- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Chinas government learned important U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities from the downed U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane, including that U.S. eavesdroppers can identify individual Chinese military officers by the sound of their voices, The Washington Times has learned.
Defense officials with access to classified reports said the Chinese did not know about the U.S. intelligence communitys ability to recognize individual voices from intercepted communications until after they began studying the EP-3E and its equipment.
The aircraft has been held on Hainan island since it made an emergency landing April 1. Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday told a Cable News Network interviewer that the resolution of the impasse could be reached in the next several days.
He said: "Im quite sure that in the next few days we will find a way to resolve this that will be satisfactory to both sides. Im quite confident we will resolve this issue and get our airplane back. Were in serious conversations with the Chinese."
But as the dispute continues, so have revelations about the U.S. electronic spying capabilities.
Chinese government officials first learned of the identification technique after some 100 intelligence technicians from Beijing were sent to study the craft at Lingshui air base, where the EP-3E has been stranded.
The U.S. plane is still on Hainan island, and it is still the object of contention and a diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and China. The United States prefers to repair and fly the craft home. The Chinese insist it cannot be flown away.
CBS News reported last night that the Pentagon is proposing to cut the wings off the EP-3E and then load the pieces onto a large transport transport aircraft, either a U.S. C-5 or a foreign-owned Russian Il-76. The Pentagon had no immediate reaction.
Pentagon sources who requested anonymity have explained that military and civilian linguists have been trained to distinguish among individual "targets" of electronic eavesdropping and to make the voice identifications. Doing so requires that the linguists have very clear communications, free of static or other noises, and that is something advanced U.S. eavesdropping equipment has achieved.
The EP-3E that was captured contained some of the U.S. intelligence communitys most modern intercept gear and was one of several EP-3Es recently outfitted with the new equipment.
The aircraft recently got what the Pentagon calls a Sensor System Improvement Program that integrates tactical communications, electronic-support measures and a special signal processing and exploitation system.
The plane also was fitted with a new airborne signals intelligence-gathering system installed as part of an upgrade program called the Joint Signals Intelligence Avionics Family Block Modernization (JMOD). The system helps improve the onboard processing of electronic communications and signals intercepted during flight.
Much of the equipment on the aircraft was destroyed by the crew after the collision. However, the Chinese obtained a cache of classified documents, officials said. The captured documents are believed to have revealed the sophistication of the U.S. intelligence-gathering capability, according to officials familiar with recent U.S. intelligence assessments of what the Chinese military learned from the downed aircraft.
The information the Chinese gleaned from the aircraft is expected to make it more difficult for special U.S. planes, ships and satellites to gather data on Chinese political and military targets, Pentagon officials said.
They said the Chinese could equip their radio and telephonic equipment with filtering and masking devices to frustrate U.S. eavesdropping.
"This will make it harder to collect, no question," said one official.
Another U.S. intelligence official explained it is the linguists and technicians of the National Security Agency, the Pentagons electronic spying service, who are able to identify the voices of foreign officials whose conversations are intercepted. For example, they learned to identify Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi when he was speaking on Libyas communications net.
And back in the 1970s, the NSA was able to listen to the mobile telephone conversations of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev as he rode through Moscow in his limousine. "The NSA people are very good," the official said. "They could tell whether Brezhnev or someone else in the car belched."
James Bamford, author of a new book on the National Security Agency, "Body of Secrets," said the U.S. intelligence community has been able to identify specific voices from communications for many years.
"Interceptor operators can even tell when someone has a cold," Mr. Bamford said, noting that many times operators who listen to intercepted communications have photographs of the people they secretly eavesdrop on.
Its not likely that what the Chinese have learned about U.S. spying capabilities has eased their objections to U.S. intelligence gathering near their coasts. In fact, they are repeating demands for an end to all surveillance flights as a infringement of their sovereignty.
Nonetheless, the flights have resumed, with an RC-135 jet carried out the first reconnaissance flight since such the April 1 collision.

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