Electronic Weapons: Smart Rocks At War

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November 7, 2015: More Israeli intelligence collecting sensors are being found in Lebanon, often disguised as rocks or rubble. Since 2013, as Hezbollah gunmen were sent into Syria and the Syrian rebels responded by operating aggressively on the Lebanese border, there have been a lot more activity on the Lebanese borders with Syria and Israel. That has led to more of these stealthy spying gadgets being found. Sometimes the discoveries are publicized as another example of sneaky Israeli behavior. There is a touch of envy in these news reports because it is an admission that the Israelis have developed some very impressive surveillance devices. Scarier still is the fact that some of them are obviously over a decade old and only worked for a few months until their batteries ran out. Such devices are easy to identify as Israeli because they often have Hebrew text on them and are obviously designed for covert surveillance.

The devices are often used elsewhere. In 2012 Iran reported that security troops outside a new underground nuclear enrichment plant went to investigate a suspicious looking rock and the rock exploded. Later investigation revealed that the rock was indeed not a real rock but an electronic device that was apparently monitoring activity around the nuclear facility (that enriched uranium sufficiently for use in a bomb) and transmitting it, via satellite, back to somewhere. The rock was also rigged to self-destruct if anyone got too close.

Initially Iran thought the fake rock was American, because the U.S. has been using the fake rocks thing for decades. But another potential culprit was Israel who known to be using this sort of thing quite a lot in Lebanon. As for the exploding rocks, details on stuff like that is rarely released and then usually after the item in question is retired. Some equipment of this sort does receive some publicity. Such was the case in 2005 with WolfPack. This is a 2.73 kg (six pound) sensor/jammer that is dropped into enemy territory to get information and, if needed, jam enemy communications (including cell phones). These were painted camouflage colors but it would be no problem to enclose the device in a container that looked like a rock.

Israel will sometimes go to great lengths to destroy these devices when they are found. In late 2009 some Lebanese found an Israeli electronic sensor on their side of the border. The Israelis soon became aware of this, and destroyed the device from the air with a missile, or internal explosives. There are conflicting reports. But Hezbollah fighters showed up shortly thereafter, and searched the area. They found another such device, and blew it up. It's believed these devices were for tapping into telephone conversations. The Lebanese believes that some, or all, of these devices were equipped with explosives, to self-destruct (or be detonated remotely from Israel) if discovered or tampered with. Lebanon arrested dozens of Israeli agents in 2009, with the help of Iranian intelligence operatives, and Israel responded with increased their use of electronic sensors. These detect movement, sound or electronic transmissions. Many are buried, or otherwise disguised to make detection difficult. Hezbollah has become aware of these devices, and offers rewards for those who find them. Thus hunting for Israeli sensors has become a popular activity along the border.

Hollywood isn't the only place where old hits are recycled. Such miniature gadgets were first developed and used in the 1960s. These early devices were just a microphone and transmitter. An aircraft overhead could pick up the transmissions, record them, and get them back to a base where the activity (trucks, troops marching, or whatever), where it occurred and the time, could be recorded. In this way operations along the carefully hidden (under the tall jungle canopy) "Ho Chi Minh" trail could be studied, plotted, and bombed. The trail, run by the North Vietnam through Laos (just west of Vietnam), was vital to keeping their troops in South Vietnam supplied.

WolfPack faced the same problem airdropped sensors in Vietnam did; the enemy will go looking for them once they realize the sensors were a danger to them. During the Vietnam War a partial solution to this problem was to build some of the airdropped sensors so they looked like a bamboo plant. This deception would not stand up to close scrutiny but the enemy troops were not going to closely examine every bamboo plant when they were sweeping an area for sensors. So this worked, except when, after the war, surplus sensors of this type were shipped to Europe for use there in a future war there.

Russia was known to have adopted this "intelligent rock" technology after the 1960s, and is still using it. China probably has it as well and someone is using it in Iran. There has been some interest in planting bugs on animals but further research found that the animals’ movement were too unpredictable to be useful. Efforts to miniaturize sensors and transmitters for use on mechanical insects is still stalled by technology that is not quite ready to go yet. So Arab paranoia regarding monitoring devices hidden in animals (real or artificial) is not totally unfounded, but somewhat premature.

 


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