” [LOUDAUTO is] extremely useful for picking up room audio. It can pick up speech at a standard, office volume from over 20′ away. (NOTE: Concealments may reduce this distance.) It uses very little power (~15 uA at 3.0 VDC), so little, in fact, that battery self-discharge is more of an issue for serviceable lifetime than the power draw from this unit. The simplicity of the design allows the form factor to be tailored for specific operation requirements. All components at COTS and so are non-attributable to NSA.”
From the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group implant catalogue
Why is the Washington Post telling his readers that “Microwave Weapons” do not exist? Why do they ridicule a known technology — patented in the US and used by the NSA according to documents leaked by Snowden — as fake news? Why was the initial report regarding the mysterious illness affecting the US diplomats in Havana “lost” for six months, thus badly delaying the start of the US investigation? And why has the CDC never been contacted to investigate this case? Do not worry. It will eventually make sense.
First thing first. Obviously, I would like to know what frequencies are used today for “Microwave spying”? Well, Snowden gave us a few clues regarding the NSA/CIA gadgets. Tiny steps for tiny feet. Snowden revelations include a very much ignored information regarding an Audio-based RF retro-reflector — codenamed LOUDAUTO — which provides room audio from targeted space using radar and basic post-processing. Let us try to make sense of it! Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
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Once upon a time, the Russians relied for many years on a technology unknown to the Americans to spy on the US ambassador in Moscow. The device — known as “The thing” — was the brainchild of an extraordinary genius: Leon Theremin.
I have long suspected that “Microwave Spying” is still a tool on the shelf of the modern spies. In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations, Der Spiegel published a catalog of surveillance technologies used by the NSA and CIA to eavesdrop on foreign spies and diplomats.
And indeed, these documents show that the U.S. Intelligence is using products — with names like LOUDAUTO and ANGRYNEIGHBOR — against foreign embassies which are generally considered as direct successors of Leon Theremin’s brilliant invention.
RELATED POST: Microwave Spying — How does it work anyway?
RELATED POST: Microwave Spying — Leon Theremin & “The Thing”
I was the first person to suggest that the mysterious illness in American personnel in Cuba and China had been caused by “microwave attacks”. According to a recent NYT article, US scientists investigating the case now believe that this is indeed the case.
I strongly suspect that the primary purpose of these microwave attacks was to gather intelligence using microwave spying technology, not to hurt the US diplomats. The injuries are nevertheless very much real, perhaps caused by the presence of magnetite in the brain which happens to be an excellent microwave absorber at some RF frequencies.
If I am right, it would be very interesting to know what frequencies have been used in these attacks. In the 1960s, the Americans had no problem detecting and studying the RF signals beamed at their embassy in Moscow. These frequencies — varying between 2.5–4 GHz — are similar to those currently used for mobile phones.
But today, the detection of “spying frequencies” could be a bit more tricky. If the spies are using a real mobile phone frequency — maybe one used for a frequency hopping spectrum — then the signal would not appear immediately suspicious.
I believe that many people — unaware of microwave spying technology — could be easily fooled by this simple trick. In Brussels, a city known to have the highest concentration of spies in the world, I am confident that the culprit would get away with this operation as Belgian government people in charge of controlling the RF spectrum are totally incompetent.
This theory may very well be tested. It would be interesting to ask the US and Canadian diplomats affected by the mysterious illness if they have experienced some troubles with their mobile phones — such as low quality communications and interruptions — while working in Havana.
The Known FACTS about the NSA/CIA Microwave Spying Tools
From the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group implant catalog:
(TS//SI//REL TO USA,FVEY) Audio-based RF retro-reflector. Provides room audio from targeted space using radar and basic post-processing.
(TS//SI//REL TO USA,FVEY) LOUDAUTO’s current design maximizes the gain of the microphone. This makes it extremely useful for picking up room audio. It can pick up speech at a standard, of ice volume from over 20′ away. (NOTE: Concealments may reduce this distance.) It uses very little power (~15 uA at 3.0 VDC), so little, in fact, that battery self-discharge is more of an issue for serviceable lifetime than the power draw from this unit. The simplicity of the design allows the form factor to be tailored for specific operation requirements. All components at COTS and so are non-attributable to NSA.
(U) Concept of Operation
(TS//SI//REL TO USA,FVEY) Room audio is picked up by the microphone and converted into an analog electrical signal. This signal is used to pulse position modulate (PPM) a square wave signal running at a pre-set frequency. This square wave is used to turn a FET (field effect transistor) on and off. When the unit is illuminated with a CW signal from a nearby radar unit, the illuminating signal is amplitude-modulated with the PPM square wave. This signal is re-radiated, where it is picked up by the radar, then processed to recover the room audio. Processing is currently performed by COTS equipment with FM demodulation capability (Rohde & Schwarz FSH-series portable spectrum analyzers, etc.) LOUDAUTO is part of the ANGRYNEIGHBOR family of radar retro-reflectors.
Unit Cost: $30
Status: End processing still in development
And Now What?
The comment in the NSA catalogue about the Rohde & Schwarz FSH-series portable spectrum analyzers immediately caught my attention.
The first Rohde & Schwarz FSH was the FSH-3 (upper limit of 3 GHz) which — I believe — was produced around 2005. Later, this device was produced with higher upper range 4, 6 etc… up to 20 GHz. If my memory serves me well, I remember the FSH-6 being already commercialized in 2009.
In any case, this means that, at least initially (the entry in the NSA catalogue is from 2008), LOUDAUTO must have worked with a frequency lower than 3 GHz!
At the time the LOUDAUTO system was current, it was to be paired with
the CTX-4000 CW radar unit, which generated 1-2 GHz. Again, the replacement
PHOTOANGLO unit was to eventually be extended to 1-4 GHz. They were
all part of the ‘ANGRYNEIGHBOR family of radar retro-reflectors’.
Many years ago, security expert Bruce Schneier asked his readers to offer their views on LOUDAUTO. A person posted the following comment:
“LOUDAUTO sound to me like a simple RFID tag coupled to a suitable microphone.
Usually these tags operate at 900 MHz, but the exact peak operating frequency is a function of the RFID’s Rx antenna tuning and its fairly broadband anyway, so it would be easy to take generic RFID tags and make your own antenna which would shift the operating frequency for 900 MHz to say 700 MHz.”
1 — The use of microwave radiation to gather intelligence is well documented. The origin of the technology is well-known and there is no doubt that the US (NSA) has developed a modern version of the “Russian Thing” invented by Leon Theremin.
2 — OK, but should we talk about “Microwave Weapons”? Well, this is about semantics. But usually, weapons are defined as either:
- something (such as a gun, knife, club, or bomb) that is used for fighting or attacking someone or for defending yourself when someone is attacking you
- something (such as a skill, idea, or tool) that is used to win a contest or achieve something
So, I do not believe it really matters if you refer to microwave spying tools as weapons. After all, they are used to gain an advantage in a conflict. However, journalists should explain very clearly what “microwave thing” they are talking about.
3 — Should the use of microwave spying tools be described as “microwave attack”? This is no longer about semantics. This is about International Law. For instance, Article 29 of the 1961 Vienna Convention states that “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable…the receiving state shall treat him with all due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom, or dignity.”
For now, it appears that the US Government considers that the use of microwave radiation against a diplomat is a violation of the Vienna Convention. Indeed, in mid-February 2017, U.S. officials reminded Cuban officials in Havana and Washington, D.C., about their responsibilities under the Vienna Convention. (I will argue that they already suspected “microwave attacks” at that time, in a following post.)
4 — If microwave radiation has been used to spy against US diplomats in Havana, it would be very useful to know what frequencies were used? We may learn something from the US’s own equipment! (Usually, scientists around the world come up with similar designs for the same reasons.)
From the documents leaked by Edward Snowden regarding LOUDAUTO, I suggest that the US microwave spying tool is based on frequencies in the 1 to 2 GHz range.
5 — I am not aware of technical reasons that would limit such device to that narrow range of frequencies. However, it would make a lot of sense to use some of these frequencies for a spying operation.
Firstly, one could attempt to hide the signal under a GSM signal. Secondly, all that is needed to build the gadget can easily be found on the market (COTS) and whenever discovered — eventually you will always get caught — none of the components will allow for attribution. Pretty sneaky!
6 — This summer, German scientists have for the first time ever mapped the magnetite content of the human brain. Magnetite is an excellent RF absorber through a mechanism known as ferromagnetic resonance. The natural resonance is expected to be about 1.5 GHz. It is not known which cells produced the magnetite in the brain and what role — if any — they serve. It is however entirely possible that these cells could be damaged by RF exposure and it is documented that some diseases could result from the death of a single cell.
Overview of the NSA’s CTX4000/PHOTOANGLO Radar Units
LOUDAUTO: NSA Exploit of the Day — Schneier on Security
Havana Syndrome — What Are the Frequencies Used by US Intel for Microwave Spying?