INTELLIGENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
By Manuel Cereijo
Submarines prowl the ocean floor, while ships above carefully skirts the limits of international waters. On dry land, guards patrol high fences surrounding acres of huge golf ball-shaped radar domes. In the skies, airplanes knife through the stratosphere, while higher up orbiting electronic ears listen to whispers from the planet below.
GOLF BALL-SHAPED RADAR DOMES: BEJUCAL BASE CUBA
They are trolling a vast sea of electromagnetic signals in hopes of catching a terrorist plot in the making, a shady arms deal, economic intelligence, or a rogue nation building a weapon of mass destruction.
This so called signals intelligence, or Sigint, has been vital to the United States and its allies for decades. This is also vital for Cuba, and China, through the Bejucal base. The question now is: how useful is the system against terrorists who know not to trust their satellite phones? How effective can it be in an age when almost untappable fiber-optic lines carry information at stupefying rates and cheap, off-the shelf encryption systems can stump the most powerful supercomputers on earth?
Rather than the creation of ever more sensitive receivers or code-breaking computers, the hot areas of cloak-and-dagger information gathering include tapping fiber optic cables, even at the bottom of the sea; using tiny bugging devices and old fashioned bribery, blackmail, and burglary to get at data before it can be encrypted; exploiting software flaws and poorly configured communications systems to bypass data security measures; and automatically winnoving the vast amounts of intercepted communications. The old workhouse surveillance system, run by the United States-with the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as junior partners, was created in 1947 under the secret UKUSA agreement. It is often referred to as Echelon in the popular press.
Whether or not the modern Sigint system is of value boils down to a technical question: in the face of a telecommunications explosion that has brought e-mails, cellphones, beepers, instant messages, fiber optic cables, faxes, video-conferencing, and the Internet to every corner of the World, can the UKUSA intelligence agencies attain enough access to know what’s going on? Of course, some communications are easier than others. Wireless communications in particular offer two key advantages-you can intercept them without physically tapping into the target’s communications systems, and there is no way to detect that they have been intercepted.
Microwave, radio, telephone, walkie-talkie-communications that are all in the air are all interceptible by some sort of antenna in the right place.
The advantage of the Bejucal base is that it spies, listen to, the United States.
However, the disadvantage of the United States is that it has to cover a wide range of territories, disperse terrorist groups, countries. The United States has to go after sporadic miniwars and terrorism.
Fiber optic systems
Before the widespread use of fiber-optic cables, geosynchronous satellite constellations, such as Intelsat, Intersputnik carried much of the international communications traffic. Such links can be comprehensively monitored by placing a receiving station in each satellite’s transmission footprint. In contrast, cables have to be tapped directly.
While this is easy enough to do if the cable makes a landfall in a territory controlled by a UKUSA country, someone has to visit the cable clandestinely if it doesn’t, typically in a submarine. Fiber optic cables are the toughest to crack: fibers don’t radiate electromagnetic fields that can be detected. Eavesdroppers first solved this problem by targeting the signal boosting repeater stations strung along the cables. But the development of erbium-doped fiber amplifiers, in which the signal is boosted without ever being converted into electricity, called for a new approach.
It is not impossible to tap, but the fiber being one of a dozen hair-thin strands of glass, which are embedded inside a laser welded, hermetically sealed, 3 mm diameter stainless steel tube, makes it harder. This tube is in turn covered by a few centimeters of reinforcing steel wire and cables carrying 10 Kvolts of DC power, all at a depth of of a couple of thousand meters. It is not impossible, but very difficult.
The easiest interception technique is to open up one of the repeaters to get at the fibers, but it is very difficult, because you have to do it perfectly. Parts must either be sourced from the manufacturer or duplicated exactly. A big remaining challenge is fiber optic cables that stay on land. One of the things that special troops (including Cuba’s elite troops) spend a fair amount of time is going ashore and walking to the nearest line.
By bugging a computer or communication system, information can be captured before it is sent through a fiber optic cable. A tiny microphone dropped into a keyboard can pick up the sound made by the keys as they are struck and transmit the sounds to a nearby receiver. (The Cuban Red Avispa ring was trying to do this). Different keys sound different, each has a specific signature.Those signatures can be used to reconstruct what was typed. The rise of ubiquitous computer communications has allowed the emergence of widely available strong cipher systems, such as public key cryptography, which rely on mathematical functions that would take the greatest supercomputers on earth to break. For example, the HPCs, that China acquired from the USA in the 1990s, and that supposedly Cuba got two of them from China.
Speech recognition is already widely used in commercial applications, but it is much harder to convert speech into text when subjects have no intention of getting their meaning across to a computer.
Talk printing may give an idea of where the state of the art is going. Variations in pitch, rhythm, and speech volume-information that speech recognition programs typically throw out-to refine word and sentence recognition, to identify speakers, and even to tell casual chats from serious discussions or the dissemination of orders and instructions. It is assumed that speech recognition is available at the Bejucal base because from 1995 to 1997 Russia had already this technology. It is also assumed that now, with the assistance of PRC, they are trying to develop this latest technology.
Bejucal Base: Conclusions
This is where the importance of the Bejucal base lies. New technologies, association with the PRC, proximity to the United States, Cuba’s elite troops, trained at the Baragua school, in El Cacho, Los Palacios, Pinar del Rio, and the talent of approximately 1,200 Cuban engineers and Computer Scientists working at the Base. The Base coordinates its activities with: the Wajay facility, the Santiago de Cuba antenna farm, and the base at Paseo, between 11 and 15 Streets.
Is Cuba a conventional military threat to the United States? Of course not, in the conventional military parameters. it has never been a threat. Presently, there is no country that can be said that it represents a conventional military threat to the United States. Is Cuba an asymmetric military threat to the security of the United States? Yes, of course. Through biological and cyber attacks. Due to its proximity to the United States, Cuba’s facilities in bio and cyber developments, and the relative free flow of persons between Cuba and the United States, that has made possible that Cuba be the country with more convicted spies inside the United States in the last 10 years, Cuba possibly represents a higher threat than other rogue nations.