During the Cold War there were hundreds of secret remote listening posts spread around the globe. From large stations in the moors of Scotland and mountains of Turkey that were complete with golf balllike structures called “radomes” to singly operated stations in the barren wilderness of Saint Lawrence Island between Alaska and Siberia that had only a few antennae, these stations constituted the ground-based portion of the United States Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) System or “USSS.”
Operated by the supersecret National Security Agency (NSA), these stations were designed to intercept Morse Code, telephone, telex, radar, telemetry, and other signals emanating from behind the Iron Curtain. At one time, the NSA contemplated a worldwide, continuously operated array of 4120 intercept stations. While the agency never achieved that goal, it could still boast of several hundred intercept stations. These included its ground-based “outstations,” which were supplemented by other intercept units located on ships, submarines, aircraft (from U-2s to helicopters), unmanned drones, mobile vans, aerostats (balloons and dirigibles), and even large and cumbersome backpacks.
With the collapse of the Communist “bloc” and the advent of microwaves, fiber optics, and cellular phones, NSA’s need for numerous ground-based intercept stations waned. It began to rely on a constellation of sophisticated SIGINT satellites with code names like Vortex, Magnum, Jumpseat, and Trumpet to sweep up the world’s satellite, microwave, cellular, and high-frequency communications and signals. Numerous outstations met with one of three fates: they were shut down completely, remoted to larger facilities called Regional SIGINT Operations Centers or “RSOCs,” or were turned over to host nation SIGINT agencies to be operated jointly with NSA.
However, NSA’s jump to relying primarily on satellites proved premature. In 1993, Somali clan leader Mohammed Farah Aideed taught the agency an important lesson. Aideed’s reliance on older and lower-powered walkie-talkies and radio transmitters made his communications virtually silent to the orbiting SIGINT “birds” of the NSA. Therefore, NSA technicians came to realize there was still a need to get in close in some situations to pick up signals of interest. In NSA’s jargon this is called improving “hearability.”
As NSA outstations were closed or remoted, new and relatively smaller intercept facilities such as the “gateway” facility in Bahrain, reportedly used for retransmit signals intercepted in Baghdad last year to the U.S. sprang up around the world. In addition to providing NSA operators with fresh and exotic duty stations, the new stations reflected an enhanced mission for NSA economic intelligence gathering. Scrapping its old Cold War A and B Group SIGINT organization, NSA expanded the functions of its W Group to include SIGINT operations against a multitude of targets. Another unit, M Group, would handle intercepts from new technologies like the Internet.
Many people who follow the exploits of SIGINT and NSA are eager to peruse lists of secret listening posts operated by the agency and its partners around the world. While a master list probably exists somewhere in the impenetrable lair that is the NSA’s Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, it is assuredly stamped with one of the highest security classifications in the U.S. intelligence community. W.M. & J.V.
The United States SIGINT System (USSS)
The following list is the best unclassified shot at describing the locations of the ground-based “ears” of the Puzzle Palace. It is culled from press accounts, informed experts, and books written about the NSA and its intelligence partners. It does not include the numerous listening units on naval vessels and aircraft nor those operating from U.S. and foreign embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions.
NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland
Buckley Air National Guard Ground Base, Colorado
Fort Gordon, Georgia (RSOC)
Imperial Beach, California
Kunia, Hawaii (RSOC)
Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico
San Antonio, Texas (RSOC)
Shemya, Alaska -3
Sugar Grove, West Virginia
Winter Harbor, Maine
Two Boats -1
Bamaga -6 -7
Canberra (Defense Signals Directorate Headquarters) -5
Kojarena, Geraldton -1
Pine Gap, Alice Springs -1
Shoal Bay, Darwin -1
Al-Muharraq Airport -3
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mapharangwane Air Base
British Indian Ocean Territory
Diego Garcia -1
Bandar Seri Begawan -7
Masset -6 -7
Ottawa [Communications Security Establishment (CSE) Headquarters] -5
Korla -1 -6
Qitai -1 -6
Brac� Island, Croatia -6
Zagreb-Lucko Airport -7
Ayios Nikolaos -1
Almindingen, Bornholm -7
Dueodde, Bornholm -7
Dahlak Island -1 (NSA/Israel “8200” site)
Addis Ababa -1
Kourou -7 (German Federal Intelligence Service station)
Bad Aibling -2
Bad M�nstereifel -7
Pullach (German Federal Intelligence Service Headquarters) -5
British Consulate, Victoria (“The Alamo”) -7
Herzliyya (Unit 8200 Headquarters) -5
Mitzpah Ramon -7
Mount Hermon, Golan Heights -7
Mount Meiron, Golan Heights -7
San Vito -6
Higashi Chitose -7
Higashi Nemuro -7
Kanghwa-do Island -7
Pyong-dong Island -7
Taegu -1 -2 -6
Amsterdam (Technical Intelligence Analysis Center (TIVC) Headquarters)-5
Wellington (Government Communications Security Bureau Headquarters -5
Goat Island, Musandam Peninsula -3
Khasab, Musandam Peninsula -3
Masirah Island -3
Galeta Island -3
Papua New Guinea
Port Moresby -7
Terceira Island, Azores
S�o Tom� and Pr�ncipe
Pico de las Nieves, Grand Canary Island -7
Playa de Pals -3
Lov�n (Swedish FRA Headquarters) -7
Shu Lin Kuo -5 (German Federal Intelligence Service/NSA/Taiwan J-3 SIGINT service site)
Khon Kaen -1 -3
Galangala Island, Ssese Islands (Lake Victoria)
United Arab Emirates
Ras al-Khaimah -3
Sir Abu Nuayr Island -3
Belfast (Victoria Square) -7
Brora, Scotland -7
Cheltenham (Government Communications Headquarters) -5
Culm Head -7
Hawklaw, Scotland -7
Irton Moor -7
Menwith Hill, Harrogate -1 (RSOC)
Westminster, London -7
Socotra Island (planned)
-1 Joint facility operated with a SIGINT partner.
-2 Joint facility partially operated with a SIGINT partner.
-3 Contractor-operated facility.
-4 Remoted facility.
-5 NSA liaison is present.
-6 Joint NSA-CIA site.
-7 Foreign-operated “accommodation site” that provides occasional SIGINT product to the USSS.
February 24 – March 2, 1999
jason vest and wayne madsen A Most Unusual Collection Agency
Copyright 1999 The Village Voice – all rights reserved.