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Inside the Ring
Question of the Day
NATO code compromise
The recent crash of a Polish military transport that killed most of Warsaw’s senior civilian and military leaders was not only a human catastrophe for a key U.S. ally. NATO sources said that, in addition to the loss of nearly 100 pro-U.S. Polish leaders, the crash provided Moscow with a windfall of secrets.
The crash killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski in western Russia on April 10 and decapitated Poland’s military, killing two service chiefs, key military aides and several national security officials, many of whom were carrying computers and pocket memory sticks that contained sensitive NATO data.
Perhaps the most significant compromise, according to a NATO intelligence source, is that the Russians are suspected of obtaining ultrasecret codes used by NATO militaries for secure satellite communications.
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The compromise of the codes is considered what electronic spies call a “break” for Moscow code-breakers. New NATO codes almost certainly were issued to allied militaries immediately after the crash.
But if the Russian electronic intelligence service, known as the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information, was able to recover and use the communication key code from the wreckage, electronic spies will be able to decode months’ or perhaps years’ worth of scrambled communications that are routinely gathered electronically for just such an occasion.
The coded communications, if decrypted, would reveal some of NATO’s most intimate secrets, such as plans for defenses and even the identities of agents or allied eavesdropping sources.
Other Polish and NATO secrets also were believed to be aboard the jet, and so far Russia’s government is refusing to cooperate fully with Poland’s government in providing details on the cause of the crash, or even to turn over the Polish jet’s black boxes.
Additionally, Poland’s interim government has not pressed the Russians for answers to questions about the crash, such as why Russian aviation authorities, without any investigation, ruled that pilot error caused the crash minutes after the jet crashed short of the runway in fog at Russia’s Smolensk airport. Polish security and aviation authorities also were denied access to the crash site.
Public pressure is mounting on Warsaw to call for an international commission to investigate the crash. Tens of thousands of Poles already have signed a petition calling for the international probe.
Many Poles, who need little encouragement to be critical of the Russians based on past enmity, have taken to calling the crash the “second Katyn,” after the 1940 Katyn Forest massacre when Russian agents killed more than 21,000 Polish officers in an effort to decimate the Polish military.
Mr. Kaczynski, who was viewed as politically more anti-Russian than current leaders, was on his way to Katyn, about six miles from Smolensk, to mark the anniversary of the massacre.
Amid the glad-handing and friendly atmospherics surrounding this week’s meeting between President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a senior military officer in Afghanistan provided Inside the Ring with a situation report on the conflict that presents a sober background assessment.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is geopolitics editor and a national security and investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
Mr. Gertz also writes a weekly column ...
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