Edward Snowden may have unleashed a ton of valuable information about the NSA and its fairly shady practices in the past several months, but one of the largest stories coming out of those leaked files from quite possibly the world's most famous whistleblower other than Bradley Manning has just been revealed on Thursday. According to the Guardian, the NSA has apparently been paying more than £100 million to the British NSA-equivalent GCHQ (he Government Communications Headquarters) over the past three years in order to secure access to many British intelligence gathering programs. However, according to the reports, it seems as though GCHQ is relying on the financial support of the NSA in order to make up for poor government funding. The GCHQ has been pushing itself to do its best in order to keep the NSA as an economic supporter.
Of course, the money coming from the NSA isn't a terribly huge portion of the agency's budget, but due to crucial cost-cutting, GCHQ had to slash its employees from 6,485 in 2009 to 6,132 just last year. NSA resources have become much more significant, particularly as the British government continually decreases the funds for intelligence agencies such as GCHQ, MI5 and MI6. Even though British parliament has announced increasing pay for these services by 3.4% in 2015/16, GCHQ still needs to be able to hang on until then and seems to be doing so due in large part to the NSA's payments.
Also, Snowden's files show that GCHQ has become more and more reliant on "external" sources, rather than receiving a vast majority of its funding from Whitehall. In 2006, GCHQ only had £14 million of external investment, but last year reached up £151 million, a good portion of which was most likely supplied by the NSA.
The strict benefactor-recipient relationship between the NSA and GCHQ has been blown up exponentially in these reports as it appears that nearly all documents in this specific area of Snowden's cache eventually circle around the GCHQ's fears of insufficient quality that would not meet the NSA's standards. Some documents have even said that, "The NSA ask is not static and retaining 'equability' will remain a challenge for the near future."
However, these rapports aren't solely based around financial trade, but also the alliance between the British and the U.S., as the GCHQ has fiercely attempted to gain the trust of its American counterpart. While the NSA has been paying for half of the costs of one of the UK's main eavesdropping operations in Cyprus and donated £15.5 million to the redevelopment of a GCHQ site in Bude, GCHQ has been more than generous in allowing a somewhat American perspective to rule in those facilities. The documents have even shown that GCHQ occasionally prioritizes for American concerns in these locations, certainly satisfying the NSA given GCHQ's recent efforts to "exploit any phone, anywhere, any time."
But then that brings up the issue of why all of this feels so unprecedented. As the Guardian's Nick Hopkins points out on a video, we really don't know whether any of these transactions were approved by overseers or their respective governments. Also, did the NSA reach out to MI5 and MI6, and if so, how much did they pay them as well? Finally, we don't actually know what the NSA wanted out of GCHQ. There are allusions to "asks" and "demands" all over the documents, which we can only assume are intelligence technologies or services, but the deal's specifics are entirely unclear.
Judging from GCHQ's response, though, it appears as though the British agency feels heavily compromised and in a position where it needs to help the NSA, possibly just to stay economically stable.