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Intelligence ops in Baghdad show need for physical security back home

By Dan Verton
April 8, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The U.S. Central Command today declined to offer details on how U.S. military forces were tipped off to an alleged meeting of Saddam Hussein and his top aides yesterday. But sources indicated today that physical taps on telephone and fiber-optic landlines in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad may have played a role.
"We have a number of methods that we use to gain information," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said during today's Central Command press briefing. "A single source is never adequate, so we have multiple sources."
Bombing missions near civilian targets also require that somebody on the ground "see" the target, he said.
The process by which the CIA and the military determined the likely location and time of an Iraqi leadership meeting is known in intelligence parlance as all-source fusion -- a process by which human intelligence, surveillance, imagery from satellites and aircraft and intercepted communications form pieces of a puzzle that help officials understand what's happening on the battlefield. It is the last piece, communications intelligence, that experts say may have played a key role in targeting Saddam.
"Tapping a fiber-optic cable without being detected, and making sense of the information you collect, isn't trivial but has certainly been done by intelligence agencies for the past seven or eight years," said John Pescatore, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. and a former National Security Agency analyst. "These days, it is within the range of a well-funded attacker, probably even a really curious college physics major with access to a fiber-optics lab and lots of time on his hands."
The importance placed on fiber-optic communications cables in Baghdad by the Iraqi regime dates to the first Gulf War in 1990. Saddam quickly realized that the U.S. was capable of intercepting most radio and wireless communications, and as a result, worked to avoid detection by hiring French and Chinese companies to install a fiber-optic backbone that is closely integrated with the civilian telephone network. That makes it difficult for intelligence services to determine the separation point between civilian networks and the government's command-and-control networks.
U.S. intelligence agencies or their foreign adversaries have in the past employed physical taps on fiber-optic and telephone cables to gain intelligence. In 1955, during what was known as Operation Gold, the CIA tunneled under the border between East and West Berlin to tap phone lines used by Soviet intelligence. Likewise, during the early 1980s, the CIA's Operation TAW involved the tapping of a top-secret communications center outside Moscow by placing listening devices on cables in sewer tunnels.
Fiber-optic cables use light



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