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DND should not allow telco towers inside military camps

September 21, 2019

AL S. VITANGCOL III

THE consortium of Mindanao Islamic Telephone Co. or Mislatel (now Dito Telecommunity Corp.) signed a memorandum of agreement (MoA) with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sept. 11, 2019, allowing the former to build communications (telco) towers and mount telecommunications equipment in military camps and installations in the Philippines. It will be remembered that early this year, Mislatel was acquired by Udenna Corp., Chelsea Logistics Holdings and the Peoples Republic of China (PROC)-owned China Telecommunications Corp. (China Telecom).

The same consortium was awarded the franchise to operate the third major telecommunications service in the country. Although China Telecom owns only 40 percent of the consortium, it can still be considered a foreign entity since it controls the majority share (Udenna has 35 percent, while Chelsea has 25 percent) in the business group.

The Mislatel-AFP deal was concluded, with the military top brass signing into it — Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. and Maj. Gen. Adrian Sanchez, AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for communications, electronics and information systems (CEIS).

A Trojan horse

The agreement provides for Mislatel to lease specific military sites and payment will be made by providing CEIS additional telecommunications and computer equipment, various technical services, and advanced training to the AFP, supposedly equivalent to the monetary value of the lease.

This looks like a Trojan horse to me. I am sure that the telecommunications gadgets to be provided to the CEIS will be coming from China Telecom. The electronic devices might even be supplied by Huwaei Technologies, a Chinese multinational technology company based in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, PROC. If not from Huawei, then it may be sourced from another firm in Shenzhen, the ZTE Corp.

Since 2012, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) has prohibited companies in the US from using Huawei networking equipment (like routers and switches). In 2014, the DoD banned Huwaei from bidding for US government contracts. As early as May last year, the Pentagon ordered retail outlets on US military bases to stop selling Huwaei and ZTE phones. US government officials said China could order its manufacturers to create backdoors for spying in their devices, although both Huawei and ZTE have denied the possibility.

On Aug. 8, 2019, the DoD, General Services Administration (GSA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration issued a temporary rule banning the federal procurement of telecommunications equipment from Huawei and four additional technology companies — ZTE Corp., Hytera Communications Corp., Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., and Dahua Technology Co. The rule bans federal agencies from “procuring or obtaining, or extending or renewing a contract to procure or obtain, any equipment, system, or service that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, or as a critical technology as part of any system.”

Question: If there is no real security threat or risk in these technology devices, why would the US federal government ban these companies as early as 2012 (Donald Trump was not yet the President of the US)? It was only in 2018 that Trump signed the total ban of Huwaei and ZTE from use in government and government contracts.

At the time when I was a private consultant to the AFP-CEIS in 2011 to 2012, we were already discussing these “spyware” scenarios.

Have not the new AFP leadership studied the same? Or were their consultants blinded by “something” that they missed these risks? I was informed that a retired major general of the AFP is the chief technology officer of Mislatel.

Telco towers are target markers

In the continuing conflict between Israel and its enemies, the former has been conducting attacks on various targets, whether they are Iranian or Palestinian, on Syrian soil.

Going back in time to 1961, Israel had a hard time hitting their targets in Syria. The targets were camouflaged and hidden in underground fortified bunkers. Israel embedded a Mossad agent in Syria named Eli Cohen. To make a long story short, Cohen pretended to sympathize with the Syrian soldiers exposed to the sun and had eucalyptus trees planted in every bunker, purportedly to provide shade. The Israel Defense Forces used the eucalyptus trees as targeting markers during the Six-Day War (June 5 to 10, 1967), which enabled Israel to capture the Golan Heights in two days.

Why am I citing this more than 50-year-old event? As we know, our military camps, since they are small and do not have gargantuan military equipment and infrastructure, look like ordinary civilian communities and villages in satellite images.

The enemy, to our advantage, even with cutting-edge technologies, might be confused as to their locations. Putting telco towers there will serve the purpose of target markers. Enemy bombers can just lock in on the signals emitted by these towers and presto! Of course, not discounting the fact that eavesdropping devices can be stealthily installed in these towers.

The Department of National Defense (DND) should put a stop to this nonsensical agreement between Mislatel and the AFP.

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