Intelligence: The Islamic War On Rocks

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January 29, 2014: On January 20th some UN peacekeepers patrolling the Israel-Lebanese border discovered what appeared to be an Israeli (it had Hebrew text on it) electronic device. It was hidden, but not well enough. It was unclear if the device was on the Israeli or Lebanese side so the UN notified the Lebanese and Israelis to come help sort this out. Lebanese troops arrived first and went to get the device. But then the Israelis showed up and threatened to open fire if the Lebanese did not pull back. All sides conferred and it was agreed that a few Israeli troops would move forward to remove the device, a process the Lebanese could observe through binoculars. By the end of the day it had still not been determined (to everyone’s satisfaction) if the device was on the Israeli side of the border.

The UN patrols a zone along the border to prevent clashes and the Israelis have long been known to hide monitoring devices on their side to keep an eye on who is doing what. Most of these devices, especially those close to the border are hidden in order to prevent their discovery and destruction (or capture if on the Lebanese side). Most are not discovered, but enough are to make the Lebanese angry and Islamic terrorists operating along the border nervous. This is especially the case with Hezbollah, the Iranian supported Shia group that is the largest Islamic terrorist group in the region.

Sometimes this nervousness turns into unintentional comedy. In 2013 Hezbollah reported that they had captured an Israeli spy. The enemy agent was an eagle with a miniature tracking device attached. The device was electronic and it was attached in Israel. It was a commonly used device for  tracking some types of animals, especially rare bird species, the better to understand how these animals live and how to keep them from going extinct. But in Middle Eastern nations there is a tendency to see such things as something more, especially if the markings on them are in English or Hebrew. Naturally that means American, British and Israeli spies are involved, not scientific research into animal behavior. This sort of thing has happened frequently in the last few years. It’s not always birds. In 2010 the Egyptians accused Israel of training sharks to attack Arabs. Tagged vultures have been accused twice, first in 2011 in Saudi Arabia and then in 2012 in Egypt (where s stork was also accused). It’s not just the Arabs, in Turkey a kestrel was captured and x-rayed to ensure it was not carrying Israeli espionage equipment. 

Such suspicions are not completely unfounded, although inanimate objects are preferred to unpredictable and highly mobile animals. In 2012 Iran reported that security troops outside a new underground nuclear enrichment plant went to investigate a suspicious looking rock and the rock exploded. Later investigation revealed that the rock was indeed not a real rock but an electronic device that was apparently monitoring activity around the nuclear facility (that enriched uranium sufficiently for use in a bomb) and transmitting it, via satellite, back to somewhere. The rock was also rigged to self-destruct if anyone got close.

The usual suspects for such a ploy were the Americans (who have been using the fake rocks thing for decades) and the Israelis (who gave been caught using them quite a lot in Lebanon). As for the exploding rocks, details on stuff like that is rarely released and then usually after the item in question is retired. Some equipment of this sort do receive some publicity. Such was the case a decade ago with WolfPack. This is a 2.73 kg (six pound) sensor/jammer that is dropped into enemy territory to get information and, if needed, jam enemy communications. These were painted camouflage colors but it would be no problem to enclose the device in a container that looked like a rock.

Israel will sometimes go to great lengths to destroy these devices when they are found. In late 2009 some Lebanese found an Israeli electronic sensor on their side of the border. The Israelis soon became aware of this, and destroyed the device from the air with a missile, or internal explosives. There are conflicting reports. But Hezbollah fighters showed up shortly thereafter, and searched the area. They found another such device, and blew it up. It's believed these devices were for tapping into telephone conversations. The Lebanese believes that some, or all, of these devices were equipped with explosives, to self-destruct (or be detonated remotely from Israel) if discovered or tampered with. Since Lebanon arrested dozens of Israeli agents in 2009, with the help of Iranian intelligence operatives, Israel has apparently increased their use of electronic sensors. These detect movement, sound or electronic transmissions. Many are buried, or otherwise disguised to make detection difficult. Hezbollah has become aware of these devices, and offers rewards for those who find them. Thus hunting for Israeli sensors has become a popular activity along the border.

Hollywood isn't the only place where old hits are recycled. Such miniature gadgets were first developed and used in the 1960s. These early devices were just a microphone and transmitter. An aircraft overhead could pick up the transmissions, record them, and get them back to a base where the activity (trucks, troops marching, or whatever), where it occurred and the time, could be recorded. In this way operations along the carefully hidden (under the tall jungle canopy) "Ho Chi Minh" trail could be studied, plotted, and bombed. The trail, run by the North Vietnam through Laos (just west of Vietnam), was vital to keeping their troops in South Vietnam supplied.

WolfPack faced the same problem airdropped sensors in Vietnam did; the enemy will go looking for them once they realize the sensors were a danger to them. During the Vietnam War a partial solution to this problem was to build some of the airdropped sensors so they looked like a bamboo plant. This deception would not stand up to close scrutiny but the enemy troops were not going to closely examine every bamboo plant when they were sweeping an area for sensors. So this worked, except when, after the war, surplus sensors of this type were shipped to Europe for use there in a future war there.

Russia was known to have adopted this "intelligent rock" technology after the 1960s, and is still using it. China probably has it as well and someone is using it in Iran. There has been some interest in planting bugs on animals but further research found that the animals’ movement were too unpredictable to be useful. Efforts to miniaturize sensors and transmitters for use on mechanical insects is still stalled by technology that is not quite ready to go yet. So Arab paranoia regarding monitoring devices hidden in animals (real or artificial) is not totally unfounded, but somewhat premature.

 

 


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