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Some time ago a country that was once so anti American was accepted back into the fold and all past transgressions were forgotten. The assets of that country which had lain frozen in numbered accounts around the world were unlocked and the USA began to “Do business” with Lybia once more. The sudden change of political direction was unexplained but was thought to owe more than lip service to Libya’s vast oil reserves.
According to White House sources somehow Lybia had demonstrated that it was no longer a partner in the “Axis of evil” and was in fact an influence to be nurtured in the conflicting interests of North African politics. The relaxation of sanctions and restrictions to trade made it possible for Lybia to engage in a massive “Catch up” that it had previously been denied. Retail outlets began to fill up with consumer goods that many western countries now take for granted and “Technology” arrived by the truckload.
Computers and mobile phones were two of the most important “Must have” requirements and in a desert which most of Lybia is there was a requirement for a distant cousin of the mobile phone that most are familiar with, satellite phone. There was however a problem a, for some reason the satellite phones of one network were almost inoperable.

The Thuraya satellite communications company had for a large part of 2006 suffered a succession of problems with its network and at first no reasonable explanation could be found for what appeared to be a “Simple technical glitch”. The concern about the inexplicable failure of this particular network grew because in the Afghan and Iraqi theatre of military operations that same network was being used by the allied forces on the ground and a failure to communicate there could cause a catastrophic loss of the lives of allied military personnel and also compromise the security of information as the same system was often used to access computer systems and transmit faxes. It was vital that the riddle was solved and quickly.

The Thuraya Satellite Communications company is based in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and one of its larger shareholders is Lybia, curiously a technical investigation by the company in conjunction with Boeing’s satellite division [who built the satellite] concluded that the signals from the Thuraya satellite were being jammed and the jamming was very definitely deliberate and targeted at their system.
The Company between February and October 2006 was trying to expand into the Asian market and though it already had two satellites was about to deploy a third in June 2006 but if they could not determine the source of the jamming which by May 2006 was beginning to disrupt the L band used for military communications then the system could not maintain the reliability level required.

The revenues of the company began to fall dramatically and though it was known that a campaign of intentional interference was being directed their system it was unclear just where the interference originated.

Satellite communications are a growing means of international communication and jamming or to give it the credence that satellite communications companies use “Piracy” has been a problem in the past but it is usually short lived.  To jam a signal all that a hijacker would need to do is to transmit a replacement message/program on the same frequency as the original message. Most of the time it will result in the neutralisation of the proprietors signal but sometimes the hijackers message can replace the intended transmission. In this case the message was replaced.

The interference lasted some six months from February 2006 until August. The explanation for the interference however could have been interpreted as a coincidental mistake or it could be seen as a “Cover Story” for something that was intended all along. Taken as an isolated incident the explanation fitted the facts but if taken together with other incidents that had happened it is possible that a wider more malevolent intent was the purpose.

In the Far East, APT Satellites and Asia Sat have both experienced hijacking of their TV signals by various groups of dissident Chinese organisations.
The Syracuse system used by the French Military have also admitted to problems of a similar nature but maintain that their Com-Sats have anti jamming programs that neutralised the attempted hijackings very quickly.
Recently China conducted what they referred to as an experiment when they targeted a Chinese weather satellite and destroyed it in orbit, it could so easily have been a communications satellite.
There is now a growing market in the provision of “Narrow banded” anti hijacking technology but there is still a time lag between the systems determining if the interference is accidental or intentional and the anti intrusion measures being deployed to regain control.

In the case of the Thuraya failure it was that delay that caused the failure because the
point of origin could not be pinpointed. Thuraya already had the co-ordinates of the suspected origin but as many of Thuraya’s customers/partners were either Arab or Muslim it was first thought that the jamming was an American or Israeli operation to disrupt communications or collect intelligence. The truth of the matter was as unexpected as the final location of the source.

Thuraya contacted Boeing Satellite Systems division to determine the source, Boeing retasked the Thuraya and rotated it through 44 degrees in its geo-stationary orbit whilst tracking the interference to determine if it strengthened or weakened in its intensity.
The result pinpointed three separate and distinct sources, all of them located inside Lybia two of the locations were quasi military but at least one was very definitely inside a military installation. Representatives of Thuraya were sent to investigate but found that far from being an accidental source of interference it was an intentional hijacking by a government that was a shareholder in its own company.

The protestations were elevated to a diplomatic level very quickly and diplomats approached the Lybian government from the United Arab Emirates, the jamming ended in August 2006.
The explanation given for the motives for the hijacking was as bizarre as the interference itself. A Lybian government source maintained that smuggling operations along its borders were becoming a problem. Marlboro cigarettes, alcohol and various contraband were being smuggled into Lybia from Niger, Chad and some of Libya’s near neighbours. It was thought that the means of communication being used by the smugglers was satellite phones; the system targeted was the Thuraya system though there are other systems that were unaffected. The Lybian government maintained that the intention was to disrupt the smuggling operation and they had no knowledge of the effect that their operation was having upon the signals beyond its own borders.

For some strange reason the UAR diplomats accepted the explanation given and the interference stopped as mysteriously as it had started in August 2006. The Lybian government has declined to comment upon the episode, the UAR are reticent upon the matter, Boeing will not discuss it and it is as if it did not take place as far as Thuraya are concerned.
It was perhaps the most sustained attempt ever made to jam a satellite telephone system and maybe with its military connotations the most dangerous. It contained the most feared scenario that the Pentagon had already attributed to other states contained in the “Axis Of Evil” that of having its forces on a killing ground, deaf, dumb and blind amidst an enemy that had retained communication. It was an opportunity to study their worst nightmare under war-zone conditions for whatever bizarre reason it occurred yet the White House and the Pentagon have remained silent upon the incident.
Curriously the Thuraya satellite phone system is not only used by allied forces on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan but also by customers like Osama Bin Laden,his number is 00873-682505331 strangely no one can contact him........wonder why?


Posted: April 11, 2007 

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