hH? - capenhurst

From The Observer Newspaper

GCHQ Listened in on Ireland

Richard Norton-Taylor

The Irish government yesterday demanded an explanation from Britain over GCHQ's secret operation to eavesdrop on communications to and from the Republic using a 150ft tower in Cheshire.

David Andrews, the Irish foreign minister, acted following reports that over the past 10 years, the tower has intercepted Irish international communications as they passed across Britain.

The tower, built at a cost of pounds 20m, is on British Nuclear Fuels land at Capenhurst, between two BT microwave towers carrying international telephone traffic.

The intercepts were passed to GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, for further processing.

Gay Mitchell, the Irish shadow foreign affairs spokesman, described the reports as "disturbing". He added: "This is not only an offensive act, it has commercial as well as political implications."

The ministry of defence described the tower as a "military installation operated by RAF technicians". However, it is well known that RAF signals experts work for GCHQ along with civilian staff.

Telephone communications were carried through a cable under the Irish Sea between Dublin and Anglesey and then through a BT microwave radio link where they were picked up by the Capenhurst tower.

The MoD is now selling the tower - a new Irish telecommunications system has replaced the radio traffic which the tower used to pick up. But GCHQ is likely to find new ways to receive communications, from land lines and satellites.

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