Sunday, May 25, 2008

PT I: Hezbollah & Clinton era DTSA...
6 Degrees of Separation?

May 22nd turned into an odd cascade of bizarrely related events. Greg Grant over at Tribal Wars drew my attentions to a WSJ article with his post ... Communications Networks and Irregular War. Simultaneously on the Hill, Hawaii's Sen. Akaka was giving a speech on Dodd's Export Enforcement Act of 2007. The link between these two events is not only a "six degrees of separation" convergence, but may potentially span events and whistle blowing from over a decade ago.

From Grant's Tribal Wars article:

You think irregular fighters realize the force multiplier effect of a secure communications network? An interesting article in todays Wall Street Journal details Hezbollah's victory in Lebanon. I found the bit about Hezbollah's comms network, and the lengths they went to wire the country with fiber optic, fascinating. After the fighting in 2006, it was obvious command and control was one of Hezbollah's strong points. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah apparently calls the network the group's "No. 1 weapon."

"Fascinating"? I was beyond fascinated... Something started clicking upstairs. More from the referenced WSJ article:

Hezbollah reached a bargain with the weak Lebanese government that essentially gave the Islamic group veto power in a new government to be formed.

The deal comes two weeks after Hezbollah flashed its military might by seizing Beirut neighborhoods to protest efforts to rein it in. The trigger was unusual: Hezbollah was expanding a secret communications network, and the government wanted it dismantled.

Okay... Hezbollah's getting a more powerful foot in the door with veto powers. Got that. But what was that about a "secret communications network"??

The catalyst for Lebanon's recent spasm was the government's discovery several months ago that Hezbollah was secretly expanding a network that could provide secure communications in times of battle. The network, the fight it sparked and Wednesday's resolution provide a dramatic illustration of Hezbollah's surging power in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Siniora ordered the network dismantled in early May. He also ordered the dismissal of an airport official his government labeled an ally of Hezbollah. After Hezbollah's violent response -- it seized neighborhoods, then handed them over to the neutral army -- the government was forced to rescind both orders last week.

To paraphrase the next events, the suspicions were raised last year when the Telecommunications Minister got a tip that there were spools of fiber optics being purchased in a southern Lebanon village. After investigations and reports of mysterious workers doing installations over private lands, they discovered that Hezbollah had expanded the network to over 200 miles... wireless, and safeguards to continue even if damaged in times of war.

State officials always knew Hezbollah had a wireless network communication system direct to Syria. However they thought it "limited" and not a threat. In fact, they had reported it to the UN some years ago.

However they had no idea the scope of the secret expansions - with miles of cable laid under the newly paved roads. A feat accomplished in conjunction with the
Iranian Headquarters for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, who's completed about 400 reconstruction projects in the country since 2006. Needless to say, the Lebanese government officials are most unhappy.

The telecom minister said some of the equipment was imported from "the West," declining to be specific. Lebanese officials also believe Iran supplied some.

Since the government's public challenge to the network, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has left little doubt of its importance. In a news conference May 8, he defended it as a vital weapon against Israel, whose occupation of southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 helped give rise to Hezbollah.

Calling the system Hezbollah's "No. 1 weapon," the black-turbaned leader declared that "it is forbidden to touch [anything] linked to the networks, whether an engineer, a company or a mayor. Touching them is like touching me."
Meanwhile, back on the Hill... Sen. Akaka says:

...snip... The U.S. export control system is a relic of the Cold War and does not effectively meet our national and economic security needs.

Recent examples demonstrate the challenges of controlling sensitive exports. Dual-use technology has been diverted through Britain and the United Arab Emirates, UAE, to Iran. A recent attempt by two men to smuggle sensitive thermal imaging equipment to China shows that Iran is not alone in its desire for sensitive technology. However, the effort to control the flow of dual-use technology goes beyond our borders. Working with the international community is critical as technologies which were once only produced in the U.S. are now being produced elsewhere.

Let's see. Syria, Iran, China, telecommunications, imports from west, US export controversies. I feel the dust blow off a few brain cells, filled with hazy memories... This is not a new story. YES! Got it! Dr. Peter Leitner. A Clinton era whistle blower who achieved considerably less fame, nor the revered iconic status awarded to la femme Plame. A rather warped reality when you consider Valerie's concern and "damage" was centered on, and confined to, her personal life. That's if you call book deals, movies and lucrative private enterprises... "damage".

But Leitner and his whistle blowing subject - export licensing - is considerably less sexy and appealing to Joe Q. Public. The nation was captivated with the dramatized "outing" of a domestic-based, paper-pusher-and-personnel-recruiting spy with a good set of gams. "Ho hum" about export licensing and a few radios, right?

So I once again dug out some old links under "Syria" I had stored for the Paul Sperry WND article, "US Equipped Terror Sponsors" back on Sept 12, 2001. Leitner was discussing how the Clinton admin "rubber-stamped the shipment of top-end military-related telecommunications equipment to Syria". Much of this article bears repeating today, almost seven years later.

"We're giving them spread-spectrum radios, which are almost impossible to break into. We're giving them fiber optics. We're giving them a high level of encryption. We're giving them computer networks that can't be tapped," Leitner said.

Spread-spectrum radios, originally designed for military use only, change their frequency constantly.


Leitner posits that the NSA wasn't able to detect the Islamic terrorists' plot because of the "high quality of the communications gear that they've been acquiring over the last couple of years, thanks to the Clinton administration's decontrols on advanced telecommunications equipment."

Terrorists' secured telecom gear "makes it infinitely more difficult to get even early warning signs" about their activities, he said.


"I've testified to Congress that it will take serious numbers of body bags before we wake up to the need to tighten dual-use export controls," he said. "Unfortunately, we've got them now."

"This is so tragic and yet so preventable," he said. "Now we're going to have to knock out their [terrorist] camps, just like we had to bomb the Iraqis several times now to try to take out the fiber-optics network that the Chinese are installing in Iraq's air-defense systems."

"Yet, it was the Clinton administration that gave the Chinese the technology to give to Iraq," he noted.

This was 2001. Just three months earlier that year, now under the early Bush admin, the Commerce Dept was still asking Leitner to okay "exports of dual-use telecom equipment to Syria".

He denied the request, and was asked to reconsider. He denied it again, arguing in a letter to Karen Vogel, the Commerce export licensing officer who requested the approval, that:

"Doing so vastly upgrades the C3 and C41 systems of the Syrian military and Intelligence Services. My concerns are also obviously compounded by the fact that Syria is one of the foremost state sponsors of terrorism."

Leitner continued: "Since an 'upgraded telecom infrastructure' will also greatly facilitate Syrian planning, coordination, secrecy and execution of terrorist acts, as well as direct military communications, I see absolutely no basis for any position other than a denial."

Vogel argued in an earlier letter that her request came on the heels of eight previous approvals of licenses for similar exports to Syria.

Which brings me back to the Hezbollah/Syria network. A network "secure in times of battle" suggests to me technology such as spectrum spread with it's random changing frequencies. Fiber optics? Could it be that this network was undetectable by Israel's usually superior intelligence? And, if equipped with masking technology, how likely is it that we, ourselves, managed to provide the very equipment that allows the enemy to... yet again...plot right under our noses? All this 7 years after 911?

Part II is the story, as much as I can piece together, of Leitner - both before this article, after and where he is now. What he had done and tried to do in the 90s, and what the Commerce and admin officials did to him.

But most importantly, what is the status today of these lackadaisical export regulations that allows the enemy to not only hide their plans, but potentially put dual use nuclear weapon technology within their reach?

Stay tuned for Part II... coming soon.

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