In a real deal SHTF situation, such as a nation in turmoil and civil chaos, how would you fare? When the infrastructure goes down and there’s dead in the streets, what will you do?
That’s a reality for one of AP’s readers living in Ecuador, who’s been giving me steady updates on the deteriorating situation there. He first contacted me over a year ago trying to get their communications up to speed at the local Red Cross chapter. Years of neglect and a focus on more convenient systems caused their antennas to deteriorate and a lack of any knowledgeable operators. If that was bad enough, Simply getting equipment into the country is a challenge…
Since President Morena of Ecuador passed some measures last week to address the country’s fiscal deficit and debt burden, which included rescinding a significant gasoline/diesel fuel subsidy, the country has been rocked by protest. The protests are getting some mainstream press, but there isn’t much information on how the typical Ecuadoran is being affected by the unrest. NC Scout at American Partisan has been publishing updates from a local with whom he has been working on some Red Cross communications who has been keeping NC Scout apprised of the situation. The updates give some insight on what civil unrest can do – downed communications infrastructure, how the government is trying to airlift needed supplies for citizens in towns which have been cutoff from truck resupply by the many protest blockades, and so on. Will this be a passing unrest? Or could Ecuador follow the path set by Venezuela for a longer-term shtf situation?
NC Scout’s updates are currently in twelve parts. Surviving Real SHTF: Chaos in Quito. Part 0. Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV. Part V. Part VI. Part VII. Part VIII. Part IX. Part X. Part XI. Part XII.
…Stopṕed by the only gas station here. They are done as of today, tanks dry. No more gasoline even for the locals running around the immediate area.
Part of the public market is open as of a couple of hours ago but less than yesterday. Meat, fruit, vegetables in some of them but not much and half the stalls closed. No chicken anywhere. Still staples and from my conversations there a few more locals are thinking they might lay in a supply but NOT very many…
Ecuavisa signal in Ambato is out of the air because dozens of indigenous protesters mobilized to Pilisurco Hill to force the antennae of the channel’s repeater…
Red Cross ambulances were attacked by protesters yesterday in Quito, so not much respect for emergency services. As local food stuffs run out without re supply, then attacks on shop keepers are going to increase…
About 180 protesters on Monday forced the security of the warehouses of a dairy company in the town of Lasso, about 60 kilometers south of the capital, and stole products after assaulting employees…
Locally everything is closed. I have not been to centro today but talked to the woman who owns the apartment I rent who is also indig and a shop owner. No more milk, eggs, cheese or bread. When the shops that dare to, open, the police generally tell them to close. She hasnt been able to resupply, everyone else here is in the same condition. This morning I was surprised that there was garbage pickup…
planes of the Ecuadorian Air Force, make the air bridge from the city of Quito to Cuenca in order to supply the population of this sector of the country with essential products…
there have been problems “with the reception of medicines for some of the hospitals and medical centers of the city and the province we will give priority.”
…From internet sources, 2 deaths in the last 24 hours from injuries suffered in the Quito protests. No accurate info on the total number so far…
In the midst of the violent protests that have surrounded Ecuador , the Red Cross announced that it suspends its attention in the middle of the demonstrations for not being able to guarantee the safety of the volunteers…
Red Cross. No blood supply. No emergency services anywhere. Really important for people here to realize this…
Mainstream press coverage:
Wall Street Journal: General Strike Paralyzes Ecuador as Protests Continue
A substantial police presence was seen in the areas surrounding the national assembly, where security forces clashed with demonstrators wielding stones, sticks and other improvised weapons. The police – some on horseback, motorbike, or in armored vehicles – responded with tear gas and billy clubs.
A larger gathering of several thousand met near the parliament building, defying Moreno’s national emergency decree, which banned public assembly and put restrictions on press freedoms. Many of the demonstrators come from poor and indigenous communities across Ecuador, where the spending cuts have taken the highest toll, particularly the elimination of fuel subsidies.
Voice of America: Crisis in Ecuador over End to Fuel Subsidies
NC Scout at American Partisan has written an article on signals intelligence and how to exploit it to disrupt an enemy’s communications. Please note that disrupting someone’s radio communications during peacetime is usually illegal. The FCC can fine you thousands of dollars, revoke any radio licenses you have, and confiscate your radio equipment.
Not too long ago I ran a short post over at Brushbeater noting a story from the Marine Corps, pairing signals collection guys with Scout Snipers in a somewhat new small unit strategy. Building on the successes SOF units have had for a long time now in recognizing the rapid value of SIGINT in the field, pairing the two elements only makes sense. The idea is to isolate a target where they’re most vulnerable- electronic communications- in order to end the fight quickly with as few casualties on our side as possible. And working from a prepared citizen’s point of view, those same capabilities can and should be reflected in your own training.
It’s not enough to simply have a scanner, however nice it might be, and call yourself good on signals intelligence. Situational awareness, maybe, maybe, but none of it will do you much good without a means to exploit what ever it is you’ve collected.
The purpose of intelligence is exploitation.
What that means in practical terms is that unless I can do anything with what I’m hearing, its completely useless to me. So what if I hear some traffic on a random frequency. Did I take the time to record it? What did they actually say? What is their level of training or discipline? Who’s the person in charge on the mic?
We can listen to all the traffic we want, but if we have no way of exploiting that, then we’re wasting our time.
Some of the equipment you’ll need for a signals collection package at the small unit level includes a decent scanner capable of decoding P25, a communications receiver, an inexpensive analog radio, a recording device, a Yagi, and a frequency counter. Most of the higher end scanners on the market have up-gradable firmware that is enabling the decoding of P25 modes in use with public service as well as DMR which is very common today in the US as well as being used in Ukraine and Syria among guerrillas. A communications receiver, while similar to a scanner, will tell us the exact frequency the traffic is on, unlike most digital scanners today. We need to know this in order to have the operating frequency- its not enough to know what they’re saying, but we need to know what frequency they’re on so that if we decide to shut down their communications, we can effectively attack.
Our inexpensive analog radio enables us to not just have additional redundancy in our kit, but it’s also a useful exploitation tool. Depending on what type of gear your opponent has, something like a UV-5R can become our weapon in shutting their communications down. Using a Yagi to first get a bearing on their direction and then focus our signal in their direction, overloading their radios. This is beginning what’s known as isolating the target…
One of the common questions I get before, during and after the RTO Course is “how in the heck do you remember all those different connectors?” Well, the answer is nothing more than repetition- I know them because I’m built so many antennas over the years and needed the various connectors you come to know what they’re called.
Its a good idea to have a large number of spare connectors and adapters on hand. If you’re making external antennas for your equipment, they’re an absolute must have item. And unlike pretty much everything else we make our antennas from in the RTO Course, they’re the hardest to source in a working environment, so knowing what they are and having a bunch on hand now makes too much sense.
The Cobra Head
A story I tell in class is exactly how I discovered the real name for what I always knew as a Cobra Head. The Split Post BNC Adapter, or BNC Banana Jack Adapter, is widely known to Army guys as Cobra Heads- in fact, I never knew they were called anything else and couldn’t find them for a long time after I got out. I found them at a Hamfest in a big tray of connectors and felt like an idiot when I was told what they’re really called. It didn’t matter- I found them.
Why they’re important is that its the easiest connector to use when building improvised wire antennas. We were given them by the bagful in the Army to practice antenna building, and I came to really appreciate it. Simply cut your wire, match the radiating wire to the red end and ground side to the black, loop it around and you’re good to go. If you want to get the most secure with it be sure to use some ring terminals to connect the wire to the connector. Attaching BNC coax can’t be easier and more secure…
NC Scout at the Brushbeater blog has a brief article up looking at some FARC equipment – A Modern Look at Guerrilla Radio Equipment.
Watching a recent media piece on the FARC, I noticed a few shots of their radio equipment they were using to communicate between camps.
Look familiar? Its a Yaesu 817 being run from a Sealed Lead Acid battery. Here’s a better shot:
Interesting layout by one of their RTOs:
The old 817 appears to be very popular among the communist guerrilla group, and if I had to guess (based on their geography) they’re using VHF single sideband and HF NVIS to relay camp-to-camp through the mountains where they operate.
I imagine they’ve learned a lot in the communications department over a half century of civil war, and it looks like they’re keeping it simple, analog and robust.
NC Scout at American Partisan has started a series of articles on antenna theory called Directional Antennas for the Small Unit. If you’re just getting started in radio communication, or you’ve been using it for a while but haven’t spent much time getting to know your antennas, this is a good start.
One of the biggest misconceptions behind communications security revolves around misunderstanding not just the role of the equipment but also how it functions. A big part of that is the basics of antenna theory. For most radio seems to be a plug and play kinda deal- it either works, or it doesn’t. Antennas are a type of voodoo magic and the solution to security is electronic encryption. Except it isn’t, and doesn’t do anything except mask what you’re saying, but not the fact you’re saying it. Guerrillas must rely on not being detected- and no matter how high tech you think you are, it’ll not solve a tradecraft issue.
The reality is that we’ll be working with equipment that is common and off the shelf- no matter how much we want those microwave NSA-encrypted troposcatter radios made of unobtanium, a big part of local networking is done via plain old VHF and UHF amateur and commercial gear that’s common. Guerrilla communications have to be harder to detect. And at the strategic level when building an underground network, you have to understand how to plan. Even with the cheap equipment most of you likely have, incorporating a level of planning into your local communications will yield a much higher level of security and success. Knowing and understanding directional antennas becomes a key part of that planning, and as we cover in the Advanced RTO Course, there’s several options that each get the job done.
Directional antennas accomplish two goals for us. First, generally speaking, if you’re not in the direction of the transmission you’re not going to hear the traffic. Because of this it offers a big advantage in the security department. If two directional antennas are transmitting toward one another, they’ll be able to communicate with the only people hearing the full conversation being in the middle of the two people. The second advantage is that instead of all our energy going in all directional at once, as with an omnidirectional antenna, a directional antenna sends the same amount of radiated energy in one direction- greatly increasing our range and signal strength in that direction, so we won’t need nearly as much power to accomplish to reliably communicate over a distance you might not have thought otherwise possible…
NC Scout has posted an article at his Brushbeater blog from one of his readers about how to generate true random numbers (as opposed to pseudo-random numbers and non-random numbers) for one time pad (OTP) encryption – R-Pi OTP/DRYAD True Hardware RNG How-To. It is lengthy and technical, but does a pretty good job of walking you through setting it up on a Raspberry Pi computer.
There are only three ways that I know of to generate a truly random One Time Pad – for the “regular guy”: 1) The old-fashioned way with a set of dice (preferably 10-sided) and paper/pencil; 2) purchase one of AmRRON’s ADL-1 units from AmRRON.com (https://amrron.com/2018/03/18/amrron-dark-labs-otp); 3) The following method outlined in this how-to. Maybe there are others. I wanted to come up with a way for anybody to put one together with easily available components. So here it is. You shouldn’t need to procure any unobtainium to build it. (It was valid in May 2018 when I first put this together. It should be fine as Raspbian Stretch is still the current distribution.)
The script will print either numerical or alphabetic OTPs. Besides the standard OTP generating scripts, also included is a script for generating a DRYAD-type table (it does not have the formatting options of the OTP script) and a special, limited-use/audience OTP script for split keys and variants at the end of this how-to.
This how-to also includes a procedure for building an SD card from scratch purely for the production of secure OTPs. Prior to that is some helpful info for those who are interested. If you wanted to build a good OTP generator, then this is for you…
NC Scout at American Partisan has a short article up on Caching with PVC. You may be caching things at a favorite camping spot, remote cabin, bug out location, practicing geocaching, or for another reason. Here’s how to keep it safe and find it again when you need it.
PVC is one of those things no survivalist or prospective guerrilla should be without. It’s one of the most versatile items you can have around a retreat, being used for everything and anything including hydroponics, water routing and storage, shelter frames and even in one case from a student in the RTO Course, a ladder rack on his truck. It was really cool- and really well done. But one of the most common uses I have for PVC tubing is making caches for anything from weapons, ammunition and communications support items to basic sustainment items like extra knives, fire making tools, ponchos and tarps or medical items. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it though, and it’s not as simple is stuffing things in a tube.
One of the big advantages of using PVC is its simplicity. With a larger diameter pipe, a rounded end cap and a screw-in cleanout cap you’ve got a basic water resistant tube that can virtually disappear anywhere. You can find the smaller sizes at any Lowe’s, Home Depot, or ACE Hardware, but the larger diameters you’ll need to hit up the local plumbing supply store.
But with that said, caching with PVC in the long term is a little more complicated than it looks. Storage of anything for extended periods requires some care and a little more work than just stuffing things in a tube. And while we’re talking about DIY canisters, I follow the same rules for any cache container.
Caches do us no good if they can’t seal out the elements….
NC Scout of the Brushbeater blog will be holding his RTO Basic course again in Hamilton, MT (south of Missoula), on June 15 & 16, 2019. This is the only date on the calendar in 2019 that is in western USA.
Contact email@example.com for class inquiries and to register.
The Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) Course is designed to take the individual of any and every experience level and teach them the basics of effective small unit communications in a field environment. Students will learn what it takes to set up a plan and implement communications in an improvised setting be it anything from a retreat to a security patrol to regional communications networking groups. A heavy emphasis of the course is on improvisation and antenna building- each student will construct antennas from improvised materials which they keep. This is NOT a “ham radio” class. No equipment or previous experience is required; only a notebook and a good pair of shoes. It is the only course of its kind offered anywhere, in a friendly, laid back and respectful environment.
This class will teach students the basics of communications at the Team or Squad Level in the field. Topics of instruction include:
- Identifying Equipment Requirements
- Writing a Signals Operating Index
- PACE Planning for Communications
- Basic equipment capabilities
- Traffic handling
- Improvised antenna types, uses and construction
- Setting up and running an NVIS HF station
- Message Formats
- Setting up and communicating from a Hide site
Two day course will culminate in an field training event running a TOC station and Hide site in the field. Students will each build an antenna and demonstrate competency in team communications basics during the field exercise. Amateur Radio license qualification is helpful, but not required. This is NOT a ‘ham radio’ class but each student will come away with a basic understanding of a team’s communications needs in a tactical environment and how to best meet them under less-than-ideal circumstances. No equipment is required for this course; however, if students want to get field practice with their own gear, it is highly encouraged but done so at their own risk. Instruction is completely off-grid.
RTO Course: $300 per Student in advance
If you’e the person who has been put in charge of communications for your group, NC Scout at Brushbeater blog has an article up outlining the basic tasks that you should be working on – Tasks for the ‘Designated Commo’ Guy.
…that’s where the challenge of the designated guy begins- competently training your people to that baseline.
First things first, you can never, ever expect to get anywhere if you fly so far over people’s heads they ignore you. Members of your group have to see the relevance in what they are doing or else its a doomed effort from the get-go. With communications, the tendency is for new people to get quickly overwhelmed and all of them are explicitly not looking for a hobby, they just want their equipment to work. If they didn’t have interest in communications before, chances are very high there’s an end goal in mind and its not experimentation. They want validation that whatever this was they spent hard-earned money on based on your recommendations actually does what its supposed to do. What you told them it would do. And if they don’t see the results, you’ve got an albatross around your neck. Everything begins with the basics. As we used to be told over and over again, there is no such thing as super-duper secret techniques, just mastery of the basics. And I’ve found that to be true of nearly every task in life- what might seem rudimentary to one guy might be a tough task to another; the goal is to build everyone up.
#1. Create a Local Network
The first big hurdle to cross is to establish communications among your people. Not in the tactical sense, but in the practical sense. Realistically, your neighbors and people who live within about a 30 minute drive are what you have access to as far as people go- should the balloon go up tomorrow, they’re the ones who matter…
Edit: NC Scout posted an update article based on questions that were sent in about the article above, Practical, Tactical: Training Questions from a Reader.
I got these questions from a reader based on the last couple of posts and its questions many have but don’t quite understand. There’s a lot of different reasons people begin to focus on communications, but when you boil it down, its one of two real necessities: either networking your group over an area, or, supporting tactical needs. The two goals are different, and while there’s some overlap, its a different mission set with different techniques.I’ve began reassessing communications needs because like you said in an article recently, I as a ham have been ignoring the benefits of using non-ham comms somewhat.This is a really common attitude. A lot of folks forget the advantages of license free options once they get a ham license. The thing about amateur radio is the great pool of resources and nearly unlimited options you’ve got on the table. But not everyone in your group is going to get up to speed or even look into a hobby- it’s easier to defer to you, the subject matter expert, and do whatever you help them set up or suggest. Which normally means going license free.I feel like there is a line between too little radio comms and too much though. I’ve always thought of it as a team leader and up sort of equipment, I.E. not every rifleman needs a radio. Even then, you still probably only need one radio that’s capable of communication outside the general area of the squad, in order to send reports etc. But on the flip side, in a MAG type setting, people need to be able to communicate with each other as well. So if you were to use FRS radios for your local non-tactical nets, wouldn’t that exclude them from use in a tactical situation? And then also GMRS as well, since it’s basically the same chunk of spectrum as FRS? And I don’t like the idea of relying on MURS with only 5 channels for tactical comms, although it would be simple. So other than CB, which is also channel based, I think I’m out of non-ham options, please correct me if I’m wrong though.And this is getting into the heart of the question. There’s definitely a line between too much and two little, and it all revolves around the mission…
NC Scout has an article up at his Brushbeater blog on communications tips for new preparedness groups, mutual assistance groups, or other groups needing radio communications – Commo Tips for New Groups.
I had the incredible experience of being a guest on authors Glenn Tate and Shelby Gallagher’s Prepping 2.0 podcast and radio show, and along the interview we covered common issues that I see a lot of preppers just getting into communications have. Since I’ve been running classes for over three years now getting people up to speed, there’s a several issues I see repeating over and over. But fortunately in every case, the answers are more simple than you think.
Understand Your Real Needs
I always point folks to their primary needs- creating local infrastructure. We can’t really control much outside of our primary Area of Operation (AO) or Area of Influence (AI), but what we an do is work to build up local infrastructure within those areas. And if that’s all you can do, but you’re actively doing it, then you’re lightyears past what others are doing. This means VHF and UHF capabilities, which are both very common and pretty inexpensive for basic equipment.
What should I buy?
This is the first question most people ask. Its the same with guns, trucks, tires, and anything else you can spend money on. The answer I come up with in class is that its not the equipment, its the capability; that means frequency ranges. That $25 Baofeng UV-5R operates on VHF and UHF frequencies, both licensed amateur (ham) and license free (MURS, FRS, etc)…
NC Scout is full of useful information, and luckily he is willing to share that information with us all. In his post Situational Awareness and Wargaming Your AO, NC Scout gives us a short explanation about how to about thinking over how critical infrastructure in your area could be attacked. He’s particular interested in communication infrastructure, but the same targeting process can be used toward anything.
The most important questions you should be asking right now are not the hypothetical or abstract simply naming ‘SHTF!’, rather, it needs to be rationally rooted in the MOST LIKELY and MOST DEADLY courses of action (MLCOA / MDCOA). What causes this “SHTF?” Who will be taking advantage of it? One of the overtones of my recent classes has been discussing the growing local antifa movement and (somewhat) wargaming/red celling capabilities, with emergency services communications systems coming into question. Think on that one for a second. It’s a dangerous proposition that many overlook- there’s a real threat to the robustness of emergency service equipment and as we become more and more complex, they become more and more vulnerable. From my perspective, this makes understanding and maintaining my own off-grid communications and action networks that much more important. And it should you too…
.Building independent, self-sustaining communities is paramount, as well as being the strongest survivalist plan, but its important to recognize that threats are more than just simplistic catch phrases. You still live in the real world, not that lustful libertariatopia, and are subject to the ramifications of threats external to you. I take people at their word- and the Left’s core, the ‘instant gratification‘ groomed social justice warriors, a manifestation of all of the fingers that threaten Western Sovereignty- are the future of their movement. They see no benefit to the current order and through willful ignorance find solace amid revolutionary ideals whose only logical end is violence. I believe them. And instead of useless projecting, you should be asking serious questions about what they’re capable of pulling off. I bet some folks in Nigeria today wished they had done a bit more in retrospect. I’d be willing to bet some of you will too- Antifa thugs, Islamic thugs, same types of people. They both want you, Christian Male, exterminated.
What to do now is get serious about a training schedule while spending some time understanding more about your individual area. There’s a lot of opportunities out there, and the more arrows you put in the quiver the more resilient you’ll be later on down the road.
NC Scout at American Partisan has written another article discussing the jungle antenna – The Jungle Antenna Revisited: Task and Purpose for the Partisan and Prepper. NC Scout has written about this antenna and its usefulness previously.
Going back to the early days of the Brushbeater blog, the Jungle Antenna post has been and continues to be one of the more popular posts I’ve done. And for good reason- I wrote it to be used. It’s the antenna every student in the RTO course builds and one of the designs they get hands on with, and it’s the one that they know works from the demonstrations we do with them. But often, as with everything, a context for the task and purpose has to be clarified.
Many preppers who contact me fall into a similar trap. I have a goal and recognize a need. What can I buy that does for me what I want it to do? How do I do this in the most cost-effective way? And finally (but what should be first) how do I obtain the skill to best use the gear I’ve purchased? It’s a problematic point of view for a lot of reasons but one I get frequenct questions about nonetheless. And that’s ok. I’ll normally answer it the same way- Use your stuff. Learn to use it even better, and never stop!
One of my objectives bak then, as it remains in my classes and writing today, was emphasizing the skill of building your own equipment…
NC Scout at American Partisan has an informative article up, Signals Intelligence: Capabilities for Anyone, discussing readily available and simple equipment that anyone can use to build their signals intelligence capabilities. Signals intelligence is one of the best, if not the best, ways to know what is going on around you, whether that is in the aftermath of a disaster or during a civil disturbance/conflict.
One of the points I’ve stressed for a long time is the value found in using simple equipment to the maximum of its potential. Whatever it might be optics to weapons to electronics, my own combat experience has fostered an appreciation for Keeping it Simple, Stupid. And that’s the very paradigm I teach my class from–taking what’s common and simple to understand and learning the techniques of using it to its peak potential. The same is true for building signals intelligence capabilities among preppers and/or potential partisans. Not that long ago the RAND Corporation published a white paper on the very topic; what they found was that not only does the capability exist to monitor most real-world threats in any given environment, anyone can do it.During our market scan, we found examples of SIGINT capabilities outside of government that are available to anyone. The capabilities we found have applications in maritime domain awareness; radio frequency (RF) spectrum mapping; eavesdropping, jamming, and hijacking of satellite communications; and cyber surveillance. Most of these capabilities are commercially available, many are free, and some are illegal. In our view, the existence of both legal and illegal markets and capabilities results in an environment where SIGINT has been democratized, or available to anyone.
(Weinbaum, Berner and McClintock, 2017)
From experience monitoring the Taliban on a decade old Radio Shack Pro-96 in Afghanistan, an undisciplined adversary will usually tell you everything you want to know over the air. Even if he thinks he’s secure with electronic encryption, the presence of the signal itself can be detected as soon as he keys up. After working with several private groups and teaching techniques to not get found in my RTO Course, I can positively say that a lot of people are at a distinct disadvantage in the communications department not through equipment but through a complete misunderstanding of the actual function of their gear. As anyone who’s trained with me knows, tactical communications is a whole other animal from nearly everything folks think they know. The first rule of Signals Counterintelligence is to have a competent plan and not set patterns. But what about collection? Those same mistakes we aim to correct through training are likely to be repeated by the opposing force. Even if they have all the technical enables in the world, a lot can be done with basic equipment…