BT accused of complicity in intelligence sharing for US drone strikes

November 5, 2014

Image of drones

Human rights charity Reprieve has submitted a complaint to the UK government asking that BT be investigated for violating international guidelines through its involvement in the US’ covert drone programme.

Identified as a top GCHQ collaborator under the codename REMEDY, BT is paid “tens of millions pounds annually” to provide an array of cables and wiretaps that allow intelligence agencies to monitor 90% of the telecommunication traffic crossing the UK.

With BT as a key partner, the joint US-UK mass surveillance programme results in extensive collections of metadata, which is information on how and with whom we communicate, as opposed to what is actually said. Metadata has been acknowledged as the basis for target selection in the US drone programme. Ex-NSA head, General Michael Hayden, was quoted as saying “We kill people based on metadata”.

The company’s complicity in wiretapping is so extensive that they have embedded groups of employees inside GCHQ – known as “Sensitive Relationship Teams” (SRTs) – who install the software that stores customer data and funnels it into the processing centres run by intelligence agencies. The SRTs also install optical fibre probes into the equipment of other companies without their knowledge.

Reprieve’s complaint, submitted to the National Contact Point (NCP), argues that BT has violated the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises by facilitating the covert US drone programme through the collection of metadata. The complaint also argues that BT has failed to provide evidence of any due diligence taken to prevent the mass surveillance data collected from being used.

The telecoms giant is also facing legal action over its US government contract to supply key communications infrastructure between RAF Croughton – a US military base in Northamptonshire – and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the secret base from which armed drones reportedly carry out lethal strikes in Yemen. According to the US military, American forces stationed at RAF Croughton provide “global strike operations.”

Kevin Lo, Investigator at Reprieve, said: “BT portrays itself as a soft and cuddly company, yet they are deeply involved in the US’ covert drone programme that has killed thousands of civilians in Yemen and Pakistan. The NCP must investigate the company’s violations of the OECD Guidelines and demand greater transparency over BT’s role in illegal US drone strikes.”


1. For further information, please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: / (00 44) 207 553 8161

2. The complaint can be read in full, here.

3. For more information about BT’s contract, see here.

4. Michael Hayden’s quote can be found here.