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[liberationtech] Iranian flagpoles for jamming?

Joel Harding joel.k.hard at
Fri Nov 30 12:05:47 PST 2012

I have some serious doubts if this is even possible.  My thoughts are
that an antenna strong enough to hold up a flag would not be an
efficient radiating element.  Wouldn't the wires be visible at the
base?  Wouldn't there have to be some sort of a transmitter in fairly
close proximity?  Is this just being fueled by conspiracy theorists or
is this actually being done?  I don't recall seeing this before.

New flagpoles in Iran spark rumors of clandestine satellite jamming technology

By Lisa Daftari

Published November 30, 2012

Flying the national flag usually signifies a display of pride or
patriotism. But in Iran today, it may represent something much more

Sources and blog postings from inside Iran say that what seem to be
simple flagpoles popping up all over Tehran and other large Iranian
cities are actually clandestine electronic antennas, which use
high-frequency waves to jam communications and block ordinary citizens
from Internet, TV and radio signals. Some Iranians think the
electronic emissions also may be hazardous to humans’ health.

Tehran residents and communication experts report an increase in
jamming has coincided with the strategic placement of the towering
metal flagpoles, as the government continues its ongoing campaign to
block some 500 TV channels and 200 radio stations from outside Iran
deemed too Western-oriented.

“Ever since 2009, the telecommunications masts have increased 10- to
15-fold. It’s not clear where these masts are, but many in Tehran,
including myself, believe that these tall flagpoles recently placed
around the perimeter of the city are jammers,” said Shahin, a
32-year-old Tehran-based blogger. The flagpoles are present in other
large Iranian cities but are most prevalent in the capital, Shahin

“The regime fears the Internet and satellites coming into the country
more than they do the opposition forces living here,” he added.
“That’s how we know they would do anything in their power, including
risking our health, to protect their existence.”

During the 2009 post-election uprisings, Iranian protesters who took
to the streets turned to blogs and social networking sites like
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to voice and organize their opposition
to the regime. Since then, the Iranian government has worked
diligently to block access to such sites.

The jammer flagpole scheme “is very much in line with and fits the
pattern they have been demonstrating since 2009,” said Austin Heap,
executive director of the Censorship Research Center.

“The shape of the flagpole lends itself to house such a structure. If
you notice the width of the pole decreasing as it gets taller, this is
consistent with the design principles for good omni-directional
broadcasting. … It’s a kill switch,” Heap explained.

“It’s just the next step in controlling what comes in and out of the
country,” Heap said. “Iran is looking to become better at controlling
the dialogue.”

The Iranian government has relied on two jamming techniques, according
to Heap. One is the more widely used “satellite-to-satellite” method,
in which waves are sent directly from one satellite to the other in an
attempt to overwhelm the broadcast signal.

But foreign broadcast companies learned to work around that by
switching signals, turning the censorship campaign into a
cat-and-mouse game that requires more time and effort by the Iranian
government to block each channel.

The flagpole jammers represent a second method, referred to as
on-the-ground or local jamming. That process involves sending
high-frequency microwaves over a larger area, saturating signals that
jam incoming signals.

“This new type of jamming is a catch-all,” Heap said.  “It is a
one-size-fits-all solution.”

The increase in jamming has been noted by the United States and
European Union, both of whom announced new communications sanctions
and warnings against the Iranian regime in November.

Since the 2009 uprisings, roughly $76 million of the total $11.5
billion allocated to the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps has been spent
on cyber warfare, the Iranian government once reported. Iran’s cyber
police monitor the Internet, various websites, blogs and individuals
suspected of using circumvention tools designed to evade the censors.

In early 2011, Iran unveiled plans for a “halal network,” or an
“Islamically permissible” intranet that would disconnect the nation
from the rest of the world. Such a service would automatically block
popular global sites and search engines like Google, Facebook and

Other experts are more concerned about the health side effects of
these suspected flagpole jammers, and they cite a rise in cancer rates
in Iran as a possible result of the increased jamming activity.

“A cancer tsunami is imminent,” Dr. Ali Mohagheghi, from Iran’s
Ministry of Health, admitted earlier this year. Mohagheghi urged
doctors to prepare for the coming “inundation” of cancer cases.

“I’m not a doctor, but I’ll tell you it’s a one-to-one correlation,”
said Heap, who explained that the second type of jamming - the ground
jamming - emits a much higher degree of cancer-causing radiation.

Those who have written about the flagpole jammers or hinted of their
connection with cancer rates have been seriously criticized, even
threatened with imprisonment.

Masoomeh Ebtekar, head of Iran’s Environmental Organization, echoed
the idea of a “cancer tsunami” a few months later, to the
semi-official Mehr News agency. But she went further and connected the
increase in cancer cases to the jamming waves.

The government quickly responded by accusing Ebtekar of circulating
rumors, and threatened to imprison her if she continued to speak about
the subject, according to the Boltan News site.

Despite government pressure, the story has not disappeared, as doctors
and others continue to research the possible jammer-cancer connection.

“New cases of pediatric cancer are growing at such an unbelievable
rate that one can only connect this crisis to the increase in
high-frequency waves,” said a pediatrician living and practicing in
Tehran. “One only has to pay a visit to MAHAK (a pediatric cancer
hospital) in northern Tehran to see how real this tragedy is,” she

“Of course the government doesn’t want these cases and these
statistics to be announced. It might cost them the regime.”

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