GCHQ Spy Tools List: Extent Of Surveillance Is Disturbing, And Surreal

A leaked list of tools allegedly developed by the intelligence agency GCHQ to spy on internet users has revealed the vast - and arguably bizarre - extent to which the web could now be under surveillance.

The document, which is available to view online via First Look Media, and is thought to have been among those leaked by Edward Snowden, is almost ludicrously extensive.

It names tools built by the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group to disable user's accounts on their computer, to alter the results of online polls, to spam mobile phones with text messages and send emails as if they were from any email address.

"Most of our tools are fully operational, tested and reliable," the document says. "However there can be reasons why our tools won't work for some operational requirements… there may also be legal restrictions."

Each of the tools is listed alongside a codename -- some of which appear to be taken from the world of gaming.

For instance, 'Concrete Donkey' - a tool designed to send audio messages to multiple phones at once - is the name of a weapon used in the video game Worms.

Of particular interest is "Sylvester", a tool designed to automate and manage aliases on social networks, perhaps even for agents in the field.

Some of the other listed tools include:

  • AIRWOLF: YouTube profile, comment and video collection
  • BEARTRAP: Bulk retrieval of BEBO profiles
  • BIRDSONG: Automated posting of Twitter updates
  • BOMBBAY: a tool to post website traffic
  • GLITTERBALL: tool for infiltrating Second Life
  • SPRING BISHOP: finding private pictures of targets on Facebook
  • BEARSCRAPE: extracting WiFi history
  • UNDERPASS: tool for changing results of polls
  • SODAWATER: tool for downloading Gmail messages and forwarding them to other mailboxes

Above: some of the tools

GCHQ denies that it has over-stepped its reach or broken the law.

"It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters," it said in a statement to the BBC.

"Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee."

The government is now attempting to codify regulations for internet surveillance through new legislation.

The list appears to be at least a little out of date -- the file contains a note stating it was last modified in July 2012, and directing staff to another page which is more up-to-date (and which remains secret).

But it is still a revealing look inside the agency and the variety and depth of options on offer for online spooks.

"The accusation that GCHQ has been manipulating polls and influencing and distorting political discourse is incredibly serious," said Emma Carr, acting director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, to the BBC.

"The UK is always the first to point the finger at countries if there is a whiff of corruption or interference within a democratic process, so if senior ministers are aware that this is taking place then this absolutely stinks of hypocrisy."