Cuba News CANF Cuban American National Foundation FNCA Fundacion Nacional Cubano Americana
Cuba News CANF Cuban American National Foundation FNCA Fundacion Nacional Cubano Americana


Cuba News CANF Cuban American National Foundation FNCA Fundacion Nacional Cubano Americana

Interception of satellite communications

by Ing Manuel Cereijo

Sunday May 29 / 2006

Many countries in Asia, and Cuba, now have the ability to monitor selected foreign communications satellites (COMSATs), as well as record, process, decrypt, translate, and analyse the intercepted material – including telephone conversations, faxes, e-mails and other electronic communications.   

The US maintains the most extensive SATCOM SIGINT capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.  The first US station established to intercept international satellite communications in the region was located at Yakima, in Washington State in the northwest US.  It became operational in the early 1970s, and for a decade was equipped with a single large dish antenna for intercepting communications passing through the INTELSAT COMSAT stationed over the Pacific Ocean.[1]  In 1995, it had five dish antennas, three facing westwards, one of which 'appears to be the UKUSA site for monitoring the Inmarsat-2 satellite that provides mobile satellite communications in the Pacific Ocean area'.[2]  Code-named Cowboy, the Yakima station was one of the original stations in the Echelon system, the global system organised by the UKUSA countries for monitoring the non-military telecommunications of other governments, businesses and private organisations.[3]  The largest US station in the region is at Misawa, in northern Honshu, Japan.  Code-named Ladylove, the SATCOM SIGINT facility achieved an interim operational capability in 1982.[4]  The permanent complex became operational in 1987, at which time there were six radomes at the site.  It grew rapidly over the next several years, reaching 13 radomes in 1991.  There were 14 radomes in 1997.[5]  The Ladylove project was originally designed to intercept communications from Soviet elliptically-orbiting Molniya and geostationary Raduga and Gorizont communications satellites.  The expansion in the late 1980s and early 1990s included capabilities for intercepting Chinese satellite communications and INTELSAT communications.[6]  In 1993, the Ladylove operation at Misawa was incorporated into the Echelon system.[7]  Another SATCOM intercept station is evidently located on Guam, at which an Echelon unit (code-named Project Marlock) was activated in 1995.[8]

Russia has a Big Ear SATCOM SIGINT station at Andreyevka, near Vladivostok, for monitoring satellite communications in northeast Asia.  The Japanese Chobetsu/DIH maintains a SATCOM SIGINT station at Chitose, near Sapporo, in the southwest part of Hokkaido, for intercepting transmissions from Russia's Molniya and Gorizont communications satellites.[9]

China has also developed SATCOM SIGINT capabilities for monitoring international satellite communications.  In December 1968, for example, it was reported that China had established 'a ground station for intercepting signals transmitted through the US and Russian communication satellite systems', together with an associated decryption capability, on Hainan Island.[10]  The station is situated at the Lingshui SIGINT complex.[11]  A second SATCOM SIGINT station is located outside Beijing.  On 4 June 1989, for example, Chinese authorities intercepted unedited video relating to the Tiananmen massacre which was transmitted by the American Broadcasting Corporation via satellite (and which was then used by the Chinese authorities to track down and arrest one of the leading dissidents).[12]  A third station is located at Changli, in western China, for monitoring satellite communications in central Asia.[13]  China has also established a SATCOM SIGINT station at Santiago de Cuba, at the eastern end of Cuba, to intercept US satellite communications.[14]  A satellite tracking and control station at Kiribati, which sits astride the equator in the central Pacific, is also capable of intercepting selected (S-band) satellite communications in the mid-Pacific.[15]

Taiwan is able to intercept Chinese satellite communications.  In India, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the Cabinet Secretariat maintains a number of SATCOM SIGINT stations, one site of which is Sikandarabad, across the Yamuna from Delhi.[16]

Australia has the most extensive SATCOM SIGINT capabilities in the Southeast Asian region.  The main station is at Kojarena, near Geraldton, in Western Australia.[17]  It became operational in 1993, and monitors a wide range of the communications satellites stationed in geostationary orbits over the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.  One of its primary functions was to replace the joint GCHQ-DSD SATCOM SIGINT station at Chung Hong Kok in Hong Kong (Project Kittiwake), which intercepted Chinese satellite communications, but which was closed in 1995.[18]  The station intercepts both regional geostationary satellites (such as Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Pakistani communications satellites) and international communications satellites (including INTELSAT COMSATs and INMARSAT maritime COMSATs).[19]

DSD also maintains a large SATCOM SIGINT station (Project Larkswood) at Shoal Bay, near Darwin, for monitoring Indonesian satellite communications.  It had eleven SATCOM dishes as at September 1999, and was one of the most lucrative sources of intelligence about the role of the Indonesian military and police, and their militia surrogates, in the violence in East Timor in 1999.[20]

New Zealand has a SATCOM SIGINT station at Waihopai (code-named Flintlock), which became operational in 1990, and which focuses on satellite communications in the southwest Pacific area, working in close cooperation with the NSA station at Yakima and the DSD station at Kojarena.[21]

In Southeast Asia, Singapore is the only country with a functioning foreign SATCOM SIGINT facility.  It intercepts the down-links of both regional and international COMSATs, including INMARSATs.

In addition to intercepting foreign/international satellite communications for intelligence purposes, some countries have acquired capabilities for jamming selected satellite broadcasts and down-links.  Both the US and the Soviet Union developed SATCOM jamming capabilities during the Cold War.  China has also developed limited SATCOM jamming capabilities.[22]  India has constructed a station at Jalna, in Maharashtra state, some 300 km northeast of Bombay, 'to monitor and possibly screen out foreign [satellite television] broadcasts'.[23]  Indonesia (according to the commander of the US Space Command) has 'relatively primitive' anti-satellite jammers, involving 'basic radio-frequency transmitters', which it has used on several occasions since 1996 to interfere with the COMSATs of commercial rivals or to jam politically or ideologically objectionable transmissions.[24]  In 1996, Indonesia jammed a (C-band) communications satellite following a commercially-inspired dispute with Tonga over claimed satellite orbital positions.[25]  In May 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that there has been 'instances' where Indonesia had jammed a Chinese satellite which was evidently broadcasting information to Muslim fundamentalists and which it found objectionable.[26]  Some non-State organisations, such as the Falun Gong movement in China, have also demonstrated the ability to jam (and even hijack) satellite transmissions.[27]  There has also been a growing appreciation that some forms of SATCOM transmissions, including those involving satphones and GSM cell phones, can be used for targeting purposes – as demonstrated in April 1996 when Russian authorities killed the president of Chechnya with an air-to-surface missile while he was talking on a satphone via the INMARSAT network, and in August 1998 when the US used Osama bin Laden's satphone transmissions to target cruise missiles in the attack against the al-Qaeda base at Khowst.[28]  In July 1999, the Pakistan Army reportedly used intercepts of satphone transmissions by Indian television reporters accompanying Indian Army troops in the Kargil region to direct a deadly artillery bombardment on the Indian position.[29]

Of course, every country has the ability to intercept (and sever or jam) international satellite communications entering national gateways.  In some countries this is done by SIGINT/cyber cells co-located with the national gateway stations, or utilising the facilities at national SATCOM ground control stations.  In Burma, for example, all international telecommunications are intercepted by the Directorate of Defence Services Intelligence (DDSI) at the SATCOM ground station in Thanlyin, across the Bago River from Rangoon.[30]  In Singapore, the facilities of Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) are used by various government agencies for intercepting all telephone and fax traffic.[31] 




[1]  James Bamford, The Puzzle Palace:  A Report on America's Most Secret Agency, (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1983), pp.224-225;  Nicky Hager, Secret Power: New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network, (Craig Potton, Nelson, New Zealand, 1996), pp.30-31.

[2]  Ibid., p.31.

[3]  History of the Air Intelligence Agency, 1 January-31 December 1994, (Air Intelligence Agency, San Antonio, Texas, 15 December 1995), Volume 1, available at;  Nicky Hager, Secret Power, pp.30-31, 50, 165-166;  Jeffrey Richelson, 'Desperately Seeking Signals', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2000, pp.47-51;  and Duncan Campbell, 'Inside Echelon', 25 July 2000, at

[4]  Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, US Congress, Military Construction Appropriations for 1981, (US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1980), Part 1, pp.121, 872-877;  Military Installations and Facilities Subcommittee, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, US Congress, Hearings on H.R. 6493 to Authorize Certain Construction at Military Installations for Fiscal Year 1981 and for Other Purposes, (US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1980), p.54;  and Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, US Congress, Military Construction Appropriations for 1984, (US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1983), Part 1, pp.1628-1629.

[5]  Asahi Shimbun, 'Misawa Security Hill – 15 March 1997', at

[6]  James Bamford, Body of Secrets, pp.408-409;  and Robert Windrem, 'When It Comes to Spying, U.S. is as Insatiable as China', at

[7]  History of the Air Intelligence Agency, 1 January-31 December 1994, (Air Intelligence Agency, San Antonio, Texas, 15 December 1995), Volume 1, available at

[8]  Ibid.;  Msgt. Steve Pullis, 'New AIA Unit:  Detachment 1, 692nd Intelligence Group Activates in the Pacific', Spokesman, April 1995, p.27;  Staff Sgt. Dan Marcella, 'Det. 1 Builds Upon Operational Missions', Spokesman, October 1995, p.?;  and Staff Sgt. Dan Marcella, 'Detachment 1 Takes on New Project', Spokesman, July 1996, p.9.

[9]  Jeffrey T. Richelson, Foreign Intelligence Organizations, p.257.

[10]   'China Can Eavesdrop on US Satellites', New Scientist, 19 December 1968, p.655.

[11]  Robert Windrem, 'The Lingshui Intelligence Base', Mario's Cyberspace Station, at

[12]  'TV Network Furious Over Film Intercept', The Australian, 13 June 1989, p.7.

[13]  Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough, 'Inside the Ring:  China Eavesdropping', The Washington Times, 5 May 2000, p.A10.

[14]  Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett, Red Dragon Rising:  Communist China's Military Threat to America, (Regnery, Washington, D.C., 1999), p.128;  and Al Santoli (ed.), 'China, Russia Add New Biological-Weapons;  China's New Electronic Intel Bases in Cuba Threaten U.S.', China Reform Monitor, No. 217, 28 June 1999, at

[15]   Bruce Gilley, 'Pacific Outpost:  China's Satellite Station in Kiribati has Military Purposes', Far Eastern Economic Review, 30 April 1998, pp.26-27;  and Michael Field, 'The Mystery of Kiribati', The Dominion (Wellington), 27 August 1999, p.6.

[16]  Manoj Joshi, 'Signal Wars:  Indian Capability in Perspective', Frontline, 10 September 1993, p.77;  and Desmond Ball, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) in South Asia:  India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), (Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 117, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, 1996), p.19.

[17]  Desmond Ball, Australia's Secret Space Programs, chapter 4.

[18]  Ibid., chapter 2;  and Desmond Ball, 'Over and Out:  Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) in Hong Kong', Intelligence and National Security, (Vol. 11, No. 3), July 1996, pp.485-492.

[19]  Desmond Ball, Australia's Secret Space Programs, chapter 4.

[20]  Desmond Ball, 'Silent Witness:  Australian Intelligence and East Timor', The Pacific Review, (Vol. 14, No. 1), 2001, p.40-41.

[21]  Desmond Ball, 'A Note on the New Zealand Satellite SIGINT Station', Australia's Secret Space Programs, pp.71-76;  and Nicky Hager, Secret Power:  New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network, (Craig Potton, Nelson, New Zealand, 1996), chapter 10.

[22]  Jonathon Broder, 'The Threat Over the Horizon', MSNBC.Com, 27 April 2001, at;  Phillip Saunders, Jing-dong Yuan, Stephanie Lieggi and Angela Deters, 'China's Space Capabilities and the Strategic Logic of Anti-Satellite Weapons', Monterey Institute of International Studies, 22 July 2002, at;  and 'PLA "Acupuncture" Info-War Targets U.S. Military/Civilian Strengths;  Beijing Protests Cancellation of U.S.-China Satellite Deal', China Reform Monitor, No. 175, 3 March 1999, at

[23]  Khalid Mohamed, 'Project to Intercept Satellite Signals', Sunday Times (Bombay), 9 June 1991, pp.1,3.  See also 'Indian Government Building Earth Station 'to Monitor Foreign TV"', Straits Times, 6 December 1991, p.8;  and Barbara Crosette, 'India Foreign TV Monitor Sights "Alien Influences"', International Herald Tribune, 13 June 1991, p.7.

[24]  Robet Wall, 'Intelligence Lacking on Satellite Threats', Aviation Week & Space Technology, 1 March 1999, pp.54-55;  John A. Tirpak, 'Reinvesting in the Force', Air Force Magazine, April 1999, pp.32-33;  and 'Threats to U.S. Satellites', AFIO [Association of Former Intelligence Officers] Weekly Intelligence Notes, No. 18-99, 7 May 1999, at

[25]  Lt. Col. John E. Hyten, 'A Sea of Peace or a Theater of War:  Dealing with the Inevitable Conflict in Space', Air & Space Power Chronicles, 4 January 2001, footnote 4, at;  James Oberg, 'The Heavens at War', New Scientist, 2 June 2001, at http://www.jamesoberg/com/articles/heavens.html;  and 'Satellite Slots Bring Continued Disagreements', Tonga on the 'Net – Island Snapshot 970227, at

[26]  'Transcript:  Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Outlines Space Initiatives', 8 May 2001, at  See also James Kitfield, 'The Permanent Frontier', The National Journal, 17 March 2001, at

[27] Philip P. Pan, 'Banned Falun Gong Movement Jammed Chinese Satellite Signal', Washingtonpost.Com, 9 July 2002, at http://www.washingtonpost/com/wp-dyn/articles/A41297-2002Jul$.html;  'Falun Gong Stirs up Public Indignation in China', People's Daily, 10 July 2002, at 99430.shtml;  and David Murphy, 'China:  Mixing Signals', Far Eastern Economic Review, 18 July 2002, p.17.

[28]  Desmond Ball, 'Desperately Seeking bin Laden:  The Intelligence Dimension of the War Against Terrorism', in Ken Booth and Tim Dunne (eds.), Worlds in Collision:  Terror and the Future Global Order, (Palgrave/St Martins, London and New York, 2002), pp.63-64.

[29]  Prabal Pratap Singh, 'TV Clips a Dead Give-away',                                 11 July 1999, p.?.

[30]  Desmond Ball, Burma's Military Secrets, pp.105-110.

[31]  US State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2000:  Singapore, 23 February 2001, Section 1(f), at;  and Simon Hayes, 'Optus Security Concerns Mount', The Australian, 4 September 2001, p.?.







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