Someone is always listening.

H/T Mike Bishop-

Source- Cryptome

10 June 2014
DEA/NSA SANDKEY Voice Intercepts
A sends:
Enclosed are three images that are the heart of the NSA SANDKEY program. SANDKEY is a joint DEA/NSA program that intercepts and exploits unencrypted VHF voice communications of narco-traffickers at sea.
SANDKEY targets those communications of and between maritime vessels operating in the Caribbean and southwest waters. It may intercept communications between the mother ship and go-fast boats or between the mother ship and shore. Primarily it extracts intelligence based on voice communications and through Radio Direction Finding, vectors law enforcement asserts to the mother ship. For example, a Panama Express-South (PANEX-S) team will, through an informant, know a certain boat’s departure, SANDKEY will be tipped-off to monitor the traffic and a US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) will conduct the interdiction. SANDKEY, over it’s long-life, has detected and identified the major drug trafficking corridors in the southwest and Caribbean through direction finding and analysis.
SANDKEY is a traditional Direction Finding program and provides NSA a sense of pride in this regard.
SANDKEY is considered a great program and largely responsible for the reduced narco-trafficking by boat. The program is administered by the SANDKEY committee, which includes NSA and DEA, USCG, law enforcement, and the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) which is highly involved. EPIC receives little scrutiny but is a major intelligence player in the central and south Americas and often provides cover for CIA operations. A South American government official may not want to talk to the CIA but the DEA is usually welcomed. Given their area knowledge, expertise and language proficiency, the DEA conducts “CIA-like” clandestine and covert activities throughout Mexico, central and south Americas and is seen as a force multiplier by the US Government in that regard, freeing the CIA for other activities. There was extensive DEA/CIA collaboration when reducing the FARC problem.
The FCC, beloved of ham radio operators, is a major player in SANDKEY. The expertise the FCC has in traditional Radio Direction Finding with its CONUS collection antennas, ostensibly for enforcement of Title 47, provides such accurate geo-location that some Naval commanders on the Joint Task Forces would only interdict if the FCC provides geo-location data (the “cut”). This information is provided so American guerillas will practice appropriate OPSEC/EMSEC in the troubles to come.
This disclosure also manifests from the DEA subversion of the US Constitution through the Hemisphere/DICE fiasco. You’re not allowed to have intelligence programs anymore.
The irony of the program is the voice intercepts are translated and gisted by immigrant Hispanics, military veterans included, from those countries. It’s a nice job for them.


30 thoughts on “Someone is always listening.

    1. What wasn’t published is the level of success and the nature (ie…power level, mode, transmitting time) of the intercepted communications.

      Discipline is everything.

  1. XWizFromOz

    This is just one (terrestrial) system too, space-based assets for SIGINT collection have been in use since the 1960’s and the collection capabilities of even some of the old, long retired, systems might still surprise some people today. Directional antennas aren’t of any use against these systems, once the signal hits the radio horizon it’s headed off to space anyway. NVIS users beware too.

    And, “The FCC, beloved of ham radio operators…”. Don’t expect an enemy, foreign or domestic, to overlook the obvious either. No one is going to use multi-million dollar SIGINT assets to pinpoint RF emitters of interest before they throw a big net over all the ULS registered users in their AO, and a PO Box isn’t going to fool them.

  2. Pingback: Brushbeater: Someone Is Always Listening | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  3. Can’t you avoid being found by directional locating systems by only using very short infrequent comms? Don’t those trying to find the source of radio transmissions need more than a few seconds, or can a radio still be found if operator only uses occasional very short transmissions?

    1. You can. You can do numerous things, that we’ve discussed.

      The thing is, the guys “they’re going after (currently)” set a distinct pattern. Keeping everything flexible and changing it up infrequently, you’ll be hard to track.

      And this also doesn’t account for the skill of “those” at their job. 😉

      1. mtnforge

        The nature of the design of this signals gathering system is its applicable to any signal interception. Natural built in COIN. After all, the whole idea is control. There really isn’t enough actual criminals for the size and scope of intelligence gathering within the auspices of the federal leviathan. So you make criminals to justify the existence of budgetary requirements and political power.
        I would be surprised if there wasn’t currently drag netting of the entire Ham band. When you have a data collection/storage system, (the hammer and unlimited black budget), likes of which out in the Utah desert, world of Amateur Radio looks like a nail.

        Got to do what is been done with small infantry tactics with comms for citizen comms right?Flexible open source QRP, with meatspace cutouts, and an OODA loop theory for communications.

    2. MSEE

      ALL DF’in is done electronically.
      Nobody turns a directional antenna while watching a signal power meter anymore. How Neanderthal!
      All the electronics needs is enough signal to do a correlation on it so as to not confuse the signal of interest with other signals and you’re direction is “locked on”. Usually only a few wavelengths are needed, but more is always better and gives a higher confidence in the calculated result.

      How much “intel” can you put on a “few” wavelengths of a signal? Not enough to make this hiding technique worth a hoot.

      If you want to make things difficult go to spread spectrum comms.
      (In a nutshell: hide your signal IN the noise!) Try DF’in a signal you can’t find!

      1. Or, you use point to point communications, highly directional antennas, know how to build those antennas, and run with the lowest power possible at infrequent intervals.

        Kinda like what I’ve been talking about since day 0 of this blog.

        And actually, on the ground, in a tactical sense, lots of folks do. I actually wrote in reference to it in the post preceding this one.

        Also, if you want to be condescending or “cute”, you’ll get gone in a hurry. Roger?

      2. Wow, I thought “Rogers” post was informative and interesting, but I did not realize we must “watch our Comms” here.

        Would Sat phones be an advantage here? Or using an internet link to “hide the signal?

      3. I greatly appreciate your interest 🙂

        As for Sat Phones, my experience says no. Unless you own the Satellite.

        The problems with them are numerous; first and foremost, you don’t own the infrastructure by which they operate, meaning that most likely, they’re compromised from the get-go. Second, I’ve found them to be lacking in the reliability department.

        I work on the theorem of operating on an infrastructure you 100% control. It does indeed take work, but the best stuff always does.

  4. hypo

    A quick browse through any equipment catalog such as Textronix and a look at the Real time Spectrum Analysis tools will clue you in.

    The RSA5000 has a 100% POI Probability of Interception for any signal lasting more than 0.434 microseconds.

    Less than half of a thousandth of a second!
    Digital burst modes can be spotted.
    This is COTS, Commercial Of the Shelf stuff.
    What can the custom built equipment do?

    Carrier pigeons.

    1. MSEE

      you’re off by a factor of 1000.
      1/1000 sec = 1 millisecond = 10^-3 sec.
      1/1000 of 1/1000 sec = 1 microsecond = 1 us (abbreviated) = 10^-6 sec.
      Didja go ta publik skool? 😉

      1. Hypo

        Thanks for the corrections. I was dumbstruck by the specifications.

        How can it sample so quickly?
        Not successive approximation is it?

        My experience is an old Tek 8830 100 mhz scope with very limited DSO capabilities to 10 mhz.

        Just a general ticket for now

  5. Desert Scout

    We know how easy direction finding is for UHF and VHF communications…… But what are their capabilities at detecting HF communication via NVIS or skywave? I would assume even HF is suseptible to DF in close proximity using ground wave in the same fashion as the higher frequencies.

    1. It’s pretty easy.

      I recall in a certain uber-Patriotic doomsday survival Patriotic novel about Patriots a section claiming “skywave cannot be DF’d” and laughing to myself. Written by a former Intel Officer who should’ve known better.

      One of the maps of the linked page showed the location of the old HFDF arrays, which do what you described.

      Does this mean they can listen and catch everything and anytime you break squelch you’re a goner? No. It just points out that you for sure CAN be found, provided you either A) Get complacent or B) Act stupid from ignorance, or C) all of the above.

      If you’re a big enough pain in the rear, someone is going to put the work in to catch you.

      1. That’s actually fairly simple to do, with a mag loop you can build yourself with spare coax and a small capacitor.

        I have a very good friend who built one to isolate the source of some noise on the 80m CW portion, where he likes to work.

      2. mtnforge

        Isn’t one counter to make the hunter the hunted? Or at least develop counter tactics that waste the HFDF and signals gathering waste time and resources?

  6. Interesting but not surprising. I did a little bit of research into this and found a few interesting websites. – a discussion among hams about the FCC monitoring stations – This page has a KML file for google earth showing all the FCC stations in the US. – A popular mechanic’s article from 1992 giving a tour of one of the FCC Stations. I think it would be cool to check one of these places out if they are still running.

  7. PSYOP

    Great info here….Let us not forget CONUS based military facilities like:
    Ft Gordon, GA and
    Ft Bragg, NC
    where there are some serious SIGINT shit going on….What do you think these dudes do for fun and training…..

    That being said, with all the concern, i’d love to see/read practical, bubba scaled, TTP’s from the “switched on crowd,” that can be learned and implemented to provide better odds?

    If we don’t start now, not gonna automagically happen when it matters……

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