Soviet signals intelligence (SIGINT): intercepting satellite communications

Author/s (editor/s):

Desmond Ball

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 53

The Soviet Union maintains the largest signals intelligence (SIGINT) establishment in the world. It is capable of monitoring virtually the whole radio frequency spectrum on an almost global scale, with particular attention being accorded to high frequency (HF) radio transmissions, terrestrial microwave telecommunications, and satellite communications (SATCOMSs).

This monograph is concerned with Soviet capabilities and operations with respect to the intercepting of satellite communications (SATCOMs) - both commercial SATCOMs and defence and intelligence SATCOMs. The monograph describes the Soviet SATCOM SIGINT ground station capability and, most particularly, the major SIGINT facility at Lourdes in Cuba; the Soviet use of diplomatic establishments for intercepting SATCOMs; and Soviet ship-based SATCOM monitoring capabilities. This monograph concludes that the scope and sophistication of the Soviet SATCOM SIGINT activities is inadequately appreciated by Western publics, and that greater public awareness of the vulnerability of SATCOMs is necessary for the implementation of effective and comprehensive communications security (COMSEC) policies and practices.

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