How The U.S. Military Plans To Hijack The Airwaves

If you want to take over a nation, first take over its airwaves. Broadcast your messages and disrupt the enemy’s ability to broadcast theirs. When the US invaded Iraq in 1991 or NATO bombed Serbia in 1999, television and radio stations were among the first targets destroyed. When there is a military coup in Africa, the first buildings the rebels usually seize are radio and television studios.

So it’s enlightening that the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the organization that oversees America’s elite special forces, is quietly looking for equipment that will effectively give it control of every FM and AM radio station in an area. Short, harmless sounding message of the Federal Business The capability site states that SOCOM is seeking vendors to provide “a radio broadcast system capable of searching for and acquiring every AM and FM radio station in a designated area and then broadcasting message(s) in the target area to all acquired AM and FM radio stations frequencies.” SOCOM wants equipment that is both lightweight and sophisticated enough to detect and broadcast on multiple frequencies simultaneously. And SOCOM wants it fast. The equipment must be at least Level of technological readiness 8the Pentagon’s measure of technological maturity, meaning it is fully developed, tested and ready for use.

“It appears that SOCOM is looking to purchase preferably an off-the-shelf, foreign-friendly or domestic advanced form of Software Defined Radio (SDR) as a solution for their tactical and theater Psyops or MISO missions,” said a military expert who asked to remain anonymous. “The exact platform – whether ground or air – cannot be determined from the invitation. It appears to be an urgent request due to the condition TRL 8 or higher.”

This is what the Pentagon now calls Military Information Support Operations, or MISO. It’s a much less sinister name for what the rest of us call Psychological Operations, or Psyops. that subtle form of warfare that uses carefully tailored information – true or false – to change foreign hearts and minds in a way that furthers US interests.

“MISO units have the mission of broadcasting information and messages to neutral, hostile and, in some cases, friendly audiences,” said Brian Karabaich, a former Special Forces colonel and US government information operations consultant. “Obviously, to do that, one needs to know where on the broadcast spectrum people are listening and what’s being said.”

US Special Operations Forces (SOF) currently use the Flyaway Broadcast System (FABS), according to SOCOM spokeswoman Lt. Comm. Lygia Cohen (an example of FABS equipment for natural disasters is here). However, FABS can only broadcast on one frequency. “Historically, one has a receiver that works on the desired spectrum and works through the channels. The operator notes the time, the signal strength and maybe the content, and then moves on,” notes Karabaich. “If it looked important, another operator with another set would go directly to the frequency and observe. If there were multiple frequencies used, one needed multiple sets. Then scanners came along and things sped up. However, one still needed multiple sets to return to use the hits. One problem was that while the scanner was progressing, it wasn’t listening to other channels. If one appears and emits after the scanner passes, it may be a few seconds or more before it returns.”

An automated software-based system that can scan and transmit at multiple frequencies will save time and manpower. But there is another benefit, and that is electronic warfare. If US forces are transmitting messages on local radio frequencies, then local stations cannot broadcast their messages. And if this happened to every station in an area, then the target government’s ability to communicate with its people, such as exhorting them to fight the Americans, would be limited. “This system can be used to jam a frequency,” says Cohen. “During a conflict, an enemy radio station would not be able to broadcast its message at the same time. The FABS capability is necessary to address the need for combatant commanders to shape foreign attitudes and behavior in support of regional objectives, policies, US interests, and theater military missions.”

Some may wonder if this technology can be used in the United States. The answer is yes. “The requirements described for this technology are specific to overseas operations,” says Cohen. “However, in some cases and when indicated, MISO forces and equipment may be used during information support operations for civil authorities. During these events, the MISO equipment is simply a platform that is used to assist organizations like FEMA in disseminating information to the public regarding safety and so forth.”

Lawrence Dietz, a retired colonel in the US Army Reserve who participated in Psyops for 13 years and writes Psyops blog, suggests that a mass broadcast capability would be very useful during a natural disaster like Katrina, which could transmit emergency information when civilian transmitters were damaged. However, he also questions whether it would make more sense to focus on mass messaging to mobile phones, given how people rely on them for communication. “Perhaps cell phone ‘takeover’ technology will be in the process of being delivered to SOCOM down the road,” he wrote.

However, before Uncle Sam rides roughshod over the radio spectrum, there are some limitations. Karabaich, who believes the technology will improve US Psyops capabilities, points out that one issue is power. He recalls that during the First Gulf War in 1991, US forces could “broadcast on Iraqi frequencies, but the Iraqi transmitters were four times the size of the largest we had. Also, sand absorbs radio waves, reducing our range and signal. We just couldn’t break through until the Iraqi transmitters were down.” In other words, the Iraqi transmitters are so powerful that they can only be taken down by old-fashioned high explosives. And in Afghanistan, “we had instances in Afghanistan where we could hear stations operating, but the position of our transmitters could not generate enough signal strength to reach the target audience on the ground.”

And just as misguided Hellfire missiles from a Predator drone create collateral damage, so do misguided Psyops. Karabaich recalls when a Psyops training exercise by US forces in Germany spread from military frequencies into Swiss civilian traffic: “Swiss listeners were not happy that their Dallas rebroadcasts had rock music soundtracks.”

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