Did NSA Help Russia Target Dudayev?

By Wayne Masden
Covert Action Quarterly 1997 No. 61, p 47-49.


The former Soviet Air Force general knew the rules. When talking on the portable satellite telephone bought for him by his Islamist Refab Party allies in Turkey, he had to keep conversations to an absolute minimum. Nothing less than his life depended on it. Chechen leader Dzokhar Dudayev was especially aware of the capabilities of the Ilyushin-76 aircraft and its A-50 Mainstay radar to pinpoint his phone's signal- The plane and its suite of equipment was the Soviet version of the more sophisticated US AWACS electronic warfare aircraft.

Four times during the first three months of 1996, the Russians had tried unsuccessfully to lock onto Dudayev's phone signal- But the general never gave the Russian army's vast array or signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft and mobile vans enough time to conduct radio direction finding ("Dfing") to determine his exact location.

Dudayev had good reason to be nervous. Both Moscow and the West wanted a quick end to the Chechens' two-year long war for greater autonomy. The conflict had become a mini-Afghanistan. It was draining the lives of hundreds of Russia's young soldiers, the country's precious cash reserves, and Yeltsin's chances for winning the June 16 1996 presidential election against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.

The West too was eager to keep the Chechen conflict from contributing to a Communist victory at the polls. For president Clinton, who also faced reelection a Communist win was especially unwelcome. The rallying cry of "Who lost Russia to the Communists" would be heard over and over again at the Republic convention and campaign tallies and would certainly be used against him in the televised debates.

To make matters worse the Chechens were dealing the Russians some devastating battlefield blows. In mid April Dudayev had severely bloodied the noses of the Russians when his forces (including some mujahedin volunteers from Pakistan) attacked the Russian Army' s 245th regiment convoy with anti-armor grenades from both side perches near the town of Yarysh-Mardy. After the attack, some 90 Russian troops were dead and another 50 wounded- A few civilian women and children who were travelling with the convoy were also killed.

The Yarysh-Mardy attack would become Russia's worst defeat of the Chechen conflict, topping even the bold Chechen attack of June 1905 on Budennovsk, within Russia itself, and assaults within the neighboring republic of Dagestan- It was also making Yeltsin and the army look impotent.

Yeltsin, Clinton, and Yeltsin's other close ally, E German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. All needed a quick fix to the Chechen problem. Yeltsin blamed the Russian military for the defeat at Yarysh-Mardv and began to extend peace feelers to Dudayev. While the president was huddled with Clinton and other Group of Seven leaders in Moscow. he told the press that be was ready to cut a deal. King Hassan II of Morocco agreed to act as an intermediary. Face-to-face meetings with the Russians were too dangerous for Dudayev; negotiations would be conducted over the rebel leader's heretofore stealthy satellite telephone.

Yeltsin's peace gestures sounded good to Dudayev. Perhaps too good. Soon he was on his satellite telephone to discuss Yeltsin's peace offerings with Hassan and Konstantin Borovoi, a liberal Duma deputy who served as Dudayev's Moscow intermediary.

During the evening of April 21, Dudayev went outside his headquarters, a small house near the village of Gekhi Chu, some 20 miles southwest of Grozny, the Russian occupied Chechen capital. At 8:00 p.m., he phoned Borovoi in Moscow to discuss Yeltsin's latest olive branch. "Soon, it could be very hot in Moscow," he told Borovoi. "Do you live in the center?" 2 In the center and even next to the Interior Ministry, Borovoi responded. "You should probably move out for the time being," Dudayev warned. Dudayev may have been telling Borovoi that a Chechen attack on the Interior Ministry was imminent. "That's out of the question, Dzhokar Mussayevich, Borovoi responded, using the familiar Russian term of address. Then Dudayev said, "Russia must regret what it is doing." Borovoi's line suddenly went dead. 3 This time, Dudayev had stayed on the phone too long.

Dead shot

Just seconds before what were to be the Chechen's last words, a Russian Sukhoi Su-25 jet, armed with air-to-surface missiles, had received his coordinates. It locked on to Dudayev's phone signal and fired two laser-guided missiles. As one exploded just a few feet away, shrapnel pierced Dudayev's head. He died almost immediately in the arms of one of his bodyguards.

There was immediate speculation that the signal from Dudayev's satellite phone had been beamed directly into the sensitive ears of a satellite which relayed his coordinates to the jet. According to Agence France Presse, a source inside Chechnya's rebel government charged that, the attack was carried out by the Russian secret services with the participation of the spy satellite services of certain Western countries.

Martin Streetly, editor of Jane's Radar and Electronic Warfare Systems, thought that the state of the Russian armed forces would preclude it from accurately pinpointing Dudayev's location. 5

The Russians had previously tried some less advanced methods to kill Dudayev and failed. On one occasion, Dudayev had been given a knife with an electronic horning device embedded in the handle but it was discovered before Russian aircraft could lock in on the signal. 5

Suspicion centered on the US and the National Security Agency's Vortex, Orion, and Trumpet, the world's most sophisticated (SIGIIIT) spy satellites.

They were partially designed to intercept the mobile telephone systems used by the big brass in the Soviet and Warsaw Pact high commands. The NSA SIGINT birds were, therefore, extremely useful against the kind of telephone Dudayev had been given by his Turkish friends. Furthermore, the US and Britain were the only Western countries with sophisticated SIGINT satellite capabilities. (In fact, Britain's Government Communications headquarters merely "rents time on the NSA's Vortex satellite so it is arguable whether London has its own independent SIGINT satellite capability.)

According to intelligence analyst Mark Urban, the NSA and Orion SIGINT coverage of Chechnya was more comprehensive than that of Bosnia. The NSA has concentrated its Vortex and Orion SIGINT Iraq and Kuwait since the Gulf War. 7

It would not have taken much to steer some of the orbiting SIGINT satellites Eavesdropping on Iraq to a position slightly north over the Russian Caucasus mountains.

A French counter terrorism specialist concurred that the US was the only country with satellite technology that could pinpoint Dudayev's location within a few meters of his satellite telephone transmission. After Dudayev was reported killed by the Russians, a US State Department spokesperson scoffed at rumors that the Chechen president might still be alive. He stated unequivocally that he was "certain" that Dudayev was dead. 8

Clinton's presence in Moscow on the day Dudayev was killed did little to curb suspicion.

Partners in Crime

If in fact the NSA did share SIGINT with Boris Yeltsin in would not have been a first. Before the abortive coup against Gorbachev in 1991 the NAS had reportedly intercepted and decrypted messages transmitted by anti- Gorbachev coup plotters Vladimir Kryuchkov of the KGB and Dmitri Yazov, the defense minister. President Bush reportedly ordered the messages delivered to Yeltsin who placed so much faith in them that he warned Gorbachev to expect a coup before year's end. Gorbachev ignored Yeltsin's advice. 9

Clinton had also shared SIGINT information with Yeltsin. On a May 199? visit to Moscow, the US president showed Yeltsin intelligence reports on Iran's nuclear weapons program gleaned from NSA eavesdropping on Iranian communications with foreign companies that had also sold nuclear weapon's technology' to Pakistan. NSA also routinely provides sanitized signals intelligence information to the commander of the Russian contingent within NSA'S implementation Force in Bosnia. The Russian military has apparently been quite impressed with the quality of the NSA intelligence it is receiving. 10

Nor is Russia the only country to be so favored. According to Professor Desmond Bell of Australia National University, US intelligence is actively training Chinese SIGINT specialists in the Second Department of the General Staff Department of the Central Military Commission in the finer science of communications intelligence gathering. The training facility, states Bell is located near San Francisco. 11 This cooperation is hardly good news to the pro-democracy of Hong Kong, Tibetan, Inner Mongolian, and Eastern Turkestan Activists who are fighting against Beijing.

There have also been reports of NSA and CIA providing high-grade intelligence to help Peru and Mexico battle their respective insurgencies. The most recent example to come to light is in Peru. According to Aviation Weekly and Space Technology, after Tupac Amaru rebels seized the residence of the Japanese ambassador, a CIA operated spy plane tracked their movements and monitored the hostages.

The Air Force RG-8A aircraft which used a forward looking camera at night also detected rebel planted mines and booby traps. The 29-foot single engine aircraft are very quiet and carry high resolution television cameras or multispectral sensors that observe non-visible light. They have been used for years in secret operations and by the US Coast Guard in anti-drug operations.

In 1988, NSA helped its Australian counterpart, the Defense Signals Directorate, to set up a remote SIGINT station at Baniaga, on the tip or Cape York in northern Queensland. One of its main purposes was to listen in on the radio transmissions of the secessionist Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). The BRA has been fighting for independence from Papua New Guinea since 1975 when Australia granted Papua New Guinea independence. 13

NSA has reportedly maintained a SIGINT liaison and advisory relationship with Sri Lanka's Directorate of Military Intelligence and National Intelligence Bureau since the early 1980s. Sri Lanka's SIGINT agencies have used us manufactured SIGINT and DF equipment to intercept the citizens' band radios and walkie-talkies used by Sri Lanka's insurgent groups, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the People's Liberation Organization Tamil Eelam. 14

NSA's sharing of cellular phone SIGINT with Russia and other countries not noted for their human rights records, including China, Peru, and Mexico may become more commonplace if Washington gets its way. According to David Banisar of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., the FBI, under the Provisions of the Communication's Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). is trying to force cellular communications companies to ensure that their cell-phones will be able to locate users within 500 feet. "This will turn every-body's cell phone into a bugging and tracking device," Banisar contends.

The popularity of cell phones is rising in countries with poor communication infrastructures. Not surprisingly then, pro-independence human rights. and democracy movements are also relying on this dependable means of communications- however given the current and future ability of the NSA and other intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on cellular calls and pinpoint their locations, these groups are obviously putting themselves in jeopardy.

Furthermore, the sharing of such SIGINT information with regimes that target political leaders for murder calls into question the presidential prohibition which unequivocally bans the US government from using political assassination.

Box:[ Shhhhhh! The sensitivity surrounding possible US intelligence sharing with Russians was evident at an Information Warfare Conference held at McLean Virginia on May 14, 1996 just weeks after Dudayev's assassination. During a speech, I told the assembled military and intelligence officials that the age old are of radio-direction finding was far from dead. As an example I cited the direction finding used to locate Dudayev's INMARSAT (International Maritime Satellite) phone transmission. After the session, an air force lieutenant colonel assigned to the NSA approached the lectern to berate me for discussing sensitive matters in an open forum. "Don't you realize we have people on the ground over there?" he protested. "Your talking about things that could put them [NSA employees and contractors] in harms way. They could be targeted by terrorists!" I responded that I was merely repeating information from a Reuters news story. You shouldn't believe that bullshit" he shot back. A diplomatic security source in Britain with ties to GCHQ reports that he received a slightly similar, if less rude response from a US Air Force intelligence officer in London. "He pretty much confirmed the Chechen thing (US involvement) but was generally very evasive.. WM ] end box.

Wayne Madsen is an Arlington, Virginia based journalist who specializes in intelligence matters, communications, computer security, and privacy.

1. Joseph Albright. "Tit for tat" Revenge May Have Killed Chechen leader, "Austin American-Statesman (Texas) April 28, 1996, p.A17.
2. Agence France Presse, Rebel Leader Alluded Terrorism in Moscow Moments Before Death, April 26, 1996.
3. ibid.
4. Agence France Presse, Dudayev's Satellite Phone Was His Doom," April 24, 1996.
5. Patricia Reaney, "Defense Experts Question how Dudayev Was Killed, Reuters World Service, Apr. 24, 1996
6. Phil Reeves, "The Best Thing I could Do is Die," The Independent (London), April 25, 1996, p. 11.
7. Jeffrey T. Richelson, A century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century (New York; Oxford University Press, 1995), p.418.
8. Agence France Presse, "Dudayev's Satellite Phone,..." op cit. The specialist is not identified in the Moscow filed report.
9. Seyrnour Hersh "The Wild East" Atlantic Monthly, May 16,1994, pp.84-86.
10. For Iran: Jim Hoaglund "How Pakistan helped Iran, and Clinton Alerted Yeltsin" International Herald Tribune (May 18, 1995) and for NATO: Rick Atkinson, "GIs signal Bosniards: Yes we're listening," Washington Post, March 18, 1996, P.A14.
11. Desmond Ball, "Signals Intelligence in China" Janes' Intelligence Review, v.7 n.8 Aug. 1995 p. 367
12. "CIA Operated Spy Plane" reportedly Aided Peru Embassy Rescue," May 5, 1997.
13. Interview with Desmond Ball, Feb 1996.
14. Desrnond Ball, "Signals Intelligence in Sri Lanka," Strategic Intelligence, v. XVIII, n.8, Nov. 1995 pp. 1089, 1105.


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