Monday, March 1, 2010

Old Docs, New Images Reveal China Spy Base

Defense News


Old Docs, New Images Reveal China Spy Base


TAIPEI — New imagery updated on Google Earth has unveiled the location of a Chinese signals intelligence (SIGINT) base on the Chinese coast directly across from northern Taiwan.

Declassified U.S. CIA reports obtained by Defense News confirm the identity and purpose of the facility, located 140 kilometers from Taiwan at 25 degrees, 24 minutes, 55.48 seconds north by 119 degrees, 37 minutes, 53.81 seconds east.

Its primary mission is to collect electronic intelligence (ELINT) and communications intelligence (COMINT) on Taiwan and military vessels transiting the Taiwan Strait, said Desmond Ball, a SIGINT specialist at Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.

Though the two CIA documents are dated 1965 and 1969, the new imagery confirms the base is still in operation. Described as a “coastal hill” in the documents, the facility is 415 meters above sea level.

“This site location is unique in that it is the closest high point on the mainland of China to Taiwan,” the 1965 CIA report states.

The documents call it “Tachiu” and “Tung-Ching-Shan,” but a “better, more modern Pinyin alternative would be ‘Daqiu,’ which is actually the name of the village just west of the site,” said Ian Easton, a China military specialist at the Project 2049 Institute in Washington. “The facility actually sits on Dongjing Shan, which means ‘East Capital Mountain.’”

According to the 1965 report, the site covers 2 acres with about 50 antennas of different configurations. Photos in the documents indicate excavations for what could be two underground entrances, but openings are not visible in the new imagery on Google Earth, Ball said.

The 1965 CIA report states the facility performs “passive ELINT intercept to be directed against northwestern Taiwan with primary emphasis in the area of Taichung and Hsinchu ... a probable Chicom [Chinese Communist] attempt at intercept of Chinat [Chinese Nation­alist or KMT] air-to-ground communications.” Today, Taiwan’s 499th Tactical Fighter Wing operates Mirage 2000-5 fighters from Hsinchu Air Force Base, and its 427th Tactical Fighter Wing flies Indigenous Defense Fighters from Taichung Air Force Base.

Based on new imagery available from Google Earth, the Chinese facility has grown and been upgraded. “Overall, it is a very large facility in terms of numbers of antennas, quite comprehensive in its coverage from high frequency up to super high frequency and doing both ELINT and, COMINT,” Ball said.

Comparisons between the CIA reports and new imagery of the site indicate there is a “new tower to the north with the dome on top, slightly smaller than the central one,” which “would be UHF and [super high-frequency] ELINT,” Ball said.

A number of radomes at the site were not there in the 1960s. The primary radome is 38 meters wide.

“The new radomes would be cov­ering the upper UHF and the [super high-frequency] bands. So, basically, the new systems have extended the coverage of the facility into these higher bands, matching the evolution of communications and radar technology also into these bands,” he said.

“Note that the 39 antennas identi­fied in the 1969 report were primarily VHF, though some of the parabolic antennas probably extended up into the UHF band,” Ball said.

“I am assuming that some and probably many of the 23 masts of unidentified function were for [high-frequency] reception, supporting wires that simply don’t show up in this photography. The central large, tall tower was and still is probably doing VHF ELINT, with a variety of antennas on its top.” A comparison of the Google Earth imagery with photos in the 1969 CIA report shows that many of the same antennas remain.

“I think that the new radomes are supplementations, not replace­ments, for the older antennas,” said Ball.

“In addition, the Google Earth imagery shows another tall tower at the end of the curly road to the northwest, and maybe six to eight radomes and dishes — four white ones in the complex north of the central tower, three shadows evincing radomes or dishes in a line in that same complex, perhaps one on the east side of the central tower, and perhaps a couple in the farm on the west side,” Ball said.

A Taiwan defense official confirmed the existence of the facility and said countermeasures have been taken. Taiwan’s military has upgraded security of its communications over the past 10 years under the Po Sheng C4ISR modernization program.