NSA’s partnerships with Israeli spies had “expanded” to include Israeli Defense Intelligence’s Special Operation Division and Mossad. This had resulted in “unprecedented access and collection breakthroughs”.
It is believed the CIA is also operating from Britain’s bases on Cyprus. A leaked US cable recently reported by Declassified included a UK official stating that American aircraft flying from RAF Akrotiri are operated by the State Department and US military. But he added “possibly other agencies” are flying from the base, which is assumed to mean the CIA.
GCHQ declined to comment for this story. The NSA and CIA did not respond to Declassified’s requests for comment.