Libya Caught Jamming Sat-Phonesby Noah Shachtman, blog.wired.com
April 9th 2007
If you’re traveling in a place like Iraq, the easiest way to get in touch with the outside world is with a Thuraya satellite phone. But for six months last year, Thuraya’s signals were jammed by a mysterious adversary. But now, Space News reports, investigators have discovered the source of the jamming: the Libya government, a shareholder in the phone company.
Industry officials said that because of Thuraya’s operations in the Middle East, and because Thuraya’s owners include government-owned telecommunications operations from most Arab and Muslim governments in the region, the jamming was immediately assumed to be of U.S. or Israeli origin.
But as the weeks passed and the jamming did not cease or change characteristics, Thuraya was forced to maneuver its large satellite, located at 44 degrees east in geostationary orbit, to try to isolate the location.
“What you can do is turn the satellite slightly to see whether it changes the strength of the jamming signal,” said one official. “As you perform the maneuver, you watch to see when the signal increases or decreases and this allows you to begin to determine the geographic location of the problem.”
Officials said that once this was done, Thuraya deployed representatives to visit the areas where the jamming antennas were thought to be, and found that at least one of them was a Libyan military installation. “They were denied access to the site and told to turn around,” one industry official said. “It was later determined that there were three sites performing the jamming operations, not just a couple of guys acting on their own. Having a shareholder do this was certainly not what we expected…”
Officials said the jamming ceased only in late August 2006 after a diplomatic initiative made by the government of the United Arab Emirates to the government of Libya.
“Once the diplomatic channel was employed the problem was solved in a very short time,” one official said. “Those doing the jamming were apparently concerned that smugglers carrying Marlboro cigarettes or other contraband from Chad or Niger into Libya were using Thuraya satellite phones. They wanted to disrupt their operations and thought this was a way to do it. I don’t know whether they even realized the effect this was having on the Thuraya signal way beyond the borders of Libya.
This isn’t the first time the Libyans have interfered with western satellite signals. About a year-and-a-half ago, the Qaddafi regime blocked a dissident radio broadcast out of London — "knocking off air dozens of TV and radio stations serving Britain and
Europe and disrupting American diplomatic, military and FBI
communications," in the process. A recent presentation by the executive director of the Satellite Industry Association mentioned "Libya Jamming of US Satellites for Blackmail." That’s news to me. Anyone else heard of that?
(High five: Vic)
Original Page: http://blog.wired.com/defense/2007/04/if_youre_travel.html
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