Twenty-first edition of the N&O column / Spooks newsletter

(Date: Mon, 20 Dec 1999 22:41:18 +0100)

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Electronic warfare

Source Newspaper "Segodnya"
Author Andrey Soldatov
Translator Al

Printed with kind permission of Andrey Solodatov

--- Electronic warfare ---

During the previous conflict the Chechens decisively defeated Russia in the information war. At that time, the majority of on-air reporting and newspaper articles sympathized with the breakaway republic. Today the situation is the exact opposite. Strict censorship doesn't allow Wahhabist propaganda on the airwaves. Training and participation in the military activities of bandits, meetings of Basaev, Khattab and their cohorts, interviews with enemy fighters -all are subjects, which during the last war went on with great fanfare on every channel, which are now prohibited. In spite of these undoubtedly encouraging circumstances, strange as it seems, anyone can conduct information warfare.

Two years ago Vladimir Markomenko, then still the Deputy of the General Directorship of FAPSI, asserted that the "information war" concept is comprised of four components: suppression of the infrastructure of the enemy's defense, information and telecommunications systems (electronic warfare); interception of information exchanged on communications channels (SIGINT) and analysis of open sources; breaking into the information resources of the enemy; and struggle for public opinion by way of dissemination, through information channels of the enemy and global information networks, of disinformation or biased information about the intentions and orientation of the population and decision-makers (psychological warfare).

Today no one doubts that in Chechnya a real, full-scale war is going on, with tanks, cannon, aircraft and so on. Aside from this, from reports of agents we know that the federal forces periodically bomb cellular telephone stations of the breakaway republic; that is, a radio-electronic battle is in progress. Over the territory of the republic fly surveillance craft - the downed Su-24MR (naval reconnaissance) was one of these aircraft, carrying equipment on-board used to conduct complex, all-weather aerial surveillance both day and night as far as 400 kilometers behind enemy lines. The information war in the Caucasus is proceeding on all fronts. But by whom and by what methods it is conducted isn't advertised.

- Control over Chechnya

The best example of the need to conduct electronic warfare was shown by the Americans, first in Iraq, then in Kosovo. For example, the limited Allied air losses during operation Desert Storm were in no small measure guaranteed by timely break-ins into enemy computer networks, the most important of which was the air defense system.

However, the lessons of the Americans don't quite fit the war in Chechnya. The fact is that Iraq and Yugoslavia possess fully classical defense systems -- with all kinds of troops, developed communications systems, defense force infrastructure, etc. Both countries armed themselves with Russian weaponry, and their armies consulted Russian military experts. But Soviet military science, unfortunately, was blinded by the victory of the USSR during World War II. Our valiant military leaders thought that by the passage of 50 years tank battles would be fully sufficient, and therefore advised the creation of defense systems designed on the scale of World War II. As a result in both Iraq and Yugoslavia it was up to the forces of SIGINT to intercept, and to the electronic warfare units to suppress.

The situation in Chechnya is quite different. Today the composition of communication systems in the breakaway territory approaches the level of the 1940s, and the Chechens were neither able nor wanted to create a defense force infrastructure. Aside from that, part of the communication systems built up over past years wasn't used by the Chechens for reasons of basic security. As an example, in January of the past year FAPSI reported that in Grozniy a special communications network was created which guaranteed governmental communications for the president of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, and other officials of the republic. But it is unlikely that any telephone lines, designed especially so they could be monitored by Russian intelligence, are today used by the Chechen government.

However, what the Chechens could do was to install several radio direction-finding stations and organize cellular and trunked communication -doubted to be in working condition today. In the first week of the conflict federal forces bombed the radio stations and communications repeaters. As a result, in Chechnya there remain practically no targets for electronic warfare and SIGINT. In the republic there are almost no circuits to monitor, no complex computer networks into which to break. There remain only satellite telephones and hand-held radios among the field commanders. It would seem that the mission was too simple. However the level and number of units exploited by the Russian side for conducting SIGINT compel different thinking.

In our country there exist two structures which conduct SIGINT. The 6th Directorate of GRU, (Radio-technical Intelligence) and the 3rd Primary Directorate of FAPSI (Radio-electronic Intelligence). These units were deployed immediately during the last Chechen War. It is known that immediately after the outbreak of warfare that a large group of agents from the GRU 6th Directorate traveled to Mozdok, to set up an intercept center. Aside from that, according to certain sources, during the war several OSNAZ groups deployed to Chechnya, which are special purpose detachments under the 1st and 2nd branches of the GRU 6th Directorate, the function of which is radio and radio-technical intelligence. According to the information from our source in FAPSI, during the last war mobile intercept units of this group patrolled along the front. The assassination of Dudayev by tracking the signal from his INMARSAT satellite telephone (the same apparatus since used both by Raduev and Basaev) is a textbook example of the usefulness of electronic warfare. However, in the opinion of participants from the last Chechen campaign, our electronic warfare service can't brag about anything other than the success with Dudayev. For example, in their function of maintaining troop defense communications systems, the soldiers were given ordinary Motorola police radios which operated in the clear. Only the FSB units used more secure Kenwood military radios. The Chechens gleefully demonstrated to journalists how they could intercept all the transmissions of the federal forces.

The bigger problem ended up being the disagreement between the FSB, Ministry of Defense, and the troops of the MVD. For example, an FSB colonel, who had participated in the military activities, explains that all that happened fit a long-obsolete picture of waging war. Photographs of the terrain made by surveillance aircraft circling the region never made it to anyone who needed them, even though the aircraft safely delivered them to the GRU.

However, we have to admit that Russian power structures learned much in the previous war. During recent battles in Daghestan, according to available debriefing information, there wasn't one penetration of the defense communications networks of the of the federal troops. Aside from that, as our GRU source explains, the federal forces were issued AQUEDUCT tactical communications systems, which possess improved electronic interference immunity and encryption strength.

According to information from the Ministry of Defense, new technology continues to be introduced into the war zone. The federal forces supplied BEE remote-piloted aircraft, which effectively conduct continuous aerial surveillance. Even the downed Su-24 naval reconnaissance plane isn't such an ancient craft, and its modification as a tactical intelligence gathering vehicle was made only in the late 1980s. Experts from ROSVOORUZHENIYA explain, that this aircraft even now doesn't have a counterpart among foreign front-line surveillance craft in terms of information-gathering equipment. In addition, today the federal forces are better protected by tactical reconnaissance means such as the LYNX and ZOOPARK-1 mobile artillery surveillance systems, which determine the firing coordinates of enemy mortars and guns. According to some sources, VEGA SIGINT gear is now being used by the electronic warfare units.

Meanwhile, don't think that the other side consists only of a pitiful handful of Chechen militiamen armed with machine guns. Granted, the Chechens themselves haven't advanced further than the manufacture of the "Borz" machine gun (in outward appearance similar to the German "Smaizer"), although they've had good help. Despite their level, one must think that the Russian SIGINT and electronic warfare forces face a task no less serious than that of the US during the conflicts with Iraq and Yugoslavia.

- Who resists us?

In September of this year federal aircraft detected and bombed a radio direction-finding station of Turkish origin within the territory of Chechnya. During the last war the Chechen fighters had such reliable radio stations and radiotelephones that at times even the army could not suppress them. However, the Chechen fighters by and large use not-so-specialized technology which they have managed to buy or steal from Russian warehouses.

The names of those who help the Chechen bandits have long been known. Newspapers repeatedly mention that it is the Islamic extremist organizations of such countries as Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. And more exactly it is the intelligence services of these countries, working under the protection of fundamentalist organizations.

According to some sources, already in the fall of 1996 the corresponding services of Iran and Pakistan held discussions about conducting of intelligence operations against Russia, and how to divide up the special operations. And the results are seen already. For example, soldiers of the "Kharakyat Al-Ansar" Islamic movement, which is subordinate to the Iranian intelligence service, already fight on the side of Chechnya.

Meanwhile, the Arabs, although considered the founders of cryptology, today can't brag about achievements in the area of intelligence technology. In the opinion of our experts, only five countries play an active role in this area, the US, France, England, Russia, and Germany. However, thanks to the intelligence services of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, there is no shortage of such technology available in Chechnya. However, it is illegal to buy or steal such equipment. And even so, most of it won't be stolen or bought. The fact is, that the intelligence services of the producer-countries of such technology take good care of their secrets. For instance, there is one cipher machine whose circuits self-destruct when opened.

The way this technology makes it to the Arab world is quite simple. In 1997 a group of distinguished French intelligence officers visited Islamabad. As a result, negotiations went on with ISI, the intelligence service of Pakistan, about shipments of intelligence technology of French manufacture. Previously, ISI has closely worked with the US and China in this area. The Turkish intelligence service MIT successfully purchases such equipment from NATO members. The war in Chechnya is just another episode of the information war which goes on between the biggest intelligence organizations of the world.

Compare: in 1967, during the Six-Day War the American ship Liberty was patrolling near the Israeli coast. In 1973, during the Yom-Kippur War three Soviet ships, the Kavkaz, Krym, and Yuri Gagarin sailed the same waters. In 1999, at the height of the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia, the Russian ship Liman appeared not far from the shores of this country. In all three cases, the mission of the ships was the same: SIGINT.

Today, like 30 years ago, the main rival of our intelligence services in the area of SIGINT is the US National Security Agency. The pride of the NSA today is the ECHELON electronic intelligence system, designed to intercept information around the entire world. For example, NSA controls all information passed through the INTELSAT communication satellite system, including Russian. Under the command of NSA are ground surveillance stations located around the world. For example, the station at Morwenstow, Great Britain, intercepts information from satellites over the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, and the Indian Ocean. Station Sugar Grove in West Virginia, USA, monitors traffic over the Atlantic Ocean, North and South America. Station Geraldton, New Zealand, is tasked with the interception of communications from INTELSAT satellites over the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

For the interception of information in the territory of Russia, a special center for SIGINT was created, situated not far from Augsburg, Germany. This is the main NSA intercept center: its primary antenna is 300 meters in diameter and stands 30 meters tall; the operational area for the center is located underground at a depth of 25 meters in 12 stories.

We won't be forgetting spy satellites. From 1996 over the territory of Russia hang three satellites for the highest-detailed photointelligence, KH-11, with a resolution down to 80 cm. Orbital formations of satellites ensures a minimum of two daily overflights of any point in our country. In addition, the LaCrosse satellite provides information during the nighttime and inclement weather. These satellites fulfill the interception of communications passed by space, tropospheric, radio-relay, and other paths of radio communication. And these satellites also work for the NSA.


The Russian equivalent of Echelon -the Integrated Information Assessment System (SOUD) was formed in 1977, and was jointly run by GRU and FAPSI. From the GRU side was the 6th Directorate, and also the Directorate of Space Intelligence (so-called Installation K-500), which is located on the Volokolamskiy Highway. Analysis and processing of the obtained information is turned over to the so-called "Dozor" (Patrol) system which is located in the central GRU building on Khoroshevskiy Highway (Installation K-200). From the side of FAPSI is the entire 3rd Main Directorate (former 8-1 and 16th Main Directorate of the USSR KGB).

We also have our own ground-based intercept stations, not any less powerful than the NSA's. The best known are located in Cuba (Russia's Electronic Center at Lourdes), in Vietnam (base Cam Ranh Bay), and others situated in the territory of Russia and countries of the CIS. The Cuban center targets the United States and is run jointly by the GRU, FAPSI, and the Cuban intelligence service. About 1,000 Russian personnel work in the complex, which tracks commercial and governmental information circulating along communications networks in the USA, and also between the USA and Europe. It is believed that the Lourdes base is able to monitor all US military and public satellites.

According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) web site, a number of intercept stations of our intelligence services operate from Russian embassies and consulates. In their opinion, in former times we even used Aeroflot planes flying over the States for SIGINT purposes.

The 6th GRU Directorate even has ships, and also aircraft which are constantly in the air... Aside from that, we possess a considerable array of intelligence-gathering satellites. The "Tselina-2" radio-electronic surveillance satellites were mass-produced and were Kosmos class units with different modifications. Per the Americans, since 1994, a Russian military satellite is launched at least every six months. Furthermore, when necessary we are ready to "hang" several intelligence satellites over interesting territory. For example, during the Persian Gulf war the USSR launched four photoreconnaissance satellites over Iraq in the period of three months. In the opinion of our information sources, today the GRU Directorate of Space Intelligence has probably placed a pair of such satellites over Chechnya.

Echelon | Spy carols | Location | Voice stations | FAPSI | Morse stations
SORM | To catch up and pass Echelon | Electronic warfare | Logs
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