NC Scout at Brushbeater blog writes about communications security in No Encryption, No Problem: Analog Radio Operations For Guerrilla Units
Since I started the Brushbeater blog project back in late 2015, a constant question I’ve got in emails has been about communications security and very often how to use encryption over the radio. Back when I got into the civilian side of operational communications and I no longer had uncle sugar providing my equipment, I had all those same questions and none of the answers. Encryption and communications security is generally verboten among the old-time Ham crowd. Asking about it immediately can gain a novice the cold shoulder- it’s just one of those things that’s best left unasked, figured out on one’s own, or asked once you’ve got in the good graces of the locals (community building, anyone?). For me it was and is a creative outlet, allowing all the fun stuff I did in the Army to be a useful skill and one I teach others.
Since communications in general, like patrolling, like TC3, and like basic survival are all topics woefully misunderstood by civilians, an area as complicated as securing analog transmissions can go way over people’s heads in a hurry. It’s a different skillset than what you’re either used to seeing or doing. It requires a little understanding about radio theory, a little understanding about the planning process, along with some other skills like how to use a compass and basic awareness of your operating environment. Above all, it takes experience; you can’t just talk about it, you gotta do it. That said, we also have to recognize that the equipment we have is the equipment you’re going to be working with when things go sideways. No magic gear fairy is going to drop you a bundle of PRC-152s, much less the working knowledge to use them. So learning to use what you have in hand to its maximum capability is a heck of a lot more important than hanging out in fantasy land with stuff pushed by hobbyists.
Communications Security Begins With You, or, Encryption Won’t Save You
In a recent conversation with a friend and fellow well-seasoned vet, we brought up some of the obstacles facing would-be partisans that many preppers don’t take into account. Logistics being a HUGE one (if I burn through 500 rounds doing “supporting fire” aka just making noise, who resupplies my ammo?) but also the enablers a lot of the contemporary veteran crowd are used to having but cannot expect in the near future. NSA Type 3 AES encryption comes to mind here. We took a lot of resources for granted, especially in the commo department. We had/have an enemy who generally lacked any real electronic warfare (EW) capability, with the result being incredibly sloppy communications practices. The reliance on electronic security left a lot of the old common practices in the dust, many of which are once more very relevant today. Since about 80-90% of the prepping crowd’s electronic signal devices are limited to VHF/UHF dual band analog handhelds, you have to stop thinking in terms of simply press n’ talk if you want to even begin to be secure. The presence of a pattern of signals, even if encrypted, digital, analog or whatever, will give you away if you lack basic discipline. The saying everything that’s old is new again comes to mind, because a lot of the old hand practices developed in Vietnam for rural patrolling are the first place to begin. What was high tech for them is dirt cheap today. And the training value in their blood soaked lessons shouldn’t be lost on you.
But first, why do you need a radio? A lot of folks buy gear just for the sake of buying something. The first thing you should be asking yourself is exactly what your goal is and then work towards that instead of buying a whole bunch of something, because someone told you to, only for it not to be used. If that goal is talking with others in your group on the back forty, that’s one thing. If it’s rural patrolling, that’s another. Electronic communications, of any type, are the least secure method of communication. Messengers are the most secure. When getting started you’ve gotta figure out what it is you need to do. You might find you don’t need as much as you think; keeping it simple goes a long way. And for those of you only concerned with a homestead right now, COMSEC (communications security) is a very real issue for you whether you know it or not. A common surveillance mission for us was called “patterns of life”, where we watched a place for several days. Surveillance means everything, including the signals coming from the target, which in turn can provide a high amount of intelligence value due to shoddy practices. If you’re lazy, someone who learns a few signals intelligence techniques can not only find you very easily but listen to all your voices, get your names, know your timelines, and finally, disrupt you to the point of shutting you down, usually once they’re ready to attack. I know, I’ve done it in real life. So all of you only relying on those walmart FRS radios are very easy prey.
Contras on patrol hunting commies. Notice the handheld radio (HT) on the RPK gunner’s chest. Inter-team radios should be placed among the leaders of maneuver elements, including force multipliers such as your machine gunner / Automatic Rifleman / Support By Fire and Designated Marksman (DM).
It’s important to point out the difference between tactical communications and clandestine communications. Tactical communications require immediate action and either give short orders or brief reports and are local in nature. For preppers, these are for retreat security and short duration patrols; snoop n’ poop around the woodline to make sure nobody is waiting on us to go to sleep. The RTO Basic course focuses almost entirely on tactical communications. Clandestine communications are long term, far more in depth messages that usually use multiple layers of encoding- this is where the One Time Pads come in– and are sent to cells working over a region. These are referred to as cables in the intelligence field. Numbers stations come to mind, and that’s a whole other conversation entirely…(continues)