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National Security Agency/Surveillance in a work of fiction

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Question
Hello.

I am about to start writing a story in which one of the protagonists (an Intelligence Support Activity/TOSA/whatever the actual name is) is tracking a terrorist in a Middle East country. The terrorist is broadcasting a pirate radio transmission from inside a moving truck and this will allow the protagonist to locate him.
I have several questions regarding how this could happen.
1. Are (pirate) radio transmissions usually sistematically monitored in countries in which rebellions/civil wars are ongoing (by local governments or US special forces/NSA)?
2. In the scenario I have in mind, the protagonist detects a new pirate transmission, then is able to match the voice speaking with the voice of the terrorist (which has been recorded before). Is this plausible?
(Linked to the first question) How could he detect the broadcast of this new transmission?
Which software would he use for the matching?
3. Would it be possible to locate the moving vehicle from which the transmission is broadcast (assuming the terrorist always uses the same frequency) and track it, even over a long period of time?  Would the operator use a drone, call in JSTARS or anything else to follow the truck?

I am sorry if some of the questions do not make any sense or if they are too many, I tried to find answer over the Internet but it seems all very complicated!
Thank you in advance for you answer!

Answer
Greetings!

1. Are (pirate) radio transmissions usually sistematically monitored in countries in which rebellions/civil wars are ongoing (by local governments or US special forces/NSA)?

All of them might be attempting surveillance on such transmissions. The logistical challenge is that, especially in developing countries, there is such a large amount of radio communication going on that isolating significant traffic is quite difficult. That's why even today pirates still successfully operate.

2. In the scenario I have in mind, the protagonist detects a new pirate transmission, then is able to match the voice speaking with the voice of the terrorist (which has been recorded before). Is this plausible?

Go ahead and include a description of how some device records a match of the voice captured. It's standard fare of spy thrillers. It is, however, not real. In practice, when you hear the news say "Intelligence experts believe the voice is the voice of so-and-so, it's several people that know the voice listening to it and arriving at a consensus."

(Linked to the first question) How could he detect the broadcast of this new transmission?
Which software would he use for the matching?

Agencies use "home made" programs for this sort of thing, meaning the NSA or GCHQ or whoever had their own programmers make something (and these things are usually built for a UNIX platform)

3. Would it be possible to locate the moving vehicle from which the transmission is broadcast (assuming the terrorist always uses the same frequency) and track it, even over a long period of time?  Would the operator use a drone, call in JSTARS or anything else to follow the truck?

Just as with the problem of locating the presumably crashed Malaysia Air plane, if you are picking up a signal at one point, you can't even locate it, you can just somewhat roughly estimate its distance. You need at least two, preferably three, points to then triangulate with any accuracy. With such coverage, yes a moving vehicle can be tracked. The accuracy of all that is certainly not as good in practice as what you see in the movies.

Calling in help from a drone or satellite would provide the further data points, but such resources are frequently unavailable on a practical basis.

As a writer, you can go two ways on anything with spy matters. You could go ahead and include things that are beyond the true capabilities of such agencies. No one will fault you for that, most espionage fiction is way beyond reality. Or you can build in the fact that tracking is difficult.

Hope this helps!

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Keith Massey

Expertise

I can answer any questions on the topic within an unclassified framework. Classified information I know about the agency (as a former employee) I can not divulge.

Experience

I worked at the National Security Agency for four years, from 2002-2006, in the capacity of an Arabic linguist.

Organizations
None pertinent

Publications
2008 Intermediate Arabic for Dummies. ISBN 9780470373378. Wiley Publishing. 2008 "A Latin Etymology for Romanian DA = Yes" in Ianua. Revista Philologica Romanica. 2008 "Further Evidence for an "Italic" Substratum in Romanian," in Philologie im Netz 43/2008, pp. 11-16. 2007 "Vergilian Allusions In Newman’s “Kindly Light," in Newman Studies Journal, Vol. 4, Issue 2, Fall 2007. 2006 "A Second Look at Latin Secundus = 'Favorable'" in Pomoerium Online Journal, Vol. 5/2004-2006. 2002 "Letters and Mysterious Letters," contributor of article for Encyclopedia of the Qur'an (E.J. Brill Publishers). 1996 "Mystery Letters of the Quran," in Arabica (E.J. Brill Publishers) by Keith Massey. 1995 "Semitic Quadriliteral Animal Terms: An Explanation," in Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages (University of Stellenbosch, South Africa) by Keith Massey and Kevin Massey-Gillespie. 1993 "Dialogue of Creeds" in ISLAMOCHRISTIANA (Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies) by Keith Massey and Kevin Massey-Gillespie.

Education/Credentials
Education PhD 1998 University of Wisconsin-Madison Hebrew and Semitic Studies, Arabic Minor MA 1992 University of Wisconsin-Madison Hebrew and Semitic Studies MA 1990 Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN Old Testament BA 1987 University of Wisconsin-Madison Classics (Latin and Greek)

Awards and Honors
Previous Position Arabic Linguist (June 2002-July 2006) National Security Agency, Fort Meade, MD Achieved Professional Certification as Level 3 Voice Linguist and Level 3 Graphic Linguist, passing two of the four examinations with honors. Served at an overseas field site. Through the National Security Agency, has studied Iraqi Dialect and Egyptian Dialect and used each in an operational context.

Past/Present Clients
None pertinent

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