Desmond Ball Unbound
covering burma and southeast asia
Thursday, November 15, 2018

Desmond Ball Unbound

By Desmond Ball Tuesday, June 1, 2004

(Page 2 of 3)

What can you say about this?

Over the last few years, although the overall strength of the various resistance armies has decreased, the military successes have in fact increased

A: I think you have to distinguish between the station at Great Coco and what is now six or seven smaller listening stations which the Chinese have provided down the Burmese coastline, on the Andaman Sea side. In the case of the smaller listening stations, they are entirely operated by Burmese military and in particular by the Burmese Navy. There are only Chinese at those stations whenever they are providing new equipment or repairing equipment or providing some technical assistance. But basically they are Burmese stations.

Great Coco is quite different from that. You have a continuous Chinese presence at that station which has not gone away in the last decade or so since that station has been operating. It would be operated primarily by Burmese. I can’t see the Burmese government actually allowing China, in a sense, to have its own listening station there. So it’s probably more accurately characterized as a joint listening station with both Burmese and Chinese technicians working together at Great Coco.

Q: Why is that area so important? What are the Chinese listening to?

A: For the Chinese it’s quite critical. It provides them with the ability to listen in to all signals traffic across the eastern Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea. It enables them to listen in to the telemetry signals which are generated during Indian ballistic missile tests which are fired off from the eastern coast of India and which land in the Andaman Sea there. But it also complements a series of listening stations which the Chinese operate in the South China Sea, where they’ve now got about six stations between Great Coco on the western side of the Malacca Straits and those stations in the South China Sea on the eastern side. It enables them to monitor all maritime movements, both naval movements as well as other maritime shipping traffic through those straits. In intelligence terms, it is a major bonus for them.

I was going to say, and I think I can say, it is the most important listening station which China operates outside of China itself. China operates listening stations in Laos, small ones. There are a couple in Cuba which are quite important. In recent times they’ve also established a couple over in the Ukraine to monitor some of the western side. But the Great Coco one would be up there as, if not the most important, as one of the most important stations outside of China itself.

Q: What about Russia? We have quite a big Russian Embassy operating in Rangoon.

A: Yeah, the Russian Embassy has been a for Russian intelligence operations for decades now. There is an extensive listening capability in the Russian Embassy. But in the old days, in the days of the Soviet Union, both the KGB and the Soviet military intelligence, the GRU, also operated extensively through human intelligence operations, spies out of the embassy there. And although some of those operations have been reduced since the collapse of the Soviet Union they haven’t been closed down entirely.

And the Russian connection now extends beyond just the espionage operations out of the embassy. There are arms sales, which include the MiG-29 sales, the provision of the nuclear reactor to Rangoon and since early last year, Russian teams exploring the area down in Tenasserim, where they’ve been looking for uranium, not for purposes of a reactor, but simply for the purposes of mining and processing of uranium hexaflouride, the yellow cake, which they would use themselves in their reactors. In the last 15 months, [there have been] quite extensive visits and exploration teams of Russians down in that area.

Q: The junta knows what the opposition and its leaders are thinking inside and outside Burma because they tap phones and intercept communications quite well. If the opposition knew what the junta leaders were thinking could they make a judgment that would speed up reform?

A: I’m not sure about that. At the military level, then it is possible to know almost everything because no Tatmadaw operation takes place without very extensive communications from Rangoon to the regional commands and to the Light Infantry Divisions, the LIDs, and from those commands and divisions to the subordinate battalions and companies. So whenever there is new equipment introduced into a particular area, a new artillery system, for example, or a new battalion comes into a particular village, then that is very easy to monitor.

With regard to what [junta leaders] are actually thinking, then I don’t think that technical intelligence is going to help you very much there. More could probably be done in terms of monitoring their phone calls.

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