Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Russia captures U.S. intelligence-collection vehicles

Russia captures U.S. intelligence-collection vehicles

On August 18, Russian troops who captured the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti destroyed a Georgian naval vessel and captured 21 Georgian soldiers. The Russians also captured another prize, five U.S. Marine Corps Humvees that were providing signals intelligence and electronic warfare assistance to Georgian forces. Along with the Humvees and their classified equipment, the Russians also obtained important and highly-classified encryption codes used by the United States and NATO to scramble their military and diplomatic communications. U.S. intelligence sources told WMR that the Russians obtained an intelligence windfall from the capture of the Humvees.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe called for Russia to immediately return the vehicles. The Pentagon refused to admit how many Humvees had been seized by the Russians and stated the vehicles were at Poti awaiting shipment back to the United States. However, there are other reports that the Humvees were involved in fighting between Georgian troops and Russian troops in Abkhazia. The Humvees have reportedly been transported to Moscow where their equipment and communications codes will be analyzed.

On August 15, three days before the Humvees were captured, WMR reported: "the National Security Agency (NSA) maintained a series of SIGINT intercept stations in Georgia that were directed at Russian communications." On August 8, WMR reported that NSA had issued orders for SIGINT equipment in Georgia to be destroyed: "WMR has learned that the 'Georgia shop' at the 'National Security Agency (NSA) Texas' complex, the former Medina Regional Security Operations Center in San Antonio, has issued orders that in the event of a full-scale Russian invasion of Georgian territory, all signals intelligence (SIGINT) equipment stationed in Georgia and which has been aimed at intercepting Russian communications in the Caucasus region, is to be destroyed and NSA personnel evacuated." The NSA order apparently did not reach the Marine Corps Reserve unit in Poti.

The Humvees belonged to a Marine Corps Reserve unit and are reportedly Special Operations Forces (SOF) Intelligence Vehicles that contain satellite communications equipment and intelligence analysis workstations via which ground personnel can access intelligence databases, including those that contain imagery intelligence from reconnaissance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and orbiting satellites.

It appears that the Marines were engaged in an intelligence cover mission officially billed as a program to train Georgians to drive Humvees before their deployment to Iraq. The cover mission was officially called the Georgian Stability and Sustainment Operation and was based out of the Krtsanisi Training Center, about 6.5 miles outside of Tbilisi.

White House warnings and State Department demarches are unusual in a case involving normal Humvees lost in a battle zone. The high-level interest in the Humvees seized indicates that the Bush administration, as with the U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries electronic intelligence plane forced to land by China in 2001 after it collided with a Chinese MiG fighter, has been responsible for the compromise of yet more classified signals intelligence and cryptographic material.