Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Lebanon Gets Wired

A hat tip to the gang at the Danger Room, for this item on Iran's ever-increasing presence in Lebanon.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Tehran is in the process of "wiring" Lebanon, establishing an "illegal" telecommunications network in that country. When complete, the system will allow Hizballah and Iran's SIGINT organization to monitor telephone calls throughout the country.

Lebanese concerns abut the illegal network first surfaced in a government report, and in statements by the country's telecommunications minister, Marwan Hamadeh who spoke with the Saudi paper al-Shara al-Awsat. He outlined growing SIGINT cooperation between Tehran and its terrorist proxies.

In the interview, Hamadeh added that Hezbollah was making efforts to link all the militias in Lebanon, Syria and Iran via a vast telecommunications network.

"Their goal is not security resistance. They want to connect between all the Iranian and Syrian militias and they want to eavesdrop on everyone," Hamadeh said.

The Iranian communications network has been completed in southern Lebanon, the Lebanon Valley, southern Beirut and several Christian areas in Mount Lebanon. Work is currently underway to complete the infrastructure in the northern Lebanon Valley.

According to the government report, the network is capable of tracking 100,000 numbers using a digital format in which each number is five digits long.

While the system's tracking capabilities are puny (at least by NSA or GCHQ standards), it will allow Hizballah and Iran to keep closer tabs on their adversaries in Lebanon, while improving communications between various terrorist elements in the region.

Unfortunately, the Haaretz article--and the original report in the Saudi paper--provide few details on the system. But, it's a fairly safe to assume the new network is built around fiber optic cable and other features than enhance security. Both Iran and Hizballah are acutely aware of Israel's robust SIGINT capabilities; the new system is clearly aimed (in part) at making it more difficult for the Israelis to intercept and track their communications.

We also suspect that elements of the Iranian-Hizballah network serve another purpose--improving their ability to monitor Israeli activities. To meet that requirement, it would be fairly easy to add intercept antennas and passive detection sensors to the system, and place them near the Israeli border. Information gleaned from those arrays could be passed along the new network to intel nodes serving Hizballah and Iran.

To be sure, Israel remains a difficult SIGINT target, and it's doubtful that Tehran (let alone their terrorist friends) could penetrate Israeli ciphers. However, they could gather valuable information from unclassified communications, or patterns of encrypted traffic. U.S. intelligence agencies have long suspected that Iran has an important SIGINT site in Beirut, and that hub is likely hard-wired into the new network.

While the system's primary focus appears to be inside Lebanon, its reach almost certainly extends across the border. But if the Iranian-Hizballah network poses a challenge for the Israelis, it offers an opportunity as well. No communications system is completely secure and we're guessing that Israeli spooks are already at work, looking for ways to exploit its vulnerabilities.

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