Taliban tricks to avoid intercepts of communications

Rowan Scarborough:

Taliban and al Qaeda operatives have become increasingly savvy on how to defeat U.S. communications intercepts, making it more difficult to stop attacks as the U.S. prepares to send up to 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

A senior intelligence source said there are reports that Iranian agents have been providing advice to the Taliban on how to conduct secure communications. The CIA declined to comment.

The source said the U.S. intelligence community is alarmed because avoiding detection has helped the Taliban conduct a series of ambushes on NATO supply convoys. The U.S. and Pakistan have been unable to pre-empt the attacks.

The enemy's methods go beyond the long-standing practice of deploying messengers to convey directives from leaders to operatives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Osama bin Laden, for example, long ago stopped talking on phones or radios.

They now use multiple phones and dispose of them quickly. This way, the phone numbers collected by the National Security Agency, the U.S. eavesdropping service, become useless. They limit radio chatter to close-range, which makes the transmission more difficult for a ground or aerial receiver to scoop it up.

Basic equipment like a radio direction finder, which can hone in on hand-held radios, do not always work a rugged terrain like the tribal lands where mountains can block the receiver.

Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are now so aware every phone conversation may be monitored that they actually get on the line to taunt NSA interpreters who sit in relay centers to translate and distribute transcripts as quickly as possible.

"They love to get on our bands and taunt us and especially our interpreters," said the intelligence source.

In the war on terror, the NSA set up a network of such centers so an intercepted call can be transcribed and dispatched to joint teams in Afghanistan made up of the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and Joint Special Operations Command.

Intercepts are perhaps the most important intelligence source for the Pakistan tribal areas, where al Qaeda and Taliban forces reorganized after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.


It is not difficult to figure out how the Taliban-al Qaeda axis knows so much about the NSA. Just look to Washington. For a full year, Congress and the White House debated the powers the president may exert in conducting warrantless wiretaps on suspected terrorists overseas.

During the debate, the public learned the U.S. monitors emails and phone calls worldwide, some of whose signals pass through switching stations in the U.S. before being re-routed.

A cell phone call in Pakistan to an al Qaeda operative in the same country passes through the U.S. Anyone reading stories on the debate instantly knew any call they made could be monitored, especially if the NSA had the phone number.

What's more, in 2007 the Pakistan government announced that al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud was behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. How did the government know? It said it intercepted a call from Mehsud to his followers. It even released the transcript -- a piece of intelligence the NSA considers top secret.

All of this helps the enemy understand when and how to talk.

The NY Times and the Democrats have done great damage to our ability to intercept enemy communications. They are hurting the war effort which seems to be the purpose of their attacks on intelligence gathering. That was all fun and games when a Republican was in the White House but now that their guy is in there he will be hampered too. Obama was one of the worst when it came to a terrorist right to "privacy." He has made the job of the military much more difficult in just getting supplies to Afghanistan where he wants to send more troops.


  1. The article fails to disclose "tricks" that are being used by the Taliban to avoid intercepts. Hopefully all know the difference between Taliban and al Qaeda? Anyway, they both knew of their calls being intercepted back in 2001. Neither of the cited breaches informed the groups of anything they didn't already know.


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