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[liberationtech] Kill the Messenger: What Russia taught Syria

Brian Conley brianc at
Mon Mar 5 12:34:48 PST 2012


I'm not taking issue with the *potential* certainly the potential is there.
I'm simply asking that this be seen as, essentially, a piece of opinion or
commentary, with many assertions that are, simply put, not confirmed by
anything resembling professional journalism

As a piece of commentary it is great, very gripping, and could be very
effective at raising the concerns of journalists and news agencies.


On Sat, Mar 3, 2012 at 10:17 PM, Rafal Rohozinski
<r.rohozinski at>wrote:

> Operating frequency range, GHz 1 - 18
> Unmodulated signal sensitivity, dB/W 120 - 130
> Direction finding accuracy, deg:
> continual radio pulses or quasicontinual signal up to 3
> radio pulse bursts up to 5
> Control mode semiautomatic
> (control from user’s keyboard)
> Data indication PC display
> Distance of antenna system’s location
> from main equipment set, m up to 25
> Power supply:
> mains AC 220 V, 50 Hz
> built-in generator DC 27 V
> two built-in storage batteries, type 6ST190A
> Serves for monitoring the emissions of aerial and ground objects and
> assessing general radio-electronic situation in SHF band.
> This post is most suitable for monitoring radio-electronic environment in
> large cities, airports, sea ports and enterprises involved in the
> production of radio-electronic equipment.
> Okhota detects and takes bearings to sources of interference and
> unauthorized radio emissions; checks the operation of duty systems; detects
> sources operating on restricted frequencies and with unauthorized types of
> modulation or excessive power.
> The complete Okhota set consists of:
> - antenna system, including an 8-element antenna array; low-noise wideband
> amplifies with electronic accumulator; wideband frequency converter;
> - analog frequency-time signal converter;
> - system for preliminary digital processing, signal parameter measurement
> and emission source direction finding;
> - PC for control and information processing:
> - functional test, training and report-release facilities.
> When installed on a transport vehicle, the system is additionally equipped
> with:
> - telecode and voice communications system;
> - power supply system;
> - life-support system;
> - antenna erection and folding system.
> Fully outfitted, Okhota fulfills the following functions:
> - fast wideband detection of radio emissions, including burst, complex and
> noise signals;
> - measurement of detected signal main parameters;
> - direction finding of sources by fast electronic scanning;
> - identification of detected radio sources;
> - radio source classification by data base;
> - indication of signal parameters, their bearings and identification on
> operator display;
> - built-in functional testing;
> - radio emission simulation for operator training;
> - report release.
> The Okhota post can be used in the systems of radioelectronic situation
> monitoring in stationary and mobile variants and accommodated in:
> - rooms with antenna system deployed on a building’s roof;
> - automobile cabins or truck van bodies (type of the vehicle, its
> dimensions and ability to carry the antenna system externally and deploy it
> at a specified height, depend on mission-specific equipment set);
> - ships with the antenna system attached to masts.
> The Okhota equipment set can also be used as a SHFband analyzer in
> laboratories and industrial enterprises involved in radio-electronic
> production.
> [image: image.jpeg]
> Sent from my PsiPhone
> On 2012-03-03, at 8:51 PM, Brian Conley <brianc at> wrote:
> I have to respecfully disagree. If our only concern is to properly scare
> people about the implications of targeting based on RF transmissions, then
> yes, the article does a good job of that.
> My concern is to ensure that journalists, activists, and their enablers
> have access to the best information and the most likely/accurate review of
> events about which we may never have "facts."
> I guess I should specify the elements of the article that I consider to be
> sensational, speculative, and/or downright misleading/scare-mongering.
> First of all, Mr. Pelton is well known for being a glory-hound, his book
> "The World's Most Dangerous Places" should be enough to make that clear.
> So firstly, he starts with his own "glory days" covering Chechnya, and the
> first issue I would raise is this quote:
> "As we walked briskly back to the safe house, it was exactly 10 minutes
> before the cascade of double *wa-whumps* announced the Grad rocket
> batteries pounding the vacant neighborhood we had just left."
> Mr. Pelton has mentioned previously in a forum of journalists, human
> rights reporters, and their colleagues(fixers, translators etc), known as
> the Vulture Club, that the Russians have equipment that can lock onto an RF
> signal and fire Grad rockets at the location within a matter of minutes,
> taking merely 10 minutes from starting a phone call to hitting the
> location. I asked him repeatedly if he would clarify which targeting
> system, specifically, Unfortunately none of the details he provided
> suggested such a capacity, therefore while it's certainly possible this
> capacity exists, to just state it as fact, to my mind, qualifies as
> scaremongering, and does not serve to improve our general understanding of
> the risks of satellite communications.
> There follows three paragraphs serving only to establish that yes indeed
> journalists have been directly targeted in Russia's war in Chechnya. This
> is then used to suggest it is self-evident that:
> " journalists were specifically targeted to prevent sympathetic or
> embarrassing reports from escaping the killing zone."
> This is just outright unsubstantiated. There was one account in the
> Telegraph paper that sourced Lebanese intelligence stating that the Syrian
> regime has claimed it would target journalists directly. If it is prime
> facie fact, isn't it strange that there is only one source and no other
> papers directly carried this allegation?
> Next Mr. Pelton asserts that satellite phone uplinks:
> "could well have cost Colvin her life." and "Multiple reports have
> suggested<> that
> Syrian forces used phone signals to pinpoint her location"
> Now then, if Mr. Pelton were simply another ignorant journalist printing
> what he understood as potential threats, that would be one thing, however
> he has been privy to extended discussions about the relative improbability
> that satellite phones were targeted, vs the much more likely case that the
> VSAT and/or BGAN on the roof of the "makeshift media centre" or, equally
> likely, old-fashioned human intelligence targeting resulted in the deaths
> of the individuals noted. Further these "multiple reports" are essentially
> rehashings of the same initial report, of which Mr. Pelton should be well
> aware.
> It is very sad that Colvin and Ochlik were killed, and other journalists
> grievously wounded. It's even more sad that so many Syrians lost their
> lives evacuating the survivors. Given these facts and the importance of
> honoring their loss, I would prefer to see less hyperbole and
> sensationalism and more soul-searching and review of just how these events
> happened.
> As I stated last week on this list, Marie Colvin herself was quoted as
> saying that she would not use her satellite phone because of her fear that
> it could be intercepted/targeted. Instead she opted to depend on Skype
> which, though variously secure, relies on a much higher bandwidth
> connection which is vastly easier to target. Rather than continuing the
> magical thinking that may well have led to Colvin's death, we should take a
> hard look at what we know about the facts and review the lack of
> approachable, available documentation about communications security,
> particularly satellite-based communications.
> Brian
> On Sat, Mar 3, 2012 at 6:47 PM, Jillian C. York <jilliancyork at>wrote:
>> Not really. The writer clearly notes that this is reported, not fact, and
>> these lessons, if not pertinent to Colvin specifically, no doubt will be.
>> As you note, it's still all speculation, but the author makes that pretty
>> clear.
>>  On Mar 3, 2012 5:49 PM, "Brian Conley" <brianc at> wrote:
>>> There is all kinds of sensationalism and speculation in this article.
>>> Further, I think I've already clearly explained that the speculation the
>>> journalists were directly targeted is speculation and the most likely
>>> transmissions related target is the satellite modem setup likely provided
>>> by Avaaz to the opposition, not the phones.
>>> Sent from my iPad
>>> On Mar 3, 2012, at 17:16, Rafal Rohozinski <r.rohozinski at>
>>> wrote:
>>> Good article on TAC SIGINT capabilities for laypersons.
>>> Rafal
>>>  Kill the Messenger<> What
>>> Russia taught Syria: When you destroy a city, make sure no one -- not even
>>> the story -- gets out alive.
>>> It was a star-filled night in Chechnya's besieged capital of Grozny. The
>>> snow crunched under my feet as I walked with the Chechen rebel commander
>>> away from the warmth of our safe house. When we entered a bombed-out
>>> neighborhood 15 minutes away, I put the battery in my Iridium satellite
>>> phone**and waited for the glowing screen to signal that I had locked on
>>> to the satellites.
>>> I made my call. It was short. Then the commander made a call; he quickly
>>> hung up and handed me back the phone. "Enough," he said, motioning for me
>>> to remove the battery.
>>> As we walked briskly back to the safe house, it was exactly 10 minutes
>>> before the cascade of double *wa-whumps* announced the Grad rocket
>>> batteries pounding the vacant neighborhood we had just left.
>>> It was December 1999, and the Russian assault on Grozny was unfolding in
>>> all its gruesome detail. After the dissolution of so much of the former
>>> Soviet empire, Chechnya was one country that the newly minted prime
>>> minister, Vladimir Putin, refused to let go of. His boss, Boris Yeltsin,
>>> and the Russian army had been defeated and then humiliated in the media by
>>> Chechen forces in the first war. Five years later, Russia was back. And
>>> Putin's new strategy was unbending: silence, encircle, pulverize, and
>>> "cleanse." It was a combination of brutal tactics -- a Stalinist purge of
>>> fighting-age males plus Orwellian propaganda that fed Russians a narrative
>>> wherein Chechen freedom fighters were transformed into Islamist mercenaries
>>> and terrorists. More than 200,000 civilians were to die in this war, the
>>> echoes of which continue to this day.
>>> This time, journalists were specifically targeted to prevent sympathetic
>>> or embarrassing reports from escaping the killing zone. As such, you can't
>>> find a lot of stories about the second Chechen war. One of the few and best
>>> accounts was written by Marie Colvin, who described her terrifying escape
>>> from Grozny for the *Sunday Times*. Last month, Colvin thought she
>>> could roll the dice and enter the besieged Syrian city of Homs to defy yet
>>> another brutal war of oppression. This time she lost.
>>> It's impossible to know whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- a
>>> longtime ally of Russia -- studied the success of the last Chechen war
>>> before launching his own assault on the restive city of Homs. However, his
>>> Russian military advisors surely know the tactics well. The crackdown in
>>> Homs carries a grim echo of Grozny, both in its use of signals intelligence
>>> to track down and silence the regime's enemies and in its bloody
>>> determination to obliterate any opposition, including Western journalists.
>>> Assad's ability to lethally target journalists using satellite-phone
>>> uplinks could well have cost Colvin her life. Multiple reports have
>>> suggested<> that
>>> Syrian forces used phone signals to pinpoint her location and then launched
>>> a rocket barrage that resulted in her death on Feb. 22, along with that of
>>> French photographer Remi Ochlik and multiple Syrian civilians.
>>> The use of satellite and cellular transmissions to determine a subject's
>>> location was relatively new a decade ago, when I was in Grozny. Tracking
>>> phone transmissions to hunt down targets began in earnest with a covert
>>> unit of U.S. intelligence officers from the National Security Agency (NSA),
>>> CIA, Navy, Air Force, and special operations called "The Activity." This
>>> snooping unit was also called the Army of Northern Virginia, Grey Fox, and
>>> even Task Force Orange. We see much of this technology used to inform
>>> modern drone and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command strikes. My decade
>>> covering U.S. spec ops, intelligence gathering, and their contractors
>>> highlighted the impressive ability of various countries to monitor, locate,
>>> network, and act on what is called SIGINT, or signals intelligence.
>>> The Russians have their own version of this capability, which fell under
>>> the command of the Federal Agency of Government Communications and
>>> Information <>, now part of the
>>> Federal Protective Service. In the United States, it would be equivalent to
>>> the NSA and FBI combined, and the agency provides sophisticated
>>> eavesdropping support to Russia's military, intelligence, and
>>> counterterrorism units -- and to Russia's allies, including Syria.
>>> Russia has spent a long time perfecting these techniques. On April 21,
>>> 1996, Chechnya's breakaway president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, was speaking on a
>>> satellite phone* *with Russian envoy Konstantin Borovoi about setting
>>> peace talks with Yeltsin. During the phone call, he was killed<> by
>>> a signal-guided missile fired from a Russian jet fighter. The warplane had
>>> received Dudayev's coordinates from a Russian ELINT (electronic
>>> intelligence)* *plane that had picked up and locked on to the signal
>>> emitted by the satellite phone. It was Russian deception and brutality at
>>> its finest.
>>> It should have been clear even back then that there was a benefit and a
>>> distinct penalty to modern communications on the battlefield.
>>> Flash forward to Syria today. The opposition Free Syrian Army is
>>> officially run by a former air force colonel who commands a barely
>>> organized group of army defectors supported by energetic youth. They rely
>>> almost entirely on cell-phone service, satellite phones, the Internet, and
>>> social media to organize and communicate. Early in February, according to a
>>> Fox News report, Qatar provided3,000 satellite phones<>,
>>> which the Syrian rebels have used to upload numerous impactful videos and
>>> stories.
>>> These past few weeks, under a barrage of mortar, tank, and artillery
>>> shells, their plaintive calls for help from inside the besieged Baba Amr
>>> neighborhood of Homs sparked international outrage. But without Western
>>> journalists filing for newspapers and television outlets, these videos --
>>> mostly shaky, low-resolution footage of corpses and artillery strikes --
>>> wouldn't have had the impact they deserve.
>>> In a welcome resurgence of non-embedded journalism, brave reporters like
>>> Colvin and many others risked their lives to enter Homs and report from the
>>> ground. What they showed us was moving, horrific, and embarrassing. Once
>>> again, Western governments were caught doing nothing -- while women,
>>> children, and innocents were murdered by their own government. It's a
>>> playbook the Syrians are good at: The shelling of Homs began on Feb. 3,
>>> 2012 -- exactly 30 years after the Hama massacre, in which Hafez al-Assad,
>>> Bashar's father, killed up to 15,000 civilians over three weeks in a
>>> similar program of wanton destruction.
>>> What we haven't seen as clearly is the extent to which the Syrian regime
>>> (thanks to its Russian advisors) now has the tools of electronic warfare to
>>> crush this popular uprising -- and anything that happens to get in the way.
>>> Syria is one of Russia's biggest clients for weapons, training, and
>>> intelligence. In return for such largesse, it has offered the Russian Navy
>>> use of Tartus, a new deep-water military port in the Mediterranean. Moscow
>>> sold Damascus nearly $1 billion<> worth
>>> of weapons in 2011, despite growing sanctions against the oppressive Assad
>>> regime. With these high-tech weapons comes the less visible
>>> Russian-supplied training on technologies, tactics, and strategies.
>>> The sounds of rockets pulverizing civilians should have brought back
>>> memories and warnings to Colvin. She would have recognized all the signs
>>> from her previous reporting in Chechnya, where she and her escorts were
>>> hunted relentlessly by Russian domestic security agents who sought to
>>> arrest, silence, or kill any journalist attempting to report on the
>>> slaughter of civilians.
>>> My time in Grozny included being surrounded three times by the Russian
>>> army, numerous direct bombardments, and frequent close calls. I paid
>>> attention to the safety warnings of the Chechen rebel commanders who kept
>>> me alive. These rebels were once part of the Soviet military and
>>> intelligence apparatus and were fully schooled in Russia's dirty tricks.
>>> They taught me much. Chief among them was not communicating electronically
>>> while in country, not trusting "media guides," and never telling people
>>> where I was going. If captured by Russian troops, they urged me -- for my
>>> own safety -- to say that I had been kidnapped by Chechen forces.
>>> Just as I exited Chechnya, I met Colvin, who was heading in. She wanted
>>> to know as much as she could. I warned her of the duplicity and violent
>>> intent of the Russian military and their Chechen proxies. Despite my
>>> warnings, she bravely entered Chechnya and wrote riveting,
>>> award-winning stories<> that
>>> now sound almost identical to her coverage from Syria.
>>> I was distressed to read of Colvin's death in Syria, and even more
>>> distressed to think she might still be alive now if she had remembered some
>>> basic warnings. Her first error was that she stayed inside the rebel "media
>>> center" -- in reality, a four-story family home converted to this use as it
>>> was one of the few places that had a generator.
>>> The second was communication. The Syrian army had shut down the
>>> cell-phone system and much of the power in Baba Amr -- and when journalists
>>> sent up signals it made them a clear target. After CNN's Arwa Damon broadcast
>>> live<> from
>>> the "media center" for a week, the house was bombarded until the top floor
>>> collapsed. Colvin may have been trapped, but she chose to make multiple
>>> phone reports and even went live on CNN<> and
>>> other media channels, clearly mentioning that she was staying in the bombed
>>> building.
>>> The third mistake was one of tone. She made her sympathies in the
>>> besieged city clearly known as she emotionally described the horrors and
>>> documented the crimes of the Syrian government.
>>> Unsurprisingly, the next day at 9 a.m., a barrage of rockets was
>>> launched at the "media center." She was killed -- along her cameraman, Remi
>>> Ochlik<>,
>>> and at least 80 Syrian civilians across the city -- targeted with precision
>>> rocket barrages, bombs, and the full violence of the Syrian army.
>>> In Grozny, Russian forces decided that they would eliminate everything,
>>> everybody, and every voice that stood up to the state -- including
>>> journalists who tried to enter. Syria has clearly made the same
>>> determination in Homs. This military action is intended to be a massacre, a
>>> Stalinist-style lesson to those who dare defy the rulers of Syria.
>>> The United Nations estimates<> that
>>> more than 7,500 Syrians have so far been killed in the yearlong spasm of
>>> violence there. Perhaps this ghastly toll would be even higher now if brave
>>> reporters like Colvin had not entered. With the recent news that the rebels
>>> have retreated from the bombardment of Baba Amr to safer territory, Assad's
>>> forces, as well as their Russian advisors, are claiming victory. According
>>> to official news reports from the Syrian Information Ministry, "the
>>> foreign-backed mercenaries and armed terrorist groups" have fled, the
>>> corpses of three Western journalists have been "discovered," and Homs is
>>> now "peaceful."


Brian Conley

Director, Small World News

m: 646.285.2046

Skype: brianjoelconley

public key:<>
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