Use of Electronic Warfare to Fight Organized Crime

By Dialogo
June 25, 2013

Brazil’s Peacekeeping Force was established to ensure law and order in communities or slums, and it is comprised of men and women, including military members of the Brazilian Army, Military Police, and Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro. According to police records, the military presence in the areas of operation resulted in a significant decrease in crime rates.

In November 2010, the Peacekeeping Force occupied a 10-mile perimeter of an extremely rough territory cut horizontally by the Serra da Misericórdia mountain range that the Comando Vermelho criminal group used to execute those who did not collaborate with them. The Complexo do Alemão favela is located on the southern part of the mountain and the Complexo da Penha to the north, with an estimated 400,000 residents in the mazes of both slums.

Because the occupation was performed in a state of constitutional normalcy, with full exercise of rights and individual guarantees, telephone tapping of any kind was not authorized. This limitation restricted the use of electronic warfare to monitoring and listening only with devices such as two-way open-signal and unencrypted radios.

Still, as the maintenance of this communication system was cheap and the logistics very simple, the monitoring of this communication network was valuable. The activities of clandestine communications by the Comando Vermelho at the Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha favelas used tactical techniques and procedures typical of an irregular war, characterizing an asymmetric war conflict in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.

The purpose of using electronic warfare is to employ military electronics in the field, using actions that will reduce or eliminate the efficiency or the use of electromagnetic spectrum by adverse forces and to ensure the efficiency of the use of that spectrum by the friendly forces.

However, in previous decades of last century, electronic warfare operations became part of military operations.

Besides the specialized monitoring of the signal transmissions, the Army Peacekeeping Force would interfere in the Comando Vermelho’s radio network whenever it was convenient, to reduce the capability of the command and control by their leaders through weakening or even completely silencing their communication system via radio during critical moments. The transmission of false messages was not explored by the troops; however, strong indications lead to the conclusion that on some occasions the criminals identified the monitoring and intentionally transmitted false information. For instance, one of them pretended to be transporting a stolen rifle from the Peacekeeping Force. Thanks to the absolute control of the weaponry, it was quickly verified that it was a false message.

Initially, electronic warfare activities were conducted by specialized military members in close connection with intelligence. After some time, a military troop was kept within the same facility to direct the Soldiers who were in the territory in real time, thereby improving their actions. This procedure created excellent results because it took advantage of the opportunities available, even though it was neglecting the evaluation of an intelligence analyst, because the integration was linked to human intelligence.

During the first seven months, electronic warfare was not used because the security of the available equipment could not be guaranteed. At that opportunity, various antennas would occupy a 295-foot extension at the top of Serra da Misericórdia. Only after acquiring more compact equipment it became possible to secretly install them inside highly restricted areas of operations of facilities permanently occupied by the troops.

Three pieces of equipment were installed to allow triangulation and to precisely aim at the transmission locations. The sergeant major and sergeant teams collected the information and the analyst officers analyzed the recorded material to offer solutions to integrate the signal intelligence.

It is important to emphasize that the signal intelligence was only maximized once it became integrated with other intelligence sources to strengthen the idea that has already been brought up, for instance, by human intelligence, or to open a way for human intelligence to seek more data.

The use of signal intelligence resulted in several outcomes:

• Identification of the use of BTB (Blind Transmission Broadcasting) type clandestine messages; normally the activities of the radio network were closed immediately after the transmission of a recording from the invasion of the Complexo da Penha favela, normally around midnight;

• Identification of the frequencies used by the scouts and sentinels

• Picking up signs used and their respective location;

• Picking up slang and pre-established messages used to disguise the activities that should not be transmitted openly;

• Identification of the presence of a controller and regulator in the transmission networks;

• Identification of the schedules and locations of the main points of drug trade (early evening and early morning hours);

• Investigation on the existence of a service scale to observe the movement of the troops and for the drug trade;

• Identification of the existence of a preparation and meal delivery service to the observers (led by the collaborating residents);

• Identification of the existence of a communications security system;

• Identification that only the lowest level of drug trafficking hierarchy used the two-way radio system;

The integration of electronic warfare activities, the hotline and the patrols on foot (human intelligence) were the major sources of information that contributed to the mapping of the locations of the highest crime rate and for the color-coding of the area of operations in green, yellow, and red.

In order to improve troop efficiency in the territory, two-way radios with headphones were purchased for the patrol commanders. This radio, which was simple to purchase and replace, created the opportunity for many caught-in-the-act arrests.

The unprecedented use of this technique increased the capabilities of the infantry troops to act in the territory, optimized intelligence analysis and deserves further study to identify the opportunities for improvement on future operations within urban limits.

*Fernando Montenegro, Retired Colonel of the Brazilian Army Special Forces – Terrorism and Public and Private Security Analyst