Russia says it uncovered spy satellites disguised as space debris

Space debrisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government says it recently detected a group of satellites that are spying on Russia while orbiting the Earth camouflaged as “space junk”. The finding was announced on Sunday, April 12, on the Moscow-based Zvezda television station, which is wholly owned by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. For much of the day, Zvezda marked “Space Day”, which has been annually commemorated in Russia ever since 1961, when cosmonaut Yury Gagarin journeyed in outer space.

The station hosted Major General Oleg Maidanovich, of the country’s Aerospace Defense Forces (ADF), in a program entitled “Special Operations in Space”. Maidanovich told the program that specialists in the ADF’s Intelligence Center uncovered “a newly deployed group of space satellites” that were designed to collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from Russian telecommunications and other electronic systems. However, the satellites had been disguised to appear and behave like “space junk”, he said. By “space junk”, Maidanovich was referring to rocket stages, old and defunct communications satellites, and various other fragments of manmade devices that have ended up in outer space since the 1950s and are endlessly orbiting the Earth.

Maidanovich said that it was not unusual for space reconnaissance agencies to camouflage their spy satellites as space debris and deploy them into Earth’s orbit in a dormant state for several years. Then, once the target country’s space reconnaissance counterintelligence forces disregard the device as a piece of space junk, the satellite is suddenly reawakened and begins to collect SIGINT. For that reason, he said, Russia’s ADF monitors at least a fifth of a total of 100,000 objects orbiting planet Earth on any given day, due to concerns that such objects may be used for SIGINT collection by rival spy agencies.

The Russian ADF commander declined a request to identify the country believed to be behind the alleged camouflaged spy satellites, saying it was “not necessary to do so at the present time”. He added that his office typically notifies the Kremlin when it detects disguised spy satellites, and that the decision on whether to shoot them down is made “on a national level”.

American spies use NZ embassies to collect intelligence

NSA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Embassies belonging to the government of New Zealand are secretly being used by the United States as part of a worldwide network of intelligence-collection facilities, according to documents leaked over the weekend. The documents were released by Edwards Snowden, an American former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), who is currently living in Russia and is responsible for countless leaks of classified information in recent years. The latest disclosure concerns Project STATEROOM, a highly secretive signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program targeting international Internet, radio and telecommunications traffic. The existence of the program was disclosed in the summer of 2013 by Snowden, who told German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that it consisted of SIGINT collection facilities in nearly 100 US embassies and consulates in almost as many countries. According to the Snowden, STATEROOM operations are handled by a unit called Special Collection Service (SCS), which is jointly operated by the CIA and the NSA. In October of 2013, Professor Des Ball, an intelligence expert, claimed that Australian embassies served as collection sites for Project STATEROOM, by helping the SCS monitor the Asia Pacific region. Dr. Ball said the Australian Signals Directorate was sharing information with the NSA as part of the UKUSA agreement (also known as Five Eyes), an intelligence cooperation network comprising agencies from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the United States. Now new documents made available by Snowden appear to show that New Zealand’s embassies and consulates around the world are also being used as part of Project STATEROOM. The documents date from 2003, and contain a synopsis of a number of NSA intelligence-collection programs, along with their operational titles and status. The list, which is marked “Top Secret” is titled “Exceptionally Controlled Information”, and contains several entries under the heading “STATEROOM”. Underneath the heading appears the description: “SIGINT from diplomatic missions abroad”. The document then states that “this activity is conducted by USA, AUS, CAN, GBR and NZL”. Although the existence of STATEROOM has been known for over a year, this is the first time that New Zealand diplomatic missions are specifically identified in documents as collection sites for the program. Read more of this post

Secret Russian spy base in Syria seized by Western-backed rebels

Screenshot from FSA videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Rebel forces aligned to Syria’s Western-backed opposition have announced the seizure of a joint Syrian-Russian spy base, which observers say reveals the extent of Russia’s intelligence cooperation with Syria. The base is located at the base of the Tel Al-Hara Mountain, in southern Syria’s Golan Heights region, just south of the border crossing with Israel in the now largely destroyed Syrian city of Quneitra. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it took over the spy base on Sunday, following several weeks of fighting against rival groups, including Syrian government soldiers and members of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The FSA said the base, referred to as “Center C” by Russian intelligence, had been under Russian command until it was abandoned at a time and for reasons that remain unknown. In a three-minute video released by the Western-backed rebel group on YouTube, an FSA officer appears to be guiding the cameraman around part of the seized base. He points to several diagrams and captions on the walls, which are both in Arabic and in Russian. At some point in the video, the seal of Syrian intelligence is clearly visible, placed next to the seal of the GRU’s 6th Directorate, the branch of Russian military intelligence that is tasked with collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT). At another point in the video, a series of photographs can be seen that depict Syrian and Russian intelligence officers working together in gathering and analyzing intelligence. Interestingly, one of the walls in the base features a map of northern Israel, an area that is adjacent to the Golan Heights, and appears to show the location of Israeli SIGINT stations and military encampments. It is unclear when exactly the spy base was abandoned by the Russian and Syrian intelligence officers that staffed it, Read more of this post

Secret program gives US, UK spies access to German telecoms

 Deutsche Telekom headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
American and British intelligence services have access to the network structure of German telecommunications through a top-secret program likened to a “Google Earth of the global Internet”, say reports. The program, codenamed TREASURE MAP, was first revealed late last year by The New York Times. The paper described it as a “sophisticated tool” that was designed by the United States National Security Agency as a “massive Internet mapping, analysis and exploration engine”. The paper said at the time that TREASURE MAP provided the NSA with a “near real-time, interactive map of the Internet” and gave it a “300,000 foot view” of the World Wide Web. Now German newsmagazine Der Spiegel has said that the top-secret program allows the NSA and its British counterpart, the General Communications Headquarters, to map the entire network of German telecommunications providers. The latter include the partially government-owned Deutsche Telekom, as well as several large local service providers, such as Stellar Telecommunications, Cetel, Inc., and NetCologne. Der Spiegel said TREASURE MAP collected network and geo-location data from each of these companies, thus allowing the NSA and GCHQ to map “any device, anywhere, all of the time”. These data permit the immediate identification of the owner and location of any computer or mobile device, by connecting the latter with unique Internet protocol addresses. The German magazine likened TREASURE MAP to “the Google Earth of the Internet” and said it gave its users access to the mapping of the German Internet, but also pointed to the addresses and locations of individual subscribers’ routers, as well as to targeted computer and smart phone devices. The data acquired through TREASURE MAP included “trade secrets and sensitive information, said Spiegel. Read more of this post

Russian jet ‘chased US spy plane into Swedish airspace’

RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraftBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An American spy plane was forced to enter Swedish airspace without permission in order to avoid a potentially serious encounter with a Russian military jet, which tried to intercept it in international airspace. Swedish news agency Svenska Dagbladet said on Monday that the incident happened on July 18, one day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. According to Swedish sources, the US plane was an RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft, which had been flying in international airspace on an eavesdropping mission, collecting signals intelligence on Russian military positions. All of a sudden, however, the American pilot noticed that Russian land-based military radars had begun to track the plane. Eventually, the Russians “locked” their radar on the US plane, which is usually interpreted as a step before firing at the aircraft. Such a move is not illegal, but is described by experts as “highly unusual”, especially when involving unarmed aircraft flying in international airspace. Shortly afterwards, the Russian Air Force sent “at least one” fighter jet toward the US aircraft in an apparent effort to intercept it. Swedish officials were later told by their US counterparts that the American pilot became seriously concerned that his aircraft might get fired upon, so he decided to abort his mission as soon as he could. He therefore ended up flying the plane over Sweden’s airspace without approval from Swedish air controllers. It is believed that the US plane may have crossed into other nations’ airspace, also without permission. Stephan Persson Tyrling, director of air operations at Sweden’s National Defense College, told Svenska Dagbladet that “Russia may have felt provoked” and embarked on an interception operation in order to “tell the US that they flew too close to their airspace or interfered with their [military] exercises”. Read more of this post

Russia to reopen electronic listening command post in Cuba

Raúl Castro and Vladimir PutinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of the Russian Federation has reached an agreement with the authorities in Cuba to reopen an electronic communications listening base that was built by the Soviets during the Cold War. Russian newspaper Kommersant said on Wednesday that the agreement between the two nations was struck late last week during a visit to the communist-run island by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement centers on the Lourdes signals intelligence (SIGINT) facility, located just outside Cuban capital Havana. Situated approximately 100 miles from the United States mainland, the facility was used throughout the last two decades of the Cold War to provide intelligence for Soviet military and civilian spy agencies, while also operating as an overseas communications hub for the Soviet Navy. It was regarded at the time as the most formidable Soviet electronic listening post located anywhere outside Soviet territory. Cuban authorities once bragged that Lourdes provided Moscow with 75 percent of its actionable intelligence on its American adversary —though some experts consider the statement an exaggeration. At its peak, in the late 1970s, Lourdes hosted approximately 3,000 technical specialists and support personnel, over half of whom were Soviet. Initially, the Cuban government permitted Moscow to make use of Lourdes free of charge. However, in 1992 Havana introduced an annual rental fee, which by 2001 had risen to $200 million. Under the bilateral agreement, Russia was paying the rental fee in kind, by supplying the Cuban government with food products and fuel, as well as military equipment. But in 2001, the administration of President Putin withdrew from the agreement, citing the high cost of maintaining the base. Moscow said at the time that it was financially impossible to keep up a SIGINT complex located 6 thousand miles away from Moscow. Read more of this post

NSA ‘high-target’ list includes names of 122 world leaders

NSA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A list of high-priority intelligence targets published over the weekend includes the names of over a hundred current and former heads of state, who were systematically targeted by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The list appears to be part of a wider “Target Knowledge Base” assembled by the NSA in order to help produce “complete profiles” of what the NSA calls “high-priority intelligence targets”. The list is contained in a classified top-secret briefing created by the NSA in 2009. It was published by German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which said it acquired it from American intelligence defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former computer expert for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, is currently living in Russia, where he has been offered political asylum. The leaked briefing explains the function of an extensive NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection program codenamed NYMROD. The computer-based program is allegedly able to sift through millions of SIGINT reports and collate information on individual targets from the transcripts of intercepted telephone calls, faxes, as well as computer data. The list provided to Der Spiegel by Snowden contains 122 names of international political figures, said the newsmagazine, adding that all of them were “heads of foreign governments”. It includes the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Colombia’s former President, Alvaro Uribe, and Malaysia’s Prime Minster from 2003 to 2009, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, also figure on the list. Interestingly, the leaders of Malaysia, Somalia, the Palestinian Authority and Peru top the NSA’s list of high-value executive targets. Read more of this post

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