Foreign Affairs

Iran Jams Satellites, Cell Phones

U.S. war planners are closely watching Iran’s improving ability to jam communications signals, be it satellite TV broadcast, cell phones or the Internet.

The U.S. wants to know if Tehran’s techniques could some how foil military electronics in the event air strikes are ordered to disable Iran’s growing number of nuclear research and enrichment sites.

The Pentagon has updated a contingency war plan, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates has all but ruled out such a risky operation.

Elements of the U.S. intelligence community now have special cells devoted to analyzing Iran’s growing military might. One is located at the Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville.

Its mission reads:  "The National Ground Intelligence Center produces and disseminates all-source integrated intelligence on foreign ground forces and related military technologies to ensure that U.S. forces have a decisive edge in current and future military operations."

A military source, who ran intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, told HUMAN EVENTS that Iran’s ability to shut out commercial TV and radio signals of its choosing is impressive.

But being able to use jamming technology against U.S. military satellites is a much taller order.

"We use frequency hopping," the source said. "That means we actually broadcast our transmissions for one ten thousandth of a second then change to another frequency. That means unless they have our codes to know what frequencies we are rolling to and when., they cannot jam us."

But the BBC and the Voice of America, two of those being jammed, do not operate in secrecy and provide an easier target.

Iran can overpower their frequency at the satellite or the ground receiver level with a stronger microwave signal of white noise and static. It "forces" them to accept that frequency over the weaker one, the military source said.

"The most challenging part is identifying exactly where the satellite is and what frequency it is operating on, but that is certainly within their capability," the source said.

Cutting off cell phones and the Internet is perhaps easier. The hard-line government controls ground control stations and can simply turn off the software, preventing relay connections to a satellite.

The Islamic regime has resorted to communications blackouts more often in recent years. The ruling mullahs are trying to tap down a burgeoning pro-democratic movement that has taken to the streets to protest last year’s supposed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejah and to demand more freedoms.

The Iran-produced static has stymied not only the BBC Persian-language broadcasts and VOA, but also Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda, a U.S.-financed Persian broadcast, and Radio Sawa, also a U.S.-funded station that speaks in Arabic.

In a joint statement last week, broadcasters said:

"We condemn any jamming of these channels. It contravenes international agreements and is interfering with the free and open flow of international transmissions that are protected by international treaties. The Iranian authorities are using the same satellite services to broadcast freely around the world including broadcasts in English and Arabic. At the same time they are denying their own people programs coming from the same satellites from the rest of the world."

As satellite TV, and its hundreds of stations, proliferated in the 1990s, the Iranian regime banned dish receivers. But that has not stopped thousands of Iranians from procuring and operating the easily concealed devices.

The military source said Iranians also have become experts at defeating the shut down. The evidence? Digital phone-camera footage of demonstrations and the brutal regime crackdown have shown up on the Internet.

Iranians can defeat the jamming by linking to cell phone towers close to the Iranian border and by transmitting via satellite phones, which are more difficult to jam.

"Iran has attempted a near total information blockade," said State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley. "It is clear that the Iranian government fears its own people."

At a Feb. 12 press briefing, the day after another Iranian crackdown on demonstrators, Crowley said,

"I think what you saw yesterday was Draconian steps by the Iranian government to suppress the people of Iran and their ability to assemble freely and to voice their concerns about their own government and its actions. We think these are universal rights and we think that it’s important for the Iranian people to continue to have the ability to communicate, to network, to use technology to hold their government to account."


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