The Cuban government has been jamming all U.S. broadcasts into Iran since the Voice of America began beaming new Farsi-language programming into that country earlier this month, according to U.S. officials and electronics experts outside the government.
The Voice of America condemned the “unprecedented” jamming in a formal statement yesterday, describing it as a “deliberate and malicious” effort “to block Iranian audiences from gaining access to truthful news and information.”
“Cuba is obviously doing this at the behest of the mullahs in Iran,” said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the VOA Board of Governors. For technological reasons, he said, “Iran needed someone in this hemisphere to do its dirty work.”
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, suggested Cuba was doing the jamming in exchange for a favorable deal on Iranian oil, on which Cuba is becoming increasingly dependent.
“There is an intimate relationship between Iran and Cuba,” he said. “It is clear the relationship is becoming deeper and more pronounced.”
The State Department said it was investigating the matter, which was first reported yesterday in the Miami Herald.
The Voice of America began its new Farsi-language programming for Iran on July 6, and three Los Angeles-based Farsi-language broadcasters reported being jammed the same day.
“By the night of July 7 we were completely off the air,” said Kayvan Abbassi, spokesman for Azadi Television in Los Angeles, one of three privately owned stations that have been broadcasting news and political commentary critical of the Tehran government into Iran for three years.
Joe Garcia, spokesman for the the Cuban American National Foundation, said, “Cuba is a rogue state, involved in narcoterrorism, narcotrafficking, kidnapping, foreign incursions around the world, arms sales and harboring criminals. Jamming a television signal is normal. They are doing it for Iranian oil.”
Telephones calls to Cuba’s de facto embassy in Washington were not returned.
Loral Skynet, the company that operates the satellite being jammed, worked with Chantilly-based Transmitter Location Services (TLS) to “triangulate” and determine the source of the interference.
Mr. Abbassi said Loral informed him that the jamming originated in Cuba near Havana. The VOA said it came to the same conclusion.
TLS, which has determined the source of more than 10,000 interfering signals, both accidental and intentional, said it can determine the source of a signal to within six miles.
“Satellites are more or less open ports. They take in whatever signal is beamed up and then aim it back down” said Jim Wadiak, head of TLS. “[Jamming] isn’t that hard to do.”
Farsi-language broadcasts from privately owned Los Angeles stations Pars TV, Appadana and Azadi Television are beamed to the Telstar-5 satellite for U.S. consumption.
The signals are then redirected from a facility in Alexandria, Va., along with the VOA’s own Farsi programming, to Europe and the Middle East on the Telstar-12 satellite.
The signal is being jammed when it hits Telstar-12, the broadcasting experts said.
The broadcasts, a mix of news, entertainment, comedy and political commentary, have become very popular among students and other Iranians who oppose the cleric-led government in Tehran.
Mr. Abbassi said it is impossible to know how many Iranians receive Azadi broadcasts since it is illegal even to own a satellite dish in that country. But, he said, his newsroom receives 8,000 to 9,000 e-mails a month and his switchboard is flooded with calls from Iran whenever the station broadcasts a call-in show.
“Students take digital photos and transmit them to us and then we broadcast them back into Iran,” said Mr. Abbassi. “If we weren’t broadcasting, no one would know what the Iranian government was doing.”
He noted that the jamming coincides with a recent wave of student protests that appears to have alarmed the Iranian government.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, said the link between Iran and Cuba was clear — both are totalitarian regimes and Cuba has much experience jamming Radio and Television Marti.
“But American expertise can rise to the challenge and overcome Cuban jamming to Iran and jamming of Radio and TV Marti into Cuba,” she said.
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