Article: Proposed FCC Ruling May Hurt National Security?

The new FCC ruling on removing the baud rate limit on HF has some opponents. In a complaint to the FCC, NYU professor Dr. Theodore Rappaport complains that removing the baud rate may be a concern to national security interests. From his official letter:

The public records in the above cited proceedings make clear how the evolution of undocumented, proprietary transmission technologies such as Pactor and Winlink, ARDOP, Winmor, STANAG, and other HF transmission schemes that use controlling software (e.g., Winlink, which was designed for secure commercial and government maritime mobile radio systems) have created a national security problem in the amateur radio service, such that 3 rd parties (e.g. other ham radio operators, or the FCC listening stations, themselves) cannot intercept and decode over-the-air transmissions when used in the popular Automated Repeat Request (ARQ) mode. Thus, Winlink with Pactor, and Winlink with ARDOP, Winmor, STANAG, or other modulations, cannot be intercepted or deciphered, over-the-air, by other amateur radio operators or the general public, thereby enabling users of the amateur radio service to provide obscured, private communications.
He goes on:
In my personal conversations with FBI and FCC officials, they admit they also are unable to readily decode these types of transmissions. In my discussions with vendors of amateur radio equipment, they tell me that they are concerned about purchases of amateur radio equipment by criminal cartels, and that they believe it is happening daily.
If they’re unable to decode them, it’s out of sheer incompetence. That shouldn’t be surprising- it’s certainly not to me. The software is open source, and although controversial when it was introduced, even Winlink has been long since accepted by the FCC provided records are kept of the transmissions.
But the second part of that statement- associating amateur radio with seditious activity- now that’s interesting. And a tell for the entire complaint. The fact that he included this statement means he’s not concerned about the digital encoding, he’s concerned about who’s using it. And that comes down to one’s definition of ‘criminal cartels’. Since he works for NYU and addressed the complaints to Senators Mark Walker and Tim Kaine, one wonders exactly who he’s really targeting.
Hackaday got it right:
It doesn’t seem especially related to us that upping or removing bandwidth limits would necessarily result in national security problems per se. First, the airwaves aren’t exclusively American. So while the FCC can control radio operators in the United States, that isn’t the entire problem. Second, enforcement is lax but doesn’t have to be and anyone who really wants to compromise national security will probably flaunt the law anyway. And finally, anyone who really wants to send secret messages can probably do it over other means and/or use steganography to conceal their encoding.
The FCC rule change is designed to improve efficiency on the bands- something anyone should want to get behind. If he’s really concerned about criminal cartels, he’d be better off writing to Tim Kaine asking him for a special counsel investigation into his own campaign’s use of amateur radio.

14 thoughts on “Article: Proposed FCC Ruling May Hurt National Security?

  1. RFA

    My interpretation of this is the laying of the groundwork to prohibit/outlaw the use of amateur radio in the US, like various countries such as Mexico and other places, primarily dictatorships where TPB want to control and dominate the populace, and we know you have to control the comms to do that.

    Kinda like what happened here in the US, and Germany during WWII, where SW radios were outlawed and the use of amateur Radio was prohibited by US citizens:

    Given this position, what is your suggestion to folks who are not familiar with these modes, to obtain now, and learn, that will cover the 80% of comms?

    Which systems/software/etc., to gather and at least have in place before this becomes a reality?

  2. F4N-4EVER

    Not for reprint- Great article! I see two tangents. First, any agency, with a need to decode a transmission, should need a warrant, or T-3 court order. This forces accountability on the decoder tangent. Key word-accountability. Next, you are correct any law enforcement agency worth their salt, has the appropriate decoding equipment. And trained personnel. This leaves the feebs out on several fronts. Equipment, training, and accountability. DEA has the equipment, (Posse, Rattler, Rumba, systems), the training, and the accountability to use the cartel com systems against the cartels. Tied into their T2S2 system, operating under court order/authorization. And purely directional so that nothing inside the U.S., more than a mile North of the border, is intercepted. But- The feebs had the democrats order the system shut down because of who the cartels were talking with inside the U.S. …at the Deputy Director level. The cartels have full, Israeli trained TSCM teams. And their com systems, from their command posts covering each Plaza AO, are routed through ACU-1000’s. Or as the cartels call them- akoo meels! Every hotel in Mexco, that gringos stay at, are fully wired, monitored, and recorded. If you use an explorer near field scanner, or video sniffer while traveling in Mexico, it will amaze you. If the decoding is recorded, and made evidence accountable, it’s real real hard for the feebs to disappear the evidence. The cartels initially went with 256 bit encryption, but it slowed down coms during firefights. So they dropped back to frequency inversion, and four point freq hopping. If you have four receivers, each with freq inversion, you can usually figure out the Hz steps in the hopping. So, personal opinion- the people complaining about the increase in transmission security, don’t have a leg to stand on. That, and if the vacuum cleaner in the sky wants you, they’ll get you! Keep up the great work! Respectfully, Jared Kusaila DEA retired, Houston

  3. Absolutely brilliant rejoinder by Hackaday! The reality is that I (or anyone) could use a OTP and transmit their own ‘numbers station’ in the clear if they wanted to engage in cryptographic communication. At this point, the argument is just how convenient we want to make it for someone to communicate via crypto methods. If anyone wants to talk about something criminal — it’d be leaving my new Pactor IV modem in Pactor III mode for the rest of its life. Now that’d be criminal.

  4. What they can’t beat they legislate against.
    All in the hope that when the rule of law collapses we will all be good little bunnies and continue playing to their rules.

    How naive and so typically stupid of government.

    Yet when that time comes, is their plan to go around confiscating guns and radio equipment?
    That they can probably do in a third world island like the UK, but in the land of the long gun?
    Good luck with that.

  5. Brother, have you considered offering online courses? I seriously would pay $300+ for one of your courses online. I say this mostly in regards to travel, I can’t afford to fly out to NC and you rarely come out this way (ID). If you put all your courses online that would be awesome.

      1. Please keep me updated then, I don’t want to miss it on accident. I’m still catching up from losing my job back in October, I have a new remote job as of 3 weeks ago so we are good now and I’m going through all the old articles on using Feedly. Yeah, I would jump on any of your courses in a second! 😀

      2. I’ll actually be announcing them pretty soon. The first one is local/line of sight based, explaining how to build a local network and we’re prospectively going to do it right after the new year.

  6. Hoss

    Firstly I second the idea for online classes. Travel is a prohibitive issue for me and yet I would gladly budget classes from NC Scout.
    It would seem inevitable that technology would evolve and efficient wave forms with increased baud rate are inevitable. To say they would somehow enhance unlawful use of the air waves is a spurious argument. That’s like saying a 4ghz PC CPU is more likely to be used by criminals than a 2ghz CPU. Someone could send OTP numbers via CW and it would be just as difficult to decrypt; maybe more so as there is no machine to process the data and the operator has to be skilled.
    It’s an open not-so-secret agenda to limit civil rights by those who have the most to lose by a free populace; maybe amateur radio comms will be in the arena of cultural battles we see with firearms, free speech, et al.

      1. What ncscout said. Get an Optoelectronics if you can afford it. Otherwise the MFJ will work just fine.
        Signal Stalker/Spectrum Sweeper/Close Call-capable scanners have pretty much replaced frequency counters for COMINT purposes, but an Optoelectronics Digital Scout has a quick enough trigger time to “near-field” detect frequency hopping emitters, which the scanner won’t do. Even the older Scout40 picked up a 900 MHz. Motorola DTR at 120 feet.
        A $20 RTL-SDR will detect FHSS stuff even further away than that with a proper antenna, but isn’t as portable.

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