1 March 1999. Thanks to V6.


February 24 - March 2, 1999 

A Most Unusual Collection Agency 

How the U.S. undid UNSCOM through its empire of electronic ears

By Jason Vest and Wayne Madsen

When Saddam Hussein raised the possibility of attacking U.S. planes in Turkey
last week, his threats illustrated what many in diplomatic circles regard as
an international disgrace— the emasculation of the UN by the U.S. 

When UNSCOM, the UN's arms-inspection group for Iraq, was created in 1991, it
drew on personnel who, despite their respective nationalities, would serve the
UN. Whatever success UNSCOM achieved, however, was in spite of its
multinational makeup. While a devoted group of UN staffers managed to set up
an independent unit aimed at finding Saddam's weapons and ways of concealing
them, other countries seeking to do business with sanctions-impaired Iraq—
notably France and Russia— used inspectors as spies for their own ends. 

But what ultimately killed UNSCOM were revelations that the U.S. government
had manipulated it by assuming control of its intelligence apparatus last
spring (or perhaps even earlier by using the group to slip spies into Iraq)
not so much to aid UNSCOM's mission, but to get information for use in future
aerial bombardments. When stories to this effect broke last month, however,
there was almost no consistency in descriptions of the agencies involved or
techniques used. The New York Times, for example, said only one CIA spy had
been sent into Baghdad last March to set up an automated eavesdropping device.
Time had multiple Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) operatives planting bugs
around Baghdad throughout 1998. The Wall Street Journal referred to the use of
one "device" from the National Security Agency (NSA) last year and "a series
of espionage operations used by the U.S. [since] 1996 to monitor the
communications" of Saddam and his elite. 

When probing the world of espionage, rarely does a clear picture emerge. But
according to a handful of published sources, as well as assessments by
independent experts and interviews with current and former intelligence
officers, the U.S. government's prime mover in Iraqi electronic surveillance
was most likely a super-secret organization run jointly by the the CIA and the
NSA— the spy agency charged with gathering signals intelligence (known as
SIGINT)— called the Special Collection Service. Further, there is evidence to
suggest that the Baghdad operation was an example of the deployment of a
highly classified, multinational SIGINT agreement— one that may have used
Australians to help the U.S. listen in— months after the CIA failed to realize
the U.S. objective of overthrowing Saddam Hussein through covert action. 

According to former UNSCOM chief inspector Scott Ritter, when the U.S. took
over the group's intelligence last year, a caveat was added regarding
staffing: only international personnel with U.S. clearances could participate.
"This requirement," says Ritter, "really shows the kind of perversion of
mission that went on. The U.S. was in control, but the way it operated from
day one was, U.S. runs it, but it had to be a foreigner [with a clearance]
operating the equipment." 

Under the still-classified 1948 UKUSA signals intelligence treaty,
eavesdropping agencies of the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New
Zealand share the same clearances. According to Federation of American
Scientists intelligence analyst John Pike, this gives the U.S. proxies for
electronic espionage: "In the context of UKUSA, think of NSA as one office
with five branches," he says. As UNSCOM demonstrates, though, sometimes the
partnership gets prickly; the British, according to Ritter, withdrew their
personnel following the U.S.'s refusal to explain "how the data was going to
be used." (According to a longtime British intelligence officer, there was
another reason: lingering bad feelings over the NSA's cracking a secret UN
code used by British and French peacekeepers during a Bosnian UN mission.) At
this point, says Ritter, he was instructed to ask the Australian government
for a "collection" specialist. "We deployed him to Baghdad in July of 1998,"
recalls Ritter. "In early August, when I went to Baghdad, he pulled me aside
and told me he had concerns about what was transpiring. 

He said there was a very high volume of data, and that he was getting no
feedback about whether it was good, bad, or useful. He said that it was his
experience that this was a massive intelligence collection operation— one that
was not in accordance with what UNSCOM was supposed to be doing." 

In other words, the Australian — most likely an officer from the Defence
Signals Directorate, Australia's NSA subsidiary, who was supposed to have been
working for the UN — may have been effectively spying for the U.S. Stephanie
Jones, DSD's liaison to NSA, did not take kindly to a Voice inquiry about this
subject; indeed, despite being reached at a phone number with an NSA
headquarters prefix, she would not even confirm her position with DSD.
However, a former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official said that such a
scenario was probable. "The relationship between the UKUSA partners has always
been of enormous value to U.S. intelligence, even when their governments have
been on the opposite sides of policy issues," the official said. "I would not
be surprised at all if the Aussies happened to be the ones who actually did
this [at U.S. behest]." 

With an intelligence community of over a dozen components, billion-dollar
budgets, and cutting-edge technology, the U.S. can cast a wide net, be it with
human sources or signals interception. Iraq, however, has presented a special
challenge since Saddam's Ba'ath party took power in 1968. "In Iraq," says
Israeli intelligence expert Amatzai Baram, "you are dealing with what is
arguably the best insulated security and counterintelligence operation in the
world. The ability of Western or even unfriendly Arab states to penetrate the
system is very, very limited." 

According to the former Cairo station chief of the Australian Secret
Intelligence Service (ASIS), the West got this message loud and clear after
Iraqi counterintelligence pulled British MI6 case officers off a Baghdad
street in the mid '80s and took them to a warehouse on the outskirts of town.
"They had arrayed before them the various agents they had been running," the
ex­ASIS officer told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1994. "There
were wires hanging from the rafters in the warehouse. All the men were strung
up by wires around their testicles and they were killed in front of the faces
of their foreign operators, and they were told, you had better get out and
never come back." 

When UNSCOM was inaugurated in 1991, it quickly became apparent that the
organization's intelligence capability would depend largely on contributions
from various UN member countries. According to several intelligence community
sources, while the CIA did provide UNSCOM with information, and, later,
serious hardware like a U-2 spy plane, the focus of the U.S. intelligence
community at the time was on working with anti-Saddam groups in and around
Iraq to foment a coup. 

What resulted, as investigative authors Andrew and Patrick Cockburn
demonstrate in their just published book Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of
Saddam Hussein, were two of the most colossally bungled CIA covert operations
since the Bay of Pigs. While details of one of the failed operations were
widely reported, the Cockburns fleshed out details of an arguably worse coup
attempt gone awry in June 1996. Iraqi counterintelligence had not only managed
to finger most of the suspects in advance, but months before had even captured
an encrypted mobile satellite communications device that the CIA gave the
plotters. Adding insult to injury, the Cockburns report, Iraqi
counterintelligence used the CIA's own device to notify them of their failure:
"We have arrested all your people," the CIA team in Amman, Jordan, reportedly
was told via their uplink. "You might as well pack up and go home." 

Some UNSCOM staffers— first under Russian Nikita Smidovich, later under
American Scott Ritter— managed to create what amounted to a formidable micro-
espionage unit devoted to fulfilling UNSCOM's mission. Between information
passed on from various countries and use of unspecified but probably limited
surveillance equipment, the inspectors were gathering a great deal. But in
March 1998, according to Ritter, the U.S. told UNSCOM chair Richard Butler of
Australia that it wanted to "coordinate" UNSCOM's intelligence gathering. 

Ritter insists that no U.S. spies under UNSCOM cover could have been operating
in Baghdad without his knowledge prior to his resignation in August 1998.
However, as veteran spies point out, if they were, Ritter probably wouldn't
have known. A number of sources interviewed by the Voice believe it possible
that Special Collection Service personnel may have been operating undercover
in Baghdad. 

According to a former high-ranking intelligence official, SCS was formed in
the late 1970s after competition between the NSA's embassy-based eavesdroppers
and the CIA's globe-trotting bugging specialists from its Division D had
become counterproductive. While sources differ on how SCS works— some claim
its agents never leave their secret embassy warrens where they perform close-
quarters electronic eavesdropping, while others say agents operate embassy-
based equipment in addition to performing riskier "black-bag" jobs, or break-
ins, for purposes of bugging— "there's a lot of pride taken in what SCS has
accomplished," the former official says. 

Intriguingly, the only on-the-record account of the Special Collection Service
has been provided not by an American but by a Canadian. Mike Frost, formerly
of the Communications Security Establishment— Canada's NSA equivalent— served
as deputy director of CSE's SCS counterpart and was trained by the SCS. In a
1994 memoir, Frost describes the complexities of mounting "special collection"
operations— finding ways to transport sophisticated eavesdropping equipment in
diplomatic pouches without arousing suspicion, surreptitiously assembling a
device without arousing suspicion in his embassy, technically troubleshooting
under less than ideal conditions— and also devotes considerable space to
describing visits to SCS's old College Park headquarters. 

"It is not the usual sanitorium-clean atmosphere you would expect to find in a
top-secret installation," writes Frost. "Wires everywhere, jerry-rigged gizmos
everywhere, computers all over the place, some people buzzing around in three-
piece suits, and others in jeans and t-shirts. [It was] the ultimate testing
and engineering centre for any espionage equipment." Perhaps one of its most
extraordinary areas was its "live room," a 30-foot-square area where NSA and
CIA devices were put through dry runs, and where engineers simulated the
electronic environment of cities where eavesdroppers are deployed. Several
years ago, according to sources, SCS relocated to a new, 300-acre, three-
building complex disguised as a corporate campus and shielded by a dense
forest outside Beltsville, Maryland. Curious visitors to the site will find
themselves stopped at a gate by a Department of Defense police officer who, if
one lingers, will threaten arrest. 

There are good reasons, explains an old NSA hand, for havingelectronic ears on
terra firma in addition to satellites. "If you're listening to something from
thousands of miles up, the footprint to sort through is so huge, and finding
what you are looking for is not a simple chore. If you know more or less
specifically what you want, it's easier to get it in close proximity. And if
it happens to be a low-powered signal, it may not travel far enough." 

According to two sources familiar with intelligence activity in Iraq, the U.S.
may have been aided by information delivered either to UNSCOM or SCS from
Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications firm. It's not an unreasonable
assumption; though Ericsson brushes off questions about it, in 1996 a Middle
Eastern businessman filed suit against the company, claiming, among other
things, that it had stiffed him on his commission for brokering a deal between
the Iraqis and Ericsson for sensitive defense communications equipment, which,
reportedly, included encrypted cell phones. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a veteran intelligence official confirmed
that the NSA has "arrangements" with other communications firms that allow NSA
to access supposedly secure communications, but cooperation from Ericsson
would be "a breakthrough— despite our best efforts, they always kept their
distance. But it's not beyond the realm of possibility." (This is not without
precedent; though hardly covered in the American press, it has been reported
that Switzerland's Crypto AG— long the supplier of cipher equipment to many of
the world's neutral and "rogue" states— enjoyed such an "arrangement" with the
NSA for decades. Crypto AG denies this.) 

There is, however, another possible scenario regarding participation by
Ericsson in an intelligence venture. According to FAS analyst Pike, it's much
more likely that anyone doing intelligence work in Iraq would want a schematic
of Baghdad's telephone system— which Ericsson installed in the late '60s and
has subsequently updated. "I would find it to be far more plausible that the
U.S. intelligence community would be interested in acquiring, and Ericsson
would be interested in supplying, the wiring diagram for Baghdad's telephone
exchange than encryption algorithms for cell phones," he says. 

Also, he explains, finding ways to tap into a whole phone system or pull
short-range signals out of the air without being obvious is clearly SCS's
portfolio. "This type of risky close surveillance is what SCS was formed to
do," he says. "When you think of NSA, you think satellites. When you think
CIA, you think James Bond and microfilm. But you don't really think of an
agency whose sole purpose is to get up real close and use the best technology
there is to listen and transmit. That's SCS." 

Regarding any possible collaboration in Iraq with SCS or UNSCOM, Kathy Egan,
Ericsson spokesperson, said she had no information on such an operation, but
if there was one, "It would be classified and we would not be able to talk
about it." It's also possible, according to Mike Frost, that cleverly
disguised bugs might have been planted in Baghdad— SCS, he recalls, managed to
listen in on secured facilities by bugging pigeons. But, says a retired CIA
veteran, with UNSCOM effectively dead, bugging is now out of the question. "I
hope the take from this op," he says, "was worth losing the only access the
outside world's disarmament experts had to Iraq." 


The Radome Archipelago

During the Cold War there were hundreds of secret remote listening posts
spread around the globe. From large stations in the moors of Scotland and
mountains of Turkey that were complete with golf ball­like structures called
"radomes" to singly operated stations in the barren wilderness of Saint
Lawrence Island between Alaska and Siberia that had only a few antennae, these
stations constituted the ground-based portion of the United States Signals
Intelligence (SIGINT) System or "USSS." 

Operated by the supersecret National Security Agency (NSA), these stations
were designed to intercept Morse Code, telephone, telex, radar, telemetry, and
other signals emanating from behind the Iron Curtain. At one time, the NSA
contemplated a worldwide, continuously operated array of 4120 intercept
stations. While the agency never achieved that goal, it could still boast of
several hundred intercept stations. These included its ground-based
"outstations," which were supplemented by other intercept units located on
ships, submarines, aircraft (from U-2s to helicopters), unmanned drones,
mobile vans, aerostats (balloons and dirigibles), and even large and
cumbersome backpacks. 

With the collapse of the Communist "bloc" and the advent of microwaves, fiber
optics, and cellular phones, NSA's need for numerous ground-based intercept
stations waned. It began to rely on a constellation of sophisticated SIGINT
satellites with code names like Vortex, Magnum, Jumpseat, and Trumpet to sweep
up the world's satellite, microwave, cellular, and high-frequency
communications and signals. Numerous outstations met with one of three fates:
they were shut down completely, remoted to larger facilities called Regional
SIGINT Operations Centers or "RSOCs," or were turned over to host nation
SIGINT agencies to be operated jointly with NSA. 

However, NSA's jump to relying primarily on satellites proved premature. In
1993, Somali clan leader Mohammed Farah Aideed taught the agency an important
lesson. Aideed's reliance on older and lower-powered walkie-talkies and radio
transmitters made his communications virtually silent to the orbiting SIGINT
"birds" of the NSA. Therefore, NSA technicians came to realize there was still
a need to get in close in some situations to pick up signals of interest. In
NSA's jargon this is called improving "hearability." 

As NSA outstations were closed or remoted, new and relatively smaller
intercept facilities— such as the "gateway" facility in Bahrain, reportedly
used for retransmit signals intercepted in Baghdad last year to the U.S.—
sprang up around the world. In addition to providing NSA operators with fresh
and exotic duty stations, the new stations reflected an enhanced mission for
NSA economic intelligence gathering. Scrapping its old Cold War A and B Group
SIGINT organization, NSA expanded the functions of its W Group to include
SIGINT operations against a multitude of targets. Another unit, M Group, would
handle intercepts from new technologies like the Internet. 

Many people who follow the exploits of SIGINT and NSA are eager to peruse
lists of secret listening posts operated by the agency and its partners around
the world. While a master list probably exists somewhere in the impenetrable
lair that is the NSA's Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, it is assuredly
stamped with one of the highest security classifications in the U.S.
intelligence community. — W.M. & J.V. 


The United States SIGINT System (USSS)

The following list is the best unclassified shot at describing the locations
of the ground-based "ears" of the Puzzle Palace. It is culled from press
accounts, informed experts, and books written about the NSA and its
intelligence partners. It does not include the numerous listening units on
naval vessels and aircraft nor those operating from U.S. and foreign
embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions. 

United States 

• NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland 
• Buckley Air National Guard Ground Base, Colorado 
• Fort Gordon, Georgia (RSOC) 
• Imperial Beach, California 
• Kunia, Hawaii (RSOC) 
• Northwest, Virginia 
• Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico 
• San Antonio, Texas (RSOC) 
• Shemya, Alaska -3 
• Sugar Grove, West Virginia 
• Winter Harbor, Maine 
• Yakima, Washington 


• Durrës -6 
• Shkodër -6 
• Tirana -6 

Ascension Island 

• Two Boats -1 


• Bamaga -6 -7 
• Cabarlah -7 
• Canberra (Defense Signals Directorate Headquarters) -5 
• Harman -7 
• Kojarena, Geraldton -1 
• Nurunggar -1 
• Pearce -1 
• Pine Gap, Alice Springs -1 
• Riverina -7 
• Shoal Bay, Darwin -1 
• Watsonia -1 


• Konigswarte -7 
• Neulengbach -7 


• Al-Muharraq Airport -3 

Bosnia and Herzegovina 

• Tuzla 


• Mapharangwane Air Base 

British Indian Ocean Territory 

• Diego Garcia -1 


• Bandar Seri Begawan -7 


• Alert -7 
• Gander -7 
• Leitrim -1 
• Masset -6 -7 
• Ottawa [Communications Security Establishment (CSE) Headquarters] -5 


• Korla -1 -6 
• Qitai -1 -6 


• Brac Island, Croatia -6 
• Zagreb-Lucko Airport -7 


• Guantanamo Bay 


• Ayios Nikolaos -1 


• Aflandshage -7 
• Almindingen, Bornholm -7 
• Dueodde, Bornholm -7 
• Gedser -7 
• Hjørring -7 
• Løgumkløster -7 


• Dahlak Island -1 (NSA/Israel "8200" site) 


• Tallinn -7 


• Addis Ababa -1 


• Santahamina -7 

French Guiana 

• Kourou -7 (German Federal Intelligence Service station) 


• Achern -7 
• Ahrweiler -7 
• Bad Aibling -2 
• Bad Münstereifel -7 
• Braunschweig -7 
• Darmstadt -7 
• Frankfurt -7 
• Hof -7 
• Husum -7 
• Mainz -7 
• Monschau -7 
• Pullach (German Federal Intelligence Service Headquarters) -5 
• Rheinhausen -7 
• Stockdorf -7 
• Strassburg -7 
• Vogelweh, Germany 


• Gibraltar -7 


• Iráklion, Crete 


• Finegayan 

Hong Kong 

• British Consulate, Victoria ("The Alamo") -7 


• Keflavik -3 


• Charbatia -7 


• Herzliyya (Unit 8200 Headquarters) -5 
• Mitzpah Ramon -7 
• Mount Hermon, Golan Heights -7 
• Mount Meiron, Golan Heights -7 


• San Vito -6 
• Sorico 


• Futenma, Okinawa 
• Hanza, Okinawa 
• Higashi Chitose -7 
• Higashi Nemuro -7 
• Kofunato -7 
• Miho -7 
• Misawa 
• Nemuro -7 
• Ohi -7 
• Rebunto -7 
• Shiraho -7 
• Tachiarai -7 
• Wakkanai 

Korea (South) 

• Kanghwa-do Island -7 
• Osan -1 
• Pyong-dong Island -7 
• P'yongt'aek -1 
• Taegu -1 -2 -6 
• Tongduchon -1 
• Uijongbu -1 
• Yongsan -1 


• Kuwait 


• Ventspils -7 


• Vilnius -7 


• Amsterdam (Technical Intelligence Analysis Center (TIVC) Headquarters)-5 
• Emnes -7 
• Terschelling -7 

New Zealand 

• Tangimoana -7 
• Waihopai -1 
• Wellington (Government Communications Security Bureau Headquarters -5 


• Borhaug -7 
• Fauske/Vetan -7 
• Jessheim -7 
• Kirkenes -1 
• Randaberg -7 
• Skage/Namdalen -7 
• Vadsø -7 
• Vardø -7 
• Viksjofellet -7 


• Abut -1 
• Goat Island, Musandam Peninsula -3 
• Khasab, Musandam Peninsula -3 
• Masirah Island -3 


• Parachinar 


• Galeta Island -3 

Papua New Guinea 

• Port Moresby -7 


• Terceira Island, Azores 


• Kigali 

São Tomé and Príncipe 

• Pinheiro 

Saudi Arabia 

• Araz -7 
• Khafji -7 


• Kranji -7 


• Pico de las Nieves, Grand Canary Island -7 
• Manzanares -7 
• Playa de Pals -3 
• Rota 

Solomon Islands 

• Honiara -7 

Sri Lanka 

• Iranawilla 


• Karlskrona -7 
• Lovön (Swedish FRA Headquarters) -7 
• Muskö -7 


• Merishausen -7 
• Rüthi -7 


• Quemoy -7 
• Matsu -7 
• Shu Lin Kuo -5 (German Federal Intelligence Service/NSA/Taiwan J-3 SIGINT
service site) 


• Adana 
• Agri -7 
• Antalya -7 
• Diyarbakir 
• Edirne -7 
• Istanbul -7 
• Izmir -7 
• Kars 
• Sinop -7 


• Aranyaprathet -7 
• Khon Kaen -1 -3 
• Surin -7 
• Trat -7 


• Kabale 
• Galangala Island, Ssese Islands (Lake Victoria) 

United Arab Emirates 

• Az-Zarqa¯ -3 
• Dalma¯ -3 
• Ras al-Khaimah -3 
• Sir Abu Nuayr Island -3 

United Kingdom: 

• Belfast (Victoria Square) -7 
• Brora, Scotland -7 
• Cheltenham (Government Communications Headquarters) -5 
• Chicksands -7 
• Culm Head -7 
• Digby -7 
• Hawklaw, Scotland -7 
• Irton Moor -7 
• Menwith Hill, Harrogate -1 (RSOC) 
• Molesworth -1 
• Morwenstow -1 
• Westminster, London -7 
• (Palmer Street) 
• Yemen 
• Socotra Island (planned) 


-1 Joint facility operated with a SIGINT partner. 

-2 Joint facility partially operated with a SIGINT partner. 

-3 Contractor-operated facility. 

-4 Remoted facility. 

-5 NSA liaison is present. 

-6 Joint NSA-CIA site. 

-7 Foreign-operated "accommodation site" that provides occasional SIGINT
product to the USSS. 

Tell us what you think. editor@villagevoice.com