October 15, 2014

The German operation Eikonal as part of NSA's RAMPART-A program

(Updated: October 22, 2014)

Just over a week ago, the regional German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the regional broadcasters NDR and WDR came with a story saying that between 2004 and 2008, the German foreign intelligence service BND had tapped into the Frankfurt internet exchange DE-CIX and shared the intercepted data with the NSA. As not all communications of German citizens could be filtered out, this is considered a violation of the constitution.

Here we will give a summary of what is currently known about this BND operation and we will combine this with information from earlier reports. This will show that it was most likely part of the RAMPART-A program of the NSA, which includes similar interception efforts by foreign partner agencies. Finally, we will look at where exactly the BND interception might have taken place.

On October 20, the Danish paper Information has confirmed that the German BND operation Eikonal was indeed part of the RAMPART-A program: a document from NSA's SSO division lists an operation codenamed "EIKANOL" as part of RAMPART-A and says it was decommissioned in June 2008. Unfortunately the original document wasn't published.

The German operation Eikonal

The codename for the BND operation was Eikonal, which is a scientific German word, derived from Greek, meaning likeness, icon or image. Details about it were found in BND documents marked Streng Geheim (Top Secret), which were handed over to a committee of the German parliament that investigates NSA spying activities (NSA Untersuchungsausschuss). It's not clear whether journalists were able to read these documents themselves, or were just told about their contents.

The operation was set up in 2003 as a cooperation between BND and NSA, whith the BND providing access to the Frankfurt internet exchange DE-CIX, and NSA providing sophisticated interception equipment, which the Germans didn't had but were eager to use. Interception of telephone traffic started in 2004, internet data were captured since 2005. Reportedly, NSA was especially interested in communications from Russia.

For this, NSA provided BND with lists of 'selectors' like phone numbers and e-mail addresses. According to the testimony of an BND employee at a committee hearing last month, his co-workers pulled these selectors from an American server 2, 3 or 4 times a day and entered them into the system that does the actual interception.

The article in Süddeutsche Zeitung says that from DE-CIX, the data first went to BND headquarters in Pullach, and then to the Mangfall barracks in Bad Aibling, where BND and NSA analysts secretly worked together as the Joint SIGINT Activity (JSA, terminated in 2012). From there, there was a secure line back to NSA headquarters.

Operations center room in the former BND headquarters in Pullach
(click to enlarge)

To prevent communications of German citizens being passed on to NSA, BND installed a special program (codenamed DAFIS) to filter these out. But according to the documents, this filter didn't work properly from the beginning. An initial test in 2003 showed the BND that 5% of the data of German citizens could not be filtered out.

A review of operation Eikonal reported that a "complete and accurate" separation between German and foreign telecommunications was impossible. Also BND wasn't able to fully check this because of a lack of technical expertise.

The documents also suggest that the intelligence oversight committees of the Bundestag were not properly informed. The BND noticed at some point that the NSA searched for information about the European defence contractor EADS (now Airbus Group), the Eurocopter and French government agencies. Together with doubts about the legality of the Eikonal operation, this resulted in ending the cooperation with NSA in 2008.

Reportedly, NSA wasn't happy with that and sent its deputy director John Inglis to Berlin in order to demand some kind of "compensation": if not Frankfurt, then BND should offer access to another European fiber-optic cable. Süddeutsche Zeitung says that at that time, BND got access to a cable of "global importance", where NSA did not have access to. NSA then became a "silent partner" receiving data from this new BND interception effort.

Meanwhile, two members of the German parliamentary investigation committee, who are cleared for the BND documents about Eikonal, said that the aforementioned press reports were not always correct. According to one member, it actually wasn't BND, but NSA that ended the cooperation, apparently because the Germans were so heavily filtering the data, that the outcome wasn't of much interest for NSA anymore.


The RAMPART-A program of NSA

Those who have followed the Snowden-leaks, may have recognized that operation Eikonal is identical to cable tapping operations which are conducted under the RAMPART-A program of NSA. According to some of the Snowden-documents, this is an umbrella program under which NSA cooperates with 3rd Party countries, who "provide access to cables and host U.S. equipment".

The slide below clearly shows that such a partner country taps an international cable at an access point (A) somewhere in that country and then forwards the data to a processing center (B). Equipment provided by the NSA processes the data and analysts from the host country can then analyse the intercepted data (C) before they are forwarded to an NSA site in the US (D):

Details about NSA's RAMPART-A program were published by the Danish newspaper Information in collaboration with Greenwald's website The Intercept on June 19, 2014. The program reportedly involved five countries, and cooperation two others was being tested. In total, all RAMPART-A interception facilities gave access to 3 terabits of data every second.

The disclosed documents list 13 RAMPART-A sites, nine of which were active in 2013. The three largest are codenamed SPINNERET, MOONLIGHTPATH and AZUREPHOENIX, which by the number of records are NSA's second, third and fifth most productive cable tapping programs - which shows the importance of these 3rd Party relationships for NSA.

Eikonal (which most likely had a different NSA codename seems to be misspelled EIKANOL in the NSA document seen by Information) isn't included in these documents as they date from at least two years after this operation was ended.

The exact locations of these access points are protected under the Exceptionally Controlled Information (ECI) compartment REDHARVEST (RDV), to which Snowden seems to have had no access. Therefore we don't know which countries are participating in the RAMPART-A program, although some of the documents contain leads pointing to Denmark and Germany.

These foreign partnerships operate on the condition that the host country will not use the NSA’s technology to collect any data on US citizens. The NSA agrees that it will not use the access it has been granted to collect data on the host countries’ citizens, but one NSA presentation slide (marked NOFORN: Not for Foreign Nationals) notes that "there ARE exceptions" to this rule:

According to a 2010 briefing, intelligence collected via RAMPART-A yielded over 9000 intelligence reports the previous year, out of which half was based solely on intelligence intercepted through RAMPART-A.

More about RAMPART-A

What the reports on both websites didn't mention is that RAMPART-A is apparently focussed on collecting information about Russia, the Middle East and North Africa. This comes from Der NSA Komplex, a book about the Snowden-revelations written by two journalists from Der Spiegel. Unfortunately this book, which is much more informative than the one by Glenn Greenwald, is only available in German.

Besides 3rd Party partners giving access to cables in their own country, there's also a construction in which such a partner agency cooperates with yet another country that secretly provides access to data traffic, which is also shared with NSA. In recent years, BND and NSA conducted about half a dozen of such operations, three of which are mentioned in Der NSA Komplex:

- Tiamat (access to high-level international targets under risky circumstances. This operation had ended before 2013)*

- Hermos (in the Spring of 2012, BND got access to communication cables in a crisis zone country, but this operation had to be terminated by the end of the year when the situation almost went out of control)*

- Wharpdrive (this operation was still active in 2013, but in the Spring of that year, employees of the private company that operates the communication cables, accidently discovered the clandestine BND/NSA equipment, but the operation was rescued by providing a plausible cover story)*


Where did the tapping took place?

The best kept secret is the actual location where the BND tapping point was. Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that in the original documents the name of the provider is blacked out, but that according to insiders, it must have been Deutsche Telekom that assisted BND. The paper even says both parties signed an agreement in which the provider earned a payment of 6.000,- euros a month in return for the access.

This seems to correspond with a report broadcasted by the German television magazine Frontal 21 in July last year, saying that BND had access to the Frankfurt internet exchange through its own cable since 2009. According to an insider, this cable access was under the cover of a major German telecom provider, and it was speculated this was Deutsche Telekom.

But as some people noticed, Deutsche Telekom was not connected to DE-CIX when operation Eikonal took place. In 2008, the actual routers and switches of DE-CIX were situated in 10 data centers from InterXion, TeleCity, Equinix, Level 3, ITENOS and e-shelter. Since 2008, the distributed DE-CIX switches are interconnected through the priva|nex private fiber-optic network from euNetworks.

Diagram of the Frankfurt internet exchange point DE-CIX

Maybe before 2008 the DE-CIX switches were connected by fiber cables from Deutsche Telekom, but if not, there seems to be no way this company could have provided the BND access to the Frankfurt internet exchange. If the 6000,- euro contract really involved Deutsche Telekom, then maybe for the rent of a private cable from the tapping point to a BND site.

In response to earlier media reports, the DE-CIX management put out a press release on June 26, 2014 saying: We exclude that any foreign or domestic secret service had access to our internet exchange and the connected fiber-optic networks during the period of 2004 - 2007". It was added that DE-CIX itself doesn't operate any data centers, nor stores or processes data on its own.

This statement only speaks about the past, so it doesn't contradict the fact that the BND was recently authorized to intercept the communications from 25 internet service providers (ISPs), with their cables being tapped at the DE-CIX internet exchange, as was reported by Der Spiegel on October 6, 2013. A letter containing this authorisation was sent to the Association of the German Internet Industry, which is the owner of the company that operates the Frankfurt internet exchange.

Among these 25 providers there are foreign companies from Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, but also 6 German providers: 1&1, Freenet, Strato AG, QSC, Lambdanet and Plusserver, who almost exclusively handle domestic traffic.

However, Strato AG said they would never agree with such a wiretapping order and 1&1 declared they never received a letter from BND and suggests that if there's any interception this may take place in cooperation with DE-CIX Management GmbH, the organisation that operates the Frankfurt internet exchange.

This would mean that currently BND isn't tapping the whole internet exchange, but only the cables from selected providers, which is of course much more efficient. Tapping the whole exchange would probably also exceed BND's technical capabilities, as nowadays DE-CIX connects some 550 ISPs from more than 55 countries (including North Korea), including broadband providers, content delivery networks, web hosters, and incumbent operators.

Simplified structure of the Internet, showing how Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 providers
transit data traffic in a hierarchial way and how Tier 2 providers exchange
traffic directly through peering at an Internet eXchange Point (IXP)
(diagram: Wikimedia Commons - click to enlarge)

If that's the case, then the actual interception could take place at DE-CIX systems, maybe at the core fiber network or the core switch. This means, BND only needs the cooperation of the DE-CIX management and the indivual providers can honestly deny that their cables are being intercepted.

According to Der Spiegel, the BND copies the data stream and then searches it using keywords related to terrorism and weapon proliferation. A BND spokesman assured the Wall Street Journal in October last year that purely domestic German traffic is neither gathered nor stored.

In august last year, a spokesman from the DE-CIX management said that he couldn't rule out that some providers connected to the exchange would allow interception on their equipment when ordered so by their national governments.

This points to for example Level 3, a US company that has a data center which houses some DE-CIX routers. But if Level 3 would have provided access to DE-CIX, then there was no need for NSA to cooperate with BND. Also, on August 1, 2013, Level 3 gave out a press release saying that the company had not given any foreign government access to its networks in Germany in order to conduct surveillance.


Although we have no positive confirmation that Eikonal was part of the RAMPART-A program, this German operation perfectly fits the way in which foreign parters of NSA get access to important internet cables and switches and share the results with their American counterparts. In this case, NSA apparently cooperated with BND in order to get access to communications from Russia and probably also from the Middle East and North Africa that traveled through Germany.

The best kept secret is how and where such interception takes place, and we have seen that tapping the Frankfurt internet exchange DE-CIX is far more complex than it seems. This makes it difficult to pinpoint the taps, but by combining earlier press reports with the structure of the DE-CIX exchange, it seems unlikely that Deutsche Telekom was involved.

Because of the confusion about the role of Deutsche Telekom in operation Eikonal, the parliamentary investigation committee has decided to also investigate whether this company assisted BND in tapping the Frankfurt internet exchange or not. As an alternative option it's suggested that Deutsche Telekom might have just given access to its own Frankfurt backbone switch, instead of to DE-CIX - this would better fit NSA's description of what is intercepted under RAMPART-A: "International Gateway Switches; End-Point GSM Switches; Leased Internet Circuits; Internet Backbone Routers".

Links and Sources
- Sueddeutsche.de: Codewort Eikonal - der Albtraum der Bundesregierung (2014)
- Spiegel.de: Spying Together: Germany's Deep Cooperation with the NSA (2013)
- Heise.de: NSA-Abhörskandal PRISM: Internet-Austauschknoten als Abhörziele (2013)
- Spiegel.de: BND lässt sich Abhören von Verbindungen deutscher Provider genehmigen (2013)
- NSA presentation: RAMPART-A Project Overview (pdf) (2010)
- About the structure of the internet: Die Bosse der Fasern (2005)

- More comments on Hacker News

September 29, 2014

NSA's Strategic Mission List

One of the most important documents that has been disclosed as part of the Snowden-leaks is also one of the least-known: the Strategic Mission List from January 2007, which provides a detailed list of the goals and priorities for the National Security Agency (NSA).

This Strategic Mission List was published by The New York Times on November 2, 2013, as one of three original NSA documents that accompanied a long report about the how NSA spies on both enemies and allies.

About the publication

On the website of The New York Times (NYT), the Strategic Mission List was published as a series of images in png-format, which made it impossible to copy or search the text. It was also difficult to print the document in a readable way. For reasons unknown, NYT is the only media-outlet that published Snowden-documents in this not very user-friendly way.

Hence I asked The New York Times whether they could provide the Strategic Mission List in the standard pdf-format, but the paper didn't reply. I also asked the author of the report, Scott Shane, but he answered that he had no access to the document anymore.

Eventually I used an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tool to convert the images from the NYT website into a text document, conducted the necessary corrections by hand and then converted the result into the pdf-document, that is now published here and on the Cryptome website.

The Strategic Mission List

Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald claim that NSA has just one single goal: collect all digital communications from all over the world: "Collect it All". But this is not mentioned in the Strategic Mission List, which instead lists a range of far more specific goals, many of which are of a military nature, which is also something that lacks in the media-coverage of the Snowden-leaks.

The document describes the priorities and risks for the United States SIGINT System (USSS) for a period of 12 to 18 months and is reviewed, and where necessary updated bi-annually. The topics are derived from a number of other strategic planning documents, including the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), which sets the priorities for the US Intelligence Community as a whole.

Note that according to the classification marking, the Strategic Mission List is only authorized for release to the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, which leaves New Zealand excluded.


The Strategic Mission List is divided into two parts. The first part includes 16 Topical Missions, which represent missions discerned to be areas of highest priority for the USSS, where SIGINT can make key contributions. The second part includes 6 Enduring Targets, which are countries that need to be treated holistically because of their strategic importance.

For both of these sections, the Strategic Mission List includes Focus Areas, the most critical important targets which are a "must do", as well as Accepted Risks, which are significant targets for which SIGINT should not be relied upon as a primary source.

Enduring Targets

The 6 countries that are listed in the Strategic Mission List as being Enduring Targets for NSA and the tactical SIGINT collecting components of the US Armed Forces are:
- China
- North-Korea
- Iraq
- Iran
- Russia
- Venezuela

Map showing the 6 nations that are Enduring Targets, as well
as countries that are 2nd and 3rd Party partners of NSA
(click to enlarge)

Topical Missions

Besides the 6 countries listed as Enduring Targets, the Strategic Mission List also includes the following 16 Topical Missions:

- Winning the Global War on Terrorism
- Protecting the U.S. Homeland
- Combating Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
- Protecting U.S. Military Forces Deployed Overseas
- Providing Warning of Impending State Instability
- Providing Warning of a Strategic Nuclear Missile Attack
- Monitoring Regional Tensions that Could Escalate
- Preventing an Attack on U.S. Critical Information Systems
- Early Detection of Critical Foreign Military Developments
- Preventing Technological Surprise
- Ensuring Diplomatic Advantage for the U.S.
- Ensuring a Steady and Reliable Energy Supply for the U.S.
- Countering Foreign Intelligence Threats
- Countering Narcotics and Transnational Criminal Networks
- Mapping Foreign Military and Civil Communications Infrastructure

We see that many of these topics are of a military nature and that also the more civilian areas of interest are quite common goals for a large (signal) intelligence agency. Although communications of ordinary civilians are accidently caught up in NSA's collection efforts, they are clearly not of interest let alone given priority.

September 15, 2014

About STELLARWIND and other mysterious classification markings

(Updated: September 15, 2014)

Last week, on September 6, the US Justice Department released a declassified version of a 2004 memorandum about the STELLARWIND program.

The memorandum (pdf) is about the legality of STELLARWIND, which was a program under which NSA was authorized to collect content and metadata without the warrants that were needed previously.

Here we will not discuss the STELLARWIND program itself, but take a close look at the STELLARWIND classification marking, which causes some confusion. Also we learn about the existance of mysterious compartments that point to some highly sensitive but yet undisclosed interception programs.

Classification marking of the 2004 DoJ memorandum about STELLARWIND

The redacted markings

The first thing we see is that two portions of the classification marking have been blacked out:

1. The redacted space beween two double slashes

This is very strange, because according to the official classification manuals, there cannot be something between two double slashes in that position (see the chart below). The classification level (in this case: Top Secret) has to be followed by the Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) control system (here: COMINT).

But as the US classification system is very complex, there are often minor mistakes in such classification lines. If we assume there was a mistake made here too, then the first term that has been blacked out could be another SCI compartment, which had to be followed by just a single slash (for example HCS for HUMINT Control System would fit the redacted space, although that marking itself isn't classified).

If there was no mistake, however, and the double slash is actually correct, then it would be a complete new category which isn't in the (public) classification manuals. This reminds of the UMBRA marking, which also appeared unexpectedly between double slashes in a classification line.

Overview of the categories and formatting for the US classification and control markings
From the Intelligence Community Classification Manual 6.0 from December 2013
(click to enlarge)

2. The redacted space directly after STELLARWIND

The second redaction starts right after the last letter of "STELLARWIND", thereby carefully hiding the category of the redacted marking, which is determined by how it is separated from the previous term. This could be by a slash, a double slash, a hyphen or a space, each indicating a different level.

In this case, the most likely option is that "STELLARWIND" is followed by a hyphen, which indicates the next term is another compartment under the COMINT control system, equal to STELLARWIND.

Classification manuals say there are undisclosed COMINT compartments which have identifiers consisting of three alphabetical characters. This would fit the redacted space as it would read like: "COMINT-STELLARWIND-ABC".

This undisclosed compartment probably also figured in some other declassified documents, where it sometimes seems to be accompanied by a sub-compartment which is identified by three numeric characters, like for example in this and this declaration where the marking could read like "COMINT-ABC 678":

Classified declaration of NSA director Alexander, April 20, 2007.

Looking at what was redacted in portions of both documents which were marked with this mysterious compartment, it seems that it's about at least two highly sensitive intelligence sources and methods. For example, pages 31-32 of this declaration (pdf) suggest that this might be obtaining metadata from specific telecom companies and search them for members or agents of particular target groups.

Classified declaration of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, May 12, 2006
TSP = Terrorist Surveillance Program; HCS = HUMINT Control System
Note that TSP and HCS are also between double slashes
(click to open the full document in pdf)

Markings with the mysterious undisclosed COMINT compartments weren't found on any of the Snowden-documents, but only on those that were declassified by the government, so it seems that Snowden had no access to information protected by these particular compartments.

The marking TSP (for Terrorist Surveillance Program), which is in some of the examples shown above, was used instead of STELLARWIND in briefing materials and documents intended for external audiences, such as Congress and the courts.


So far, we looked at the two parts of the classification marking that were blacked out. But now we also have to look at the STELLARWIND marking itself, which wasn't redacted, but still causes confusion.

The classification marking of the 2004 memorandum of the Justice Department says "COMINT-STELLAR WIND" and according to the official formatting rules, this means that STELLARWIND would be part of the COMINT control system.

Note that the same memorandum had already been declassified upon a FOIA request by the ACLU in 2011, but in that version (pdf) the codeword STELLARWIND was still blacked out from the whole document. Both documents are compared here.

Classification marking of the 2004 DoJ memorandum about STELLARWIND

As COMINT is a control system for communications intercepts or Signals Intelligence, this seems to make sense. But what is confusing, is that the internal 2009 NSA classification guide (pdf) for the STELLARWIND program, which was disclosed by Edward Snowden, says something different.

Initially this guide calls STELLARWIND a "special compartment", but from the marking rules it becomes clear that it is treated as an SCI control system. Accordingly, the prescribed abbreviated marking reads: "TOP SECRET // STLW / SI // ORCON / NOFORN". In this way we can see STELLARWIND in the classification line of the following document:

Classification marking of a 2013 classified declaration (pdf) of DNI James Clapper
which was declassified on May 6, 2014
(click to enlarge)

In this document and also in a similar declaration (pdf) from 2013, the reason for the STELLARWIND classification is explained as follows:
"This declaration also contains information related to or derived from the STELLARWIND program, a controlled access signals intelligence program under presidential authorization in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. In this declaration, information pertaining to the STELLARWIND program is denoted with the special marking "STLW" and requires more restrictive handling."

STELLARWIND is also being treated as a control system in the 2009 draft report about this program written by the NSA Inspector General, although its classification line is also somewhat sloppy: there are double slashes between STLW and COMINT (should just be a single one), and only a single one between COMINT and ORCON (where there should have been double slashes as both are from different categories):

Classification marking of the 2009 report about
STELLARWIND by the NSA Inspector General
(click to read the full document)

Throughout this document, the portion markings are also not always consistent. Most of them are "TS//SI//STLW//NF", but one or two times "TS//SI-STLW//NF". But as this report is a draft, it's possible that these things have been corrected in the final version, which hasn't been disclosed or declassified yet.

The 2009 Inspector General report about STELLARWIND was one of the first documents from the Snowden-leaks to be published, and it still is one of the most informative and detailed pieces about the development of NSA's interception efforts since 9/11.


In the end, it doesn't make much difference whether STELLARWIND is a control system on its own, or a sub-system of COMINT, but it is remarkable that for such an important program, the people involved apparently also weren't clear about it's exact status and how to put it in the right place of a classification line.

More important though is that the declassified documents show that besides the STELLARWIND program, there's at least one COMINT-compartment with at least one sub-compartment that protect similar or related NSA collection efforts which are considered even more sensitive, but about which we can only speculate.

September 4, 2014

NSA's Foreign Partnerships

For fulfilling its task of gathering foreign signals intelligence, the National Security Agency (NSA) is cooperating with partner agencies from over 35 countries all over the world.

These relationships are based upon secret bilateral agreements, but there are also some select groups in which intelligence information is shared on a multilateral basis, like the SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR), the SIGINT Seniors Pacific (SSPAC) and the Afghanistan SIGINT Coalition (AFSC).

Until recently, very little was known about these foreign relationships, but the Snowden-leaks have revealed the names of all the countries that are cooperating with NSA. This made it possible to create the following graphic, which also shows various multilateral intelligence exchange groups, which will be discussed here too.

Nations with 2nd and 3rd Party status and those who are
members of the SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR) and NATO
(click to enlarge)


2nd Party Partners

The closest cooperation is between NSA and the signals intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Formally this is based upon bilateral agreements, the first being the UKUSA-Agreement from 1946, but soon the group got a multilateral character, which means partners can exchange information among the other members too (as far as there's a "need to know")

The five partners under the UKUSA-agreement, commonly called the Five Eyes, agreed that they would follow common procedures for operations and reporting, and also use the same target identification systems, equipment, methods and source designations. They would not only share end reports and analyses, but also most of the raw data they collect.

As a kind of gentlemen's agreement it is supposed that the Five Eyes countries are not spying on each other, although some of the documents from the Snowden-leaks show that at least NSA secretly keeps that option open.


Five Eyes

United States
United Kingdom
New Zealand
Four Eyes

United States
United Kingdom

Three Eyes

United States
United Kingdom


Despite the very close and longstanding relationship between the Five Eyes partners, two sub-groups have been formed for specific military operations in which not all five partners participate. These sub-groups are designated Four Eyes (abbreviation for classification purposes: ACGU) and Three Eyes (TEYE).

> More about The 5, 4 and 3 Eyes

For maintaining these extensive relationships, NSA has representatives in each Second Party country. These are called Special US Liaison Officer (SUSLO), followed by the name of the nation's capital. So for example the NSA representative in Britain is the Special US Liaison Officer, London (SUSLOL) and the one in Canada the Special US Liaison Officer, Ottawa (SUSLOO).

Likewise, the other Five Eyes countries have a representative at the NSA headquarters. These are called Special UK Liaison Officer (SUKLO), Special Canada Liaison Officer (SCALO), Special Australia Liaison Officer (SAUSLO), and Special New Zealand Liaison Officer (SNZLO).

Slide from an NSA presentation titled 'Foreign Partner Review' from
fiscal year 2013, showing the 2nd and 3rd Party partners
and some coalition and multilateral exchange groups.
Published in No Place To Hide, May 13, 2014.


3rd Party Partners

One step below the 2nd Party partnerships, there's cooperation between NSA and (signals) intelligence agencies from countries who are called 3rd Party partners. This is based upon formal agreements, but the actual scope of the relationship can vary from country to country and from time to time. Details about the cooperation between two countries are laid down in Memorandums of Understanding (MoU).

For the US, this kind of cooperation is useful because foreign agencies can have better access to high-priority targets because of their geographic location, or they could have a specific expertise on certain areas, or just simply because they have a better knowledge of the local situation and language.

The foreign partner agencies are mostly interested in American technology, money and access to the worldwide interception capabilities of NSA and its Five Eyes partners. This makes these 3rd Party partnerships especially attractive for smaller countries, for whom it means a sometimes substantial increase of their otherwise limited capabilities.

One big difference with the countries from the 2nd Party category is that 3rd Party partners do spy upon each other, and many of the Snowden-documents have shown this. From these documents we also learned that in 2013, there were 33 countries with 3rd Party status:







(19 countries)


Czech Republic






South Korea


3rd Parties
(33 countries)

Czech Republic


Saudi Arabia
South Korea










South Korea


The countries in the column under "CNO" are from a list which is in an undated NSA document about collaboration regarding Computer Network Operations (CNO). The document was first published on October 30, 2013 by the Spanish paper El Mundo and classifies cooperation on four different levels, which was also explained by The Guardian.

The first level is called "Tier A - Comprehensive Cooperation", which comprises Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. A second group, called "Tier B - Focused Cooperation" includes the 19 mostly European countries listed above. A third group of "Limited cooperation" consists of countries such as France, Israel, India and Pakistan, and finally a fourth group is about "Exceptional Cooperation" with countries that the US considers to be hostile to its interests.

In May 2014, the list with the "Tier A" and "Tier B" countries was also published in Greenwald's book No Place To Hide, where he ignores the fact that the document was about CNO cooperation and simply assumes that the "Tier B" countries are the same as those with 3rd Party status.*

Map showing the 2nd Party and 3rd Party partners of NSA
(click to enlarge)


The representatives of NSA in major Third Party countries are called Special US Liaison Advisor (SUSLA), followed by the name of the country. So for example the NSA representative in Germany is the Special US Liaison Advisor, Germany (SUSLAG).

The office staff of such an advisor is called the Special US Liaison Activity (also abbreviated as SUSLA), and for example the SUSLA Germany had 18 personnel (12 civilians and 6 contractors) in 2012, a number which was to be reduced to 6 in 2013.*

It is not clear whether the various Third Party agencies also have a representative at NSA headquarters and if so, what their title is. At NSA these relationships are managed by the Foreign Affairs Directorate (FAD), which has a Country Desk Officer (CDO) for every country or region that matters.

Multilateral groups

Although the Third Party relationships are strictly bilateral, some of these countries have also worked very close with each other for a long time. This has been formalized into a few multilateral groups in which intelligence is exchanged not only between one particular country and the US, but also among all other participants. Besides NATO, the following three SIGINT sharing groups are known:

- SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR)
This group consists of the Five Eyes and nine European countries: France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Except for Sweden, all are NATO members. After the number of countries, the SSEUR are also called 14-Eyes. The "Seniors" refers to the heads of the participating military or signals intelligence agencies, who in this group coordinate the exchange of military intelligence according to the needs of each member.
There's also a SIGINT Seniors Europe Counter Terrorism (SISECT) coalition* and in 2013, NSA encouraged GCHQ to host the permanent facility for the joint SSEUR collaboration center.*

> More about the SIGINT Seniors Europe

- SIGINT Seniors Pacific (SSPAC)
There's a similar group for multilateral exchange of military intelligence among some 3rd party nations from the East Asia/Pacific Rim region. Besides the members of the Five Eyes, the SIGINT Seniors Pacific include Singapore, South Korea and most likely Japan and Thailand. Probably one other country is participating too, making this group also being identified as the 10-Eyes.

> More about the The 6, 8 and 10 Eyes

- Afghanistan SIGINT Coalition (AFSC)
According to an NSA paper from 2013, this group consists of the same 14 countries as the SSEUR and is aimed at sharing Afghanistan-related intelligence reports and metadata among its participants. At the time of the paper, each AFSC-member was responsible for covering a specific area of interest, maybe corresponding to the region in Afghanistan where they had troops deployed.

Snowden and Greenwald agreed not to publish about NSA's involvement in Afghanistan, but the German book about the Snowden-leaks, Der NSA Komplex, reveals that the 14 AFSC-members cooperated closely in decrypting and analysing mobile communications and have a dedicated data center codenamed CENTER ICE for exchanging this kind of intelligence.*

This makes it likely that much of the metadata that various European countries shared with the US, mistakenly presented by Glenn Greenwald as NSA spying on European citizens, was collected as part of this Afghanistan SIGINT Coalition.

Links and Sources
- NSA document about Foreign Relations Mission Titles
- About Canada and the Five Eyes Intelligence Community (pdf)
- Duncan Campbell, Echelon and its role in COMINT

August 27, 2014

Another "red phone" for the Israeli prime minister

(Updated: September 9, 2014)

In an earlier posting on this weblog we took a look at the phones used by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which included an eye-catching red one. In some more recent pictures we can see that this red phone has apparently been replaced by an interesting looking white telephone.

Although this device itself is white, it has a rarely seen but very distinctive feature: a red curly cord for the handset and also a red cable for the phone line. The buttons are also surrounded by some kind of red overlay:

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Defense Minister
Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, July 26, 2014 in Tel Aviv.
(Photo: Handout/Getty - Click to enlarge)

The dark gray phone at the left is a more common Nortel M3904 executive phone - a model which is also used at the NSA headquaters and at the office of the British prime minister. Nortel was a big Canadian telephone equipment manufacturer, but was dissolved in 2009.

The white telephone with the red cord also appears on a side table in the seating corner of Netanyahu's office, where before there was only a black phone. The latter is a more common Telrad Executive Phone 79-100-0000 from the Israeli telecom equipment manufacturer Telrad. This phone is also in the office of the Israeli defense minister and therefore it seems to be part of the (non-secure) internal phone system of both ministries.

Esther Pollard meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 23, 2013.
We clearly see the "new" white phone next to the existing black one.
(photo: Netanyahu's Facebook-page - Click to enlarge)

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
settle into their seats in Netanyahu’s office, January 2, 2014.
(Photo: US Department of State - Click to enlarge)

From the picture above we can make a close-up of the white telephone, which looks a bit different than the one in the first picture. It has no red overlay around the buttons, but instead a red lining around the display and red stripes on the back of the handset. Unfortunately the red letters above the display aren't readable:

The red markings and the red cords indicate that this phone is used like what in the US is called a "red phone". That's a telephone which is connected to a highly secured network for communicating with top level policymakers and military commanders. This doesn't necessarily mean that such a phone itself has to be capable of encrypting the voice data, that can also be done by an encryption device at the internal (secure) phone switch.

As the white telephone in Netanyahu's office is a rather large device, it could be possible that it can do the necessary encryption, although secure phones from other countries (like the STE used in the US) are often even bigger, so we cannot decide upon that.

Israel has its own manifacturer of secure communications equipment: the defense contractor Elbit Systems, which was formerly part of the Tadiran conglomerate. There are no pictures available of phones mabe by Tadiran or Elbit, so we cannot say whether the white telephone in the office of Netanyahu was made by this company.

The white telephone isn't actually very new, it is already in this picture from October 2011. Together with the black one from Telrad, the white phone is also on a side table next to another desk of Netanyahu, as we can see for example in this screenshot:

Prime Minister Netanyahu in one of his offices, October 9, 2013.
(photo: YouTube screen capture)

With the white phone not being completely new, it seems that it has been placed on Netanyahu's desk and in the seating corner on purpose: to show that the prime minister is always in charge and in contact with the military. Because of security reasons, it's rather unusual to see secure telephones with their classification markings in highly visible places like these ceremonial offices where guests are received and the press is allowed in.

A reader of this weblog has recognized the white telephone as a Coral DKT-2320 made by the Israeli company Tadiran Telecom. Although this is a spin-off of the same Tadiran from which Elbit Systems emerged, this is a common office phone without security features. Therefore the red markings and the red cords from the one in Netanyahu's office most likely indicate that this phone is connected to a switch where the calls are encrypted in bulk.