Monday, 6 October 2014

Captured Russian Spy Facility Reveals The Extent Of Russian Aid To The Assad Regime

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
On the 5th of October 2014, the Free Syrian Army captured the highly secretive, joint, Russian-Syrian Центр С - المركز س 'Center C or Center S' SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) facility (logo on top) operated by the Russian Osnaz GRU radio electronic intelligence agency (logo on the right) and the Syrian intelligence agencies (logo on the left).

Situated close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the town of al-Harra, the facility appears to have been of vital importance for the Syrian government for its responsibility to record and decrypt radio communications from every rebel group operating inside Syria, making it likely the Russian-gathered information at this facility was at least partially responsible for the series of killings of rebel leaders by airstrikes.

Translation from 3:08; ''A directive issued by the surveillance office on May 31 to eavesdrop and record all radio communications of the terrorist groups, directive signed by brigadier-general Nazir Fuddah, commander of the first center''

The facility was recently upgraded and expanded by Russia to provide Syria and Iran with situational awareness of the Middle East. After the upgrade, which took from January to mid-February, it reportedly covered the whole of Israel and Jordan and even a part of Saudi Arabia. [1] According to the report, the upgrade was carried after Iran voiced its concern that the facility's focus on the Syrian Civil War hampered espionage efforts on Israel. New equipment and additional personnel was thus added to the base. But as only static and worn out looking sensors were captured [2] [3], it is believed that some of the more modern equipment depicted on various photos inside the complex was evecuated days or weeks before the base's capture.

The departure of the Russians from Center S is described in an article written for The Daily Beast;

''Firas Al Hawrani, the official spokesman for the FSA in southern Syria, told The Daily Beast Monday that FSA forces had seen about 15 Russian personnel operating in the Al Harah area before the FSA took the facility, but they left before the area fell out of regime control. “The Russians who were at the Al Harah mountain, the regime took them to Damascus by plane two weeks ago,” he said.''

The Russian operator of this facility was the Osnaz GRU, responsible for radio electronic intelligence within Russia's Armed Forces. Although not much is known about this unit, its logos can be seen below. "Части особого назначения" - Osnaz GRU and "Военная радиоэлектронная разведка" - Military Radio Electronic Intelligence.

Various photos on the wall inside the captured facility once again emphasise the Russian involvement in the Middle East, showing even a map of Israeli Defence Forces bases and units. Other photos detail Russian personnel working at and running the center, as well as highlight a visit by Kudelina L.K., Counselor to the Minister of Defence of Russian Federation.

''Совместная обработка информации российскими и сирийскими офицерами'' and ''معالجة مشتركة للمعلومات بين الضباط السوريين والروس'' - Joint processing of information by Russian and Syrian officers.

''Начальники "Центра-С" - Chiefs of Center C. The six lines beneath reveal the ranks of the Russian chiefs, their names and dates when they commanded the Center. All six seem to have rank of Полковник - 'Colonel'. Surnames are not readable.

''Визит советника МО РФ Куделиной Л.И. в Центр'' and ''زيارة مستشار وزارة الدفاع الروسية كوديلني لي للمركز'' - Counselor to the Minister of Defence of Russian Federation Kudelina L.I. visiting the Center. 'Kudelina L.I.' is likely an error as the name should be 'Kudelina L.K'.

''Рабочий визит начальника ГУ МВС ВС РФ'' - Visit by the Chief of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation of the Armed Forces of Russian Federation.

''Объекты и источники северного военного округа ВС Израиля'' - Bases and sources of Northern Military District of Israeli Armed Forces. [Author's note: sources indicates sources of radio signals.]

"Карта радиоэлектронной обстановки" - Radio electronic situation map.

As it turns out, Center S isn't the only Russian spy facility in Syria. While the existence of a second facility, Center S-2, was quickly confirmed by a badge commemorating the ten year anniversary of this base, it now appears there's a third facility around.

A high resolution photo of one of the maps in the operations room of Center-S reveals the location of three marked places inside Syrian held territory, connected by double lines. Oddly enough, a secondary set of lines continues to Cyprus through Lebanon and even to Amman, Jordan. It is currently unknown what these lines are supposed to signify.

Center S, located near al-Hara, can be seen in middle, which leaves the Northern and Southern bases unaccounted for. As other Syrian military bases are not marked on the map, it suggests only spy facilities are shown.

The one to the North brings us to a hill near Jaba.

While the one to the South brings us to another hill, near the town of Nawa.

Interestingly, all three facilities are based on and (presumably) in hills, otherwise a rare sight in southwest Syria. As Center S and S-2 account for two of these bases, this leaves a third possible candidate, (likely named Center S-1 or Center S-3), proving Russian involvement in espionage activities in Israel to be significantly larger than originally thought. No reports are available on the status of the other two bases, but it is presumed both are still being operated by the Russian Osnaz.

An ex-SAA conscript now residing in Turkey and speaking on the basis of anonymity told Oryx Blog he frequently visited the base as part of his conscription in 2006 and 2007 and not only saw Russians there, but also Iranians. He stated that the base housed Iranian equipment, which was regularly checked and maintained by Iranian personnel usually staying there for around ten days.

He goes on that Russian experts used to visit the facility every three or six months, but does not recall if these were replacements for other Russian experts working there or just personnel providing maintenance for the equipment at the base.

This new information shows the signifance of the joint spy effort on Israel (and now on rebels) in the light of escalating tensions in the Middle East. As the Syrian Civil War is once again pushed further from the prospect of a possible ceasefire with the rise of the Islamic State, both Iran and Russia appear to be consolidating their stakes in the Assad regime.


[1] ''Russia upgrades radar station in Syria to aid Iran''

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