Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Myers Case Brings More Bad PR for Short Wave Radio

Last week (June 18), the Washington Times ran a somewhat oversimplified and overwrought story regarding the role of HF radio in the recent arrest of a Cuban spy couple.

Anyone with any sophistication in this matter knows they're in for a rough ride when they see the headline:

EXCLUSIVE: Cuban spies' shortwave radios go undetected
Low-tech transmissions no big deal for U.S. intelligence

This, of course, is simply nonsense. The US FBI and possible other agencies have carefully monitored Cuban "numbers" for years. If they haven't made a big deal, it's because the US intelligence community is not in the habit of treating its national security operations as just another reality show. You'll never see "Spooks," where (between lengthy commercial breaks) we see people recording funny voices and Morse code from Cuba.

The story goes rapidly downhill from there:

"While some countries have moved to computer-based communications [for clandestine operations], Havana still largely relies on shortwave broadcasts," Mr. Simmons said.

The International Amateur Radio Union said there are more than 700,000 amateur radio operators in the United States.

"Simmons," of course, is Chris Simmons, a recently retired US counter-intelligence agent specializing in Cuban espionage. He knows his stuff, and everybody quotes him. And, indeed, the IARU may be right on the US ham count. So what? Is the reader supposed to connect these two and assume that hams are all smuggling information out of the country? How many hams even transmit on HF? (I haven't in years, due to urban interference and antenna issues.)

While we do have evidence of an M08a schedule from inside the US, its time and frequency would not support propagation back to Cuba. I've always thought it might be a relay to someone who can only listen in the dead of night and with the simplest equipment. What we do know, thanks to Mr. Simmons, is that Cuba probably has a lot more deep-cover recruits in the US than one would expect from such a small nation.

It gets better:

Though shortwave operators are required to have licenses to transmit in the United States, many do not, said one shortwave user, adding that used equipment is readily sold online.

This, again, may even be true, but there's no evidence whatsoever that the Meyers couple, or any of the others, actually transmitted messages back to Cuba. Well, we know that Meyers made dead drops in shopping carts and switched to Internet cafes. Nowhere in any reports of any of these cases does anyone ever mention transmitting.

There's more at the link. Especially humorous is the photo of their idea for a "covert short wave receiver." We are supposed to tremble and quake at the image of this nasty spy device, but I can't stop laughing. As part of their punishment, maybe we should make the Meyers actually try to copy V2 on this thing!

For some REAL information on the Meyers spy bust, check out Larry Van Horn's Shortwave Central blog. He has excerpts from the actual publicly filed criminal charges. Once again, key evidence consists of duplicates of known Cuban "numbers" transmissions found in the suspects' possession.

Doesn't look to me as if secret covert insidious spook nasty short wave is ignored by US intelligence.