Spy chiefs are already spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a mass internet surveillance system, despite Jacqui Smith’s announcement earlier this week that proposals for a central warehouse of communications data had been dumped on privacy grounds.
The system – uncovered today by The Register and The Sunday Times  – is being installed under a GCHQ project called Mastering the Internet (MTI). It will include thousands of deep packet inspection probes inside communications providers’ networks, as well as massive computing power at the intelligence agency’s Cheltenham base, “the concrete doughnut”.
Sources with knowledge of the project said contacts have already been awarded to private sector partners.
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One said: “In MTI, computing resources are not measured by the traditional capacities or speeds such as Gb, Tb, Megaflop or Teraflop… but by the metric tonne!.. and they have lots of them.”
The American techology giant Lockheed Martin is understood to have bagged a £200m deal. The BAE-owned British firm Detica, which has close links to MI5 and MI6, as well as to GCHQ, has also been signed up to help on MTI.
A spokeswoman for GCHQ said the agency does not comment on individual contracts. “GCHQ works with a broad range of industry partners to deliver a complex portfolio of technical projects,” she said. Detica also declined to comment, and Lockheed Martin did not return calls.