Tag Archives: signal intelligence

Welcome to the Next Middle East War

Well, it’s already started. The many wars in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran are beginning to come together into one single, bigger conflict. We are on the road to another war.

The shadow war, which has been going on between Iran and its sworn enemies, Israel and America, ever since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution now looks like escalating. In the last few weeks there have been ominous military, naval, diplomatic and psychological-warfare developments on all fronts. The omens are not good; we seem to be heading for a major bust-up not very far from here.

Intelligence officers use a system called an ‘Indicators and Warnings board’ to monitor events and assess where they are heading. Essentially it is a list of key questions, listing the critical information requirements. Examples might be:

• Are the potential enemy’s warplanes bombed-up and armed?
• Are the pilots on weekend leave?
• Is radio traffic normal?
• Have reservists been called up?

The answers are traffic-light coded – green for normal, amber for abnormal activity and red spelling danger.

Today, the I&W board for the Middle East is not looking encouraging. From Tehran to Tobruk the war drums are beating. Iran, as ever, is at the heart of the problem.

Should another red star be added to the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf?

The narrow Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important oil chokepoint because of the large volumes of oil that pass through the strait. In 2018, its daily oil flow comprises 21 per cent of global petroleum liquids consumption. China’s gluttonous need for fuel makes the Gulf indispensable to Beijing.

This puts Iran in a strong position geographically; and for decades Tehran has been threatening to block the Straits. In July 2018, Tehran hinted that Iran could disrupt oil flows through the Strait in response to US sanctions and Trump’s calls to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. A Revolutionary Guards commander warned that Iran would block all oil through the Strait if Iranian exports were stopped.

The USA has been willing to use its firepower in the past. It escorted ships here during the 1980s ‘Tanker War’. America fought its last naval battle in these waters against Iran in 1988. In July that year, the warship USS Vincennes even shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 aboard, in what Washington said was an accident. Tehran said it was a deliberate attack.

This summer has seen Iranian attacks on tankers with the result that now the US Navy is putting together a coalition of nations to counter a renewed maritime threat from Iran.

This US move to build a maritime multinational force to patrol the key sea route across the Strait of Hormuz prompted outrage in Tehran. Iran’s Foreign Minister blamed the US, insisting that ‘any extra-regional presence is by definition a source of insecurity’ and that Iran ‘won’t hesitate to safeguard its own security.’ The result is that tankers are now being convoyed down the Straits. All it needs now to spark fighting is some out of control Revolutionary Guard commander chancing his luck – and the Iranian RGC is a law unto itself.

This is demonstrated daily in Syria, where the long arm of Tehran now reaches as far as the Israeli border. For months now an undeclared low intensity war has been waged by the Israelis, systematically targeting Iranian weapon dumps, training camps and missile sites across Syria. Unfortunately Netanyahu’s professed strategic goal – ‘the removal of all Iranian forces from Syria’ – is fantasy. The result is a dangerous instability, because Israel is confronting a nasty dilemma. An enemy sworn ‘to drive Israel into the sea’ is camped on his borders; and every day that Tel Aviv does nothing to pre-empt Iran’s expansion makes the potential enemy stronger.

Netanyahu has been steadily raising the stakes, ostensibly with the aim of forcing Iran back to its own turf. But what does Israel seek to achieve? Removing Iran’s forces from the entire Middle East? Changing the Iranian regime?

What kind of American backing can Israel expect? Israel is now upping the ante. It was undoubtedly responsible for recent explosions at Iran-linked sites in Iraq. Sabotage or air strikes were involved and Israel stands at the top of the list of potential culprits. Israel is on the verge of expanding its anti-Iran campaign from Syria deep into Iraq to check the threat from the Islamic republic. But any Israeli action in Iraq comes with high risk that it could ignite a major regional war.

So the danger of crossing the line between limited and full-scale warfare between Israel and Iran grows daily more likely, especially now that Hezbollah – Tehran’s Shi’a proxy, currently running Lebanon – appears to be gearing up for a missile strike on Israel’s cities.

To make this devil’s brew more dangerous still, Iran – smarting from increased US sanctions – is now openly accelerating its drive to get a nuclear weapon. The Mad Mullahs, hell bent on war, can just about be contained; but the Ayatollahs with a bomb? For Israelis that is a chilling step too far. It threatens the country’s existence. Israel has made it very clear: it will not allow an Iranian bomb – by force if necessary.

Others in the region are equally nervous of any Atomic Ayatollahs. Sunni Saudi Arabia has the money and technology to build a bomb quickly to deter the Shi’a of Iran; and only last week President Erdogan openly hinted that of Turkey has an interest in obtaining a bomb, adding to worries about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

If this were not bad enough, everywhere you look in the Middle East there are many other dangerous flashpoints, many of them already the scene of fierce fighting. In Yemen, Sunni fights Shi’a (Saudi versus Iran), as the Houthis become part of Iran’s regional proxy warriors. On the Syrian border, Turkey is already busy fighting the Kurds. Gaza and the West Bank still simmer with anti-Israeli anger. Israel has already mobilised some reservists as a cornered Netanyahu looks for a grand gesture – probably a demonstration of Israel’s military might – to help him form a government after the recent elections.

Even sleepy little Cyprus, sitting secure in the eye of the hurricane, is now feeling the heat. Drawn by the lure of black liquid gold, powerful allies are now jockeying for position. Ankara suddenly finds itself having to confront a Greek-Cypriot defensive alliance of Israelis, Egyptians, Greeks and Italians – plus France and the USA – all hungry to get their hands on the spoils of the huge natural gas reserves off the coast. Gunboats now protect the Turkish prospecting ships as a symbol, a warning and a deterrent.

The truth is we are sitting in the middle of a region set to explode at any moment, thanks to an aggressive Iran-sponsored build-up. The plan appears to be to force Israel to concentrate on dealing with threats to its civilian population – from rocket barrages and commando raids – from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza. Consequently, Israel would not be able to focus on blocking the principal surge when it comes.

Now even China is involved. Beijing considers Iran to be its strategic partner in the greater Middle East and vital to China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ across Asia. The PRC knows that the Iranian network of roads, railroads and pipelines all the way to the Mediterranean is a major contribution to the ‘New Silk Road.’ But now, Beijing is becoming increasingly concerned by the sudden possible slide to war caused by Iran’s regional ambitions.

It may not come next week, it may not come next year, but be in no doubt, the Middle East is gearing up for a major war. And it’s important to remember that for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, according to their scriptures, a final battle between good and evil will usher in God’s brave new world, free from sin.

The place for this battle? The ancient city of Megiddo, better known by its Greek name – Armageddon – a real, geological location in Israel….

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Use Your Intelligence

Just like the tip-off which led to the MPs’ expenses scandal in the UK, it was a simple telephone call to The Telegraph that started the political drama that has blown Whitehall, Westminster and the media ‘commentariat’ apart. Former Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson, hotly denies leaking any details of the Government’s dealings with Huawei, but amid the uproar over the sacking we seem to have entirely lost sight of the real scandal it exposed.

If ever there was a case for leaking something – whoever was responsible – the Huawei telecoms scandal is it. This is a case that goes to the heart of the UK’s national interest: awarding a fat contract, with serious security implications, for the new 5G (fifth generation) high-speed advanced communications systems, to an unreconstructed Communist state. The UK is offering a potentially hostile government the chance to infiltrate our most sensitive national communications. Theresa May, against the advice of her senior defence and security Cabinet ministers, wants to hand over the development of Britain’s digital infrastructure – including sensitive intelligence traffic – to a company that is nothing less than a front for Chinese intelligence.

Much worse, the decision stinks of political corruption. It turns out that the three fat cats of Huawei in the UK – Lord Browne, Dame Helen Alexander and Sir Andrew Cahn – will all benefit financially from being hired by the company. Palms have been greased. Huawei has bought its way into Britain’s elite: all three have close links to the cosy Westminster and Whitehall political-financial cabal, as well as both Tory and Labour party leaders.

The main cheerleader lobbying for Huawei turns out to be a Tory MEP, Nirj Deva, who encourages Huawei to turn up in MEPs’ offices uninvited, handing out cards and invitations. ‘It’s unbelievable; full on lobbying …’ complained a Brussels insider.

There is no doubt that Huawei has serious form over collecting secret intelligence and mis-using its computer hardware.

The battle over the latest 5G technology is becoming a 21st-century arms race. These new systems are much quicker than the current networks, allowing for rapid data downloads and controlling the sophisticated AI robots and self-driving cars that will dominate our future.

The fear in Washington is that if China, through Huawei, can gain access to these networks, it will give the PRC the capability to attack and disrupt UK communications. There are already concerns over the networks being used for spying and surveillance, as well as Huawei handing over critical information about Western countries to the Chinese government

Vodafone recently revealed that Huawei had supplied it with computer hardware with secret ‘backdoors’ that allowed Huawei unauthorised access to the carrier’s communications network in Italy. Vodafone asked Huawei to fix the backdoors. Huawei said the problem was accidental, but the backdoors weren’t fixed the next time Vodafone checked.

These computer ‘backdoors’ are easy to understand. You can put anti-virus software on to your computer or smartphone to prevent anyone from accessing your data or spying on you. But if the hardware has been built to respond to its maker, then your ‘front of house’ software apps are worthless. The machine is nicking your information out of the backdoor and spying on everything you do or say without you realising. That’s what Huawei does.

Worse, Huawei works directly for the Chinese government. Last December their Chief Financial Officer, Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Vancouver. She was charged with covering up Huawei’s links to a firm that was secretly trying to sell equipment to Iran in defiance of US sanctions. She now faces extradition to America.

The arrest of Meng and calls for her extradition quickly involved officials in Beijing. What was a supposedly ordinary businesswoman’s arrest suddenly became an international incident. China issued a formal diplomatic protest and the official Xinhua news agency attacked Canadian PM Justin Trudeau for ‘letting this nasty thing happen’

Washington knows what is going on. ‘Communications now networks form the backbone of our society and underpin every aspect of modern life,’ said Garrett Marquis, the spokesman for the National Security Council. ‘The United States will ensure that our networks remain secure and reliable.’

The USA has urged its allies not to use Chinese equipment. Washington fears that Huawei’s equipment would enable China to spy on the USA or its allies and use cyber attacks to disrupt industries like power, transportation and manufacturing. Rob Joyce, a senior adviser at the US National Security Agency, warns that allowing Huawei to supply 5G technology was like handing China a ‘loaded gun’. The USA has even threatened to withdraw from cooperation with its allies if they install Huawei equipment on telecommunication networks. Australia quickly banned Huawei, citing the fact that Chinese law forces technology companies to hand over network data to help the Chinese government with ‘intelligence work.’

A recent study by London’s Royal United Services Institute said it would be ‘naive’ and ‘irresponsible’ to allow Huawei access to Britain’s 5G networks. But tin-eared, soon-to-be-replaced Prime Minister May thinks she knows better – or she has been got at. The big danger is that her decision is risking UK’s national security – and the country’s special relationship with the USA – because the Huawei scandal has already thrown Britain’s unique relationship with US intelligence into jeopardy

The USA means business. The State Department raised the stakes by threatening to stop sharing intelligence if the UK pushed ahead with Huawei’s involvement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns that America, which is the lead member of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing group, will refuse to share information with the UK if it decides to use Huawei technology in sensitive areas. Washington ‘would not be able to pool its findings with countries that decide to use Huawei equipment for fear it would not be secure.’

This development is a bombshell. To journalists, the ‘special relationship’ conjures up all kinds of ill-informed drivel. However, to professionals it means just two deadly serious things: intelligence and nuclear policy.

The ‘special relationship’ started in August 1941 with the Atlantic Charter, an agreement between Churchill and Roosevelt to share intelligence. Since then those intelligence links have become deeply entrenched.

The secret treaty was renewed by the BRUSA Agreement (1943) and the UKUSA Agreement (1946) between the UK and the USA. Since then, this alliance of intelligence operations has widened to include Australia, Canada and New Zealand, cooperating with the UK and the USA, mainly in signals intelligence, and known as the ‘Five Eyes.’

Britain ‘punches above its weight’ globally for two principal reasons: as a victor in 1945, plus its nuclear and intelligence power. That guarantees a seat at the UN Security Council. Take away access to global intelligence and that looks vulnerable. Britain gets access to the US Fort George G Meade’s above top-secret signals intelligence and shares its own sigint ‘take’ with the USA. Ironically a lot of that comes from the British Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus, with their extraordinary reach and propagation over the Middle East and Russian Federation. GCHQ officers are deeply embedded in the US NSA signals intelligence agency and vice-versa.

The old Joint Air Reconnaissance Centre, now the Defence Intelligence Fusion Centre (DIFC) in Cambridgeshire, gets free access to much of the top secret US satellite product. MI6 shares its human intelligence with the CIA at Langley and MI5 relies heavily on counter-jihadi terrorist intelligence from the FBI, plus a number of US intelligence agencies. The brutal truth is that the UK needs access to US intelligence far more that the US needs to share its own product with Britian. To defy the White House over intelligence is the equivalent of chucking the crown jewels into the Wash.

And for what? To save the Treasury a few bob and to enrich Mrs May’s sleazy political chums? Whoever leaked the Huawei scandal was doing Britons a favour.

‘Intelligence’ can have several meanings: this one is madness.