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The joys of wiretapping for intelligence


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#1 m2mike

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Posted 19 February 2005 - 02:59 AM

http://news.yahoo.co...tealing_secrets

White House - AP Cabinet & State
AP
USS Carter Will Be Able to Eavesdrop

Fri Feb 18, 5:50 PM ET

White House - AP Cabinet & State

By JOHN J. LUMPKIN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The USS Jimmy Carter, set to join the nation's submarine fleet on Saturday, will have some special capabilities, intelligence experts say: It will be able to tap undersea cables and eavesdrop on the communications passing through them.

The Navy does not acknowledge that the $3.2 billion submarine, the third and last of the Seawolf class of attack subs, has this capability.

"There are limits to what I can say on the sub's capabilities, but let's just say the Jimmy Carter is uniquely capable to perform missions vitally important to the war on terror," said Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., a former CIA (news - web sites) officer whose district includes Groton, where the sub was built.

But intelligence community watchdogs have little doubt: The previous submarine that performed the mission, the USS Parche, was retired last fall. That would only happen if a new one was on the way.

Like the Parche, the Carter was extensively modified from its basic design, given a $923 million hull extension that allows it to house technicians and gear to perform the cable-tapping and other secret missions, experts say. The Carter's hull, at 453 feet, is 100 feet longer than the other two subs in the Seawolf class.

"The submarine is basically going to have as its major function intelligence gathering," said James Bamford, author of two books on the National Security Agency.

Navy public information touts some of the Carter's special abilities: In the extended hull section, the boat can provide berths for up to 50 special operations troops, like Navy SEALs. It has an "ocean interface" that serves as a sort of hangar bay for smaller vehicles and drones to launch and return. It has the usual complement of torpedo tubes and Tomahawk cruise missiles, and it will also serve as a platform for researching new technologies useful on submarines.

The Carter, like other submarines, will also have the ability to eavesdrop on communications — what the military calls signals intelligence — passed through the airwaves, experts say. But its ability to tap undersea fiber-optic cables may be unique in the fleet.

Communications worldwide are increasingly transmitted solely through fiber-optic lines, rather than through satellites and radios.

"The capacity of fiber optics is so much greater than other communications media or technologies, and it's also immune to the stick-up-an-attenna type of eavesdropping," said Jeffrey Richelson, an expert on intelligence technologies.

To listen to fiber-optic transmissions, intelligence operatives must physically place a tap somewhere along the route. If the stations that receive and transmit the communications along the lines are on foreign soil or otherwise inaccessible, tapping the line is the only way to eavesdrop on it.

The intelligence experts admit there is much that is open to speculation, such as how the information recorded at a fiber-optic tap would get to analysts at the National Security Agency for review.

During the 1970s, a U.S. submarine placed a tap on an undersea cable along the Soviet Pacific coast, and subs had to return every few months to pick up the tapes. The mission was ultimately betrayed by a spy, and the recording device is now at the KGB museum in Moscow.

If U.S. subs still must return every so often to collect the communications, the taps won't provide speedy warnings, particularly against imminent terrorist attacks.

"It does continue to be something of a puzzle as to how they get this stuff back to home base," said John Pike, a military expert at GlobalSecurity.org.

Some experts suggest the taps may somehow transmit their information, using an antenna or buoy — but those modifications are easier to discover and disable than a tap attached to the cable on the ocean floor.

"Unless they have some new method of relaying the information, it doesn't serve much use in terms of warning," Bamford said. He contended tapping undersea communications cables violates a number of international conventions the United States is party to. Such communications could still be useful, although the task of sorting and analyzing so many communications for ones relevant to U.S. national security interests is so daunting that only computers can do it.

The nuclear-powered sub will be commissioned in a ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday at the submarine base at New London, Conn. The ceremony marks the vessel's formal entry into the fleet. The former president, himself a submariner during his time in the Navy, will attend.

After sea trials, the ship will move to its home port in Bangor, Wash.


Associated Press reporter Matt Apuzzo in Groton, Conn., contributed to this story.

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#2 natas

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Posted 19 February 2005 - 03:24 AM

wow thats some really crazy shit. but its super weird. like the people in the article say, its really weird how theyre doing it, unless they have a new way to relay the info.

underwater fiber optic cabling is gnarly.

#3 Strom Carlson

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Posted 19 February 2005 - 11:30 AM

The thing that, to me, sticks out about this idea as being thought up by a lunatic is the sheer capacity of a single fiber-optic cable pair. If they're only running OC48s, that's 32,256 voice channels to listen to. If you've got OC96, there's 64,512 voice channels, and OC192 has 129,024.

And then, of course, if they're doing wavelength-division multiplexing....

#4 Alkali Jack

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Posted 19 February 2005 - 11:46 AM

It seems odd that they say the sub has no way to get the data it gleans back to the NSA for analysis. The sub is, in fact, hooked into an enormous data path, right there on the sea floor. I don't know much about fiber optics or regulations about how undersea cable is placed, but you would think that they could find a way to insert packets into a stream that the NSA would later be able to pick up on land.

#5 ntheory

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Posted 19 February 2005 - 12:01 PM

The thing that, to me, sticks out about this idea as being thought up by a lunatic is the sheer capacity of a single fiber-optic cable pair. If they're only running OC48s, that's 32,256 voice channels to listen to. If you've got OC96, there's 64,512 voice channels, and OC192 has 129,024.

That OC192 crap is no match for 64,512 of these sexy bitches.

On top of being from a very reputable company it has a REMOTE. Oooooh... ahhhh... !

#6 Strom Carlson

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Posted 19 February 2005 - 12:06 PM

hahahahehehehehahahhahaahohgodhahahaahaha :D

*buys Memorex stock*

#7 Strom Carlson

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Posted 19 February 2005 - 12:08 PM

I went out and found this useful table of fiber capacity.

#8 hoho

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Posted 19 February 2005 - 04:15 PM

http://www.politrix....sa-fibertap.htm

#9 SUB-S0NIX

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 01:20 AM

Wow nice article M2Mike, I would have never thought of such a possible tap! Even underwater! But isnt that illegal to monitor other foreign communication? And what if they fuck up some of the fiber lines while they're placing a tap? That could cause a shit load of problems. Also, how does one tap a fiber optic line? Is it similar to tapping copper?

edit by strom: grammar grammar grammar.

#10 hoho

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 10:45 AM

The specifics of tapping fiber are classified. The link I gave mentions it briefly though.

#11 GIJoe

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 07:04 PM

But isnt that illegal to monitor other foreign communication?

Illegal? WTF are you talking about. The world is not under a single party rule, and therefore there is no universal justice system. There are many guidelines and treaties as to what countries will do, but this is just spying, which has always been going on and will continue to go on

#12 SUB-S0NIX

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 07:38 PM

I know that the world is not ruled by just one party, but then WTF is the point of all this spying and bull shit? Why cant we all be friends?

#13 paper_shredder

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 10:38 PM

what they're doing is such bullshit. i hate when the goverment just steps in like that and say they're doing it for the greater good or the war on terror or whatever they want to call it. i mean we caught a guy but we dont need him we need osama.

edited by strom: homonyms etc.

#14 phreakblaze

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 11:24 PM

I know some one who used to work for bell labs on fiber equiptment, and now works for another company selling fiber splicers and its like $3000+ hardware and he will go away for like 2 weeks making deals with companies (full expense paid trip, hells ya). As far as I know, above ground tapping is pretty complicated.

#15 sub_zenith

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Posted 21 February 2005 - 12:20 AM

I wonder if I could make a waterproof beige box.

/runs to get scuba gear :P

#16 hoho

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Posted 21 February 2005 - 09:45 AM

I know some one who used to work for bell labs on fiber equiptment, and now works for another company selling fiber splicers and its like $3000+ hardware and he will go away for like 2 weeks making deals with companies (full expense paid trip, hells ya). As far as I know, above ground tapping is pretty complicated.


Those are fusion splicers. Those are intrusive. If the NSA were to use one to tap a strand, then it would be apparant to the operators of the cable. The tools the NSA uses are far more complex, and are (supposidly) undetectable by the cable operators. I estimate that your $3000 figure is off by one, possibly two orders of magnitude.

#17 phreakblaze

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Posted 22 February 2005 - 04:49 PM

I'm not saying that the goverment is buying that type of stuff, he is the kind of guy that sells to small town telco upgrading to fiber, all I'm saying is that fiber tapping is had if just plain splicing is that hars. I prefer copper tapping any day of the week, but not underwater :D

BTW, how would underwater tapping (hell even just plain fiber tapping) work?




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