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Satellite jamming

"Field Office Modernization" OR Spectrum Enforcement Cutback

Yesterday FCC at a public commission meeting voted unanimously to

"modernize the agency’s field operations within the Enforcement Bureau. The proposal will improve efficiency, better position the agency to do effective radio interference detection and resolution and meet other enforcement needs, and save millions of dollars annually after implementation is complete."

The decision was in an Order that was adopted and released immediately. The Order states

The Field will embark on a program to update its equipment and employee skillset to address the likely issues that will accompany new and expanded uses of spectrum. This program will include the expanded use of remotely operated monitoring equipment to supplement field staff, as well as the identification and use of portable devices capable of assessing interference issues in bands expected to experience heavy spectrum use. Upon completion of all required implementation steps, the Commission will first apply the net savings resulting from this reorganization effort to this program, before applying those monies to the agency’s general fund. The net savings will not be used to increase the number of full-time non-field-related employees in the headquarters office of the Enforcement Bureau.

Now recall that TR Daily previously reported "FCC officials also have told stakeholders that the field operations would get the first shot at any money the FCC saves by closing field offices." So where are the savings going? Will there really be enough money after all these jobs are eliminated "to update its equipment and employee skillset"? While a statement has been made that savings can not be used to increase EB front office bureaucrats - comments were made at the commission meeting that EB front office bureaucrats have actually have increased significantly in the past few years - there is now little assurance it will actually go to equipment and training.

Paragraph 15 of the Order states "IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT all Enforcement Bureau field agents shall have electrical engineering backgrounds." Your blogger was educated and overeducated in electrical engineering. He has actually worked in spectrum enforcement. Focusing on academic credentials for such work is naive. Perhaps the intent was not to have non techies, but the skill set for solving spectrum enforcement problems in the field has little to do with most EE curriculums these days. Yes, some universities such as Virginia Tech, UCSD, NYU (now merged with "Brooklyn Poly"), and University of Texas-Austin have programs in wireless technology, but the vast majority of EE graduates have virtually no exposure to wireless technology, focusing on issues such as software engineering and semiconductor design and manufacturing. This coupled with the totally inept technical staff recruiting FCC has had for the past decade means less capability in new hires, not more. For spectrum enforcement, you need people who really understand spectrum issues intuitively. Let us go back to the MGM-produced WWII era film "Patrolling the Ether". When FCC wanted good agent then it hired ham radio operators. While having a ham license is not a perfect predictor of success, it is a better predictor of success than simply having an EE degree given the state of EE education in wireless issues now. One has to hire good people, not take short cuts in focusing on credentials!

For the past 3 decades, ever since Ed Minkel became the first Managing Director, FCC has avoided paying for personnel relocations. Will FCC pay for relocations related to this downsizing? For example, will staffers whose jobs are eliminated be eligible for FCC paid relocation to another office with a vacancy or to Washington if they are selected for a job there? We believe that the near total absence of FCC-funded relocations were both a major contributor to poor morale in field offices and has denied FCC headquarters of the historic flow of individuals with field experience and actual problems of licensees. The 2016 FCC Budget has only $55k for Budget Object Classification Codes 22, "Transportation of Things" and there is no indication of any budget for the subcategory "2210 Change of Official Station".

Finally a word to the GPS, aviation, and consumer electronics industries: Your trade associations, GPS Innovation Alliance, AOPA "Protecting your freedom to fly", Airlines for America, and Consumer Electronics Association were totally silent during the several month public debate on this downsizing that even under the best of circumstances will result in a lot fewer "boots on the ground". The broadcast industry, cellular industry, and public safety interests spoke up loudly during the deliberations on "modernization"/downsizing and as a result they got specific assurances that their interests would be attended to. Your industries were totally silent. Therefore do not be surprised to see the outcome of less spectrum enforcement on your industries may be much more severe than on those who spoke up!

  • GPS: The GPDS industry is very susceptible to jamming sometimes called "privacy protection devices". FCC has the legal authority to both stop jamming and to stop the marketing of jamming devices. Will have the number of field agents and have the number of field office improve their capability?

  • Aviation interests: The report that started this downsizing clearly stated that since FCC-enforced antenna marking and lighting issues have high compliance now less enforcement is needed. Fortunately aviation collisions into towers that are poorly marked, poorly lighted, or reported in incorrect locations are rare, but you know what the consequences of such collisions are! A lot of tower owners will know they are hundreds of miles away from the nearest FCC office and that the likelihood of marking and lighting enforcement has just decreased markedly. So why hire a tower caliber to replace that bulb? Fly carefully now!

  • Consumer Electronics: FCC Rules serve to both limit interference and to create a "level playing field" for firms competing in the manufacture and sale of consumer electronics. In the consultant's report that lead to this downsizing, equipment marketing enforcement was never mentioned. So don't expect much in the future!
Although never mentioned in the discussion yesterday or in the released documents, there are reports now that those who keep their jobs as a result of this "modernization" may still face reclassification to a lower GS grade and thus a loss in net pay. (Federal personnel law prevents a salary decrease for a few years, but denies raises in such cases.)

When Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau was formed, EB's HF/short wave direction finding system and its interference location functions migrated there in an action that was disclosed at the time without much discussion. Since then that operation has become very secretive, perhaps only mentioned in the Inspector General's report on porno in FCC computers. This operation is so secretive that there was no public mention of a new building at the FCC's Columbia MD property that is certainly the largest FCC-owner structure built in decades and probably the most expensive. A recent FCC employment vacancy announcement implies that satellite monitoring and enforcement functions are now also moving to PSHSB. So is EB getting out of this area also without public discussion? Does the 8th floor know? What does the satellite industry expect the amount of attention to them will be after this change? Satellite industry issues that require "boots on the ground" "outside the Beltway" will now require cooperation of 2 FCC entities, one of whom views spectrum enforcement as its lowest priority.

Satellite Jamming Case 25th Anniversary

Haynie event

On September 6, 1987 as the country was enjoying the Labor Day weekend, cable viewers exercising their 1st Amendment right to watch the Playboy Channel (now PlayboyTV) were surprised to see the above image on their TV rather than Three Daughters, the film that was being shown.

On April 27, 1986 the first known incident of intentional domestic satellite jamming took place involving HBO’s satellite signal for cable TV. Below is a news story about it:

While some viewed it as a prank, satellite owners were validly concerned that such jamming used higher power than the satellite was designed for and could permanently damage a satellite transponder. Your blogger was part of an FCC/FOB (now Enforcement Bureau) team that identified the party responsible for the jamming within a few days and with both technical evidence and circumstantial evidence convinced him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Within 6 months Congress, at the encouragement of the satellite industry, passed 18 USC 1367 making such jamming a felony:


(It is hard to imagine Congress dealing with such an issue so fast now, but the speed was an indication about the concern over this issue at the time. Note that this section was passed contemporaneously with Section 333 of the Communications Act on jamming in general, makes “willful or malicious interference” a misdemeanor and is interpreted by the cellular industry as denying FCC, but not NTIA, authority to authorize jamming in any circumstance. Note further that 18 USC 1367(b) specifically exempts any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of a law enforcement agency or of an intelligence agency. FCC has never ruled on any interpretation of Section 333.)

Given this recent legislation, less than a year old at the time of the Playboy incident, FOB repeated the thorough type of investigation that identified the source of the Captain Midnight jamming the previous year in less than a week. It took a few days longer than the first time, but the team - basically the same people as in the previous case - identified the perpetrator as Thomas Haynie, an employee of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, now CBN. Since Robertson was running for the Republic nomination against Bush (41) at the time, this made the case a political hot potato! At no point during Mr. Robertson’s candidacy did information about this case leak out.

While there was never any evidence that anyone else in CBN was involved in planning or executing the incident, there was later clear evidence that CBN staffers gave false and misleading statements to investigators and actually destroyed evidence, perhaps as part of a “coverup”. It appeared that CBN paid the full legal defense cost of Mr. Haynie’s later trial, estimated to be about $300,000 - apparently from funds it collected as charitable donations for its main mission.

Haynie was convicted in 1990 after a jury trial in Norfolk and in 1991 the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. The appeals court decision is a good summary of the trial and the evidence presented.

Last night 8 of the veterans of this case gathered to reminisce about it. Most of us had not seen Dick Smith, former Chief of FOB and later OET, in many years and were pleased he took time from a family visit to join us. In the 25 years since this incident and its successful prosecution, there has never been another case of intentional domestic jamming from a US source.

The 2 successful investigations had their intended effect!

Playboy team 25 yrs

Satellite Jamming Sleuths at 25th Reunion: “Joe” Monie, Charles Magin, Dick Smith, Richard Engelman, Michael Marcus, James Higgins, Bob Weller, George Dillon


Prof. Paul Meier (1924-2011):
Interesting People Met During My FCC Career

Paul Meier
Last week major newspapers carried the obituary for Prof. Paul Meier who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago. His most famous work was in the area of medical statistics where he had a large impact. Scientific Computing wrote:

Meier was well known among his colleagues for co-developing a statistical method called the Kaplan-Meier estimator, which provided a novel method for estimating survival rates in clinical trial data. It incorporates data from patients who have been followed until death, as well as others who survived. The journal article that introduced the method in 1958, co-authored by Meier and Edward L. Kaplan, remains one of the most cited research papers in statistics or any other field, with about 34,000 citations to date. Meier also wrote extensively about the polio vaccine trial of 1954. The trial comprised the largest medical experiment in history, involving more than a million children.

But you could ask what did this have to do with FCC? Prof. Meier was hired by FCC as a consultant to help in U.S. v. Haynie, the prosecution of the 18 USC 1367 “Playboy jamming” case - the felony prosecution under that statute that was passed after the 1986 better known “Captain Midnight” satellite jamming case. In both cases, an FCC/FOB team that I am proud to have participated in, unmasked the perpetrator in about a week despite the unprecedented nature of the incidents. (FOB was the predecessor of today’s Enforcement Bureau and my presence there for what turned out to be about to be 7 years was “internal exile” resulting from the controversies involved in creating what became Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.)

“Captain Midnight” quickly agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of 47 USC 301, “transmitting without a license” even though there was a legal question whether that statute was applicable. The satellite industry was concerned about the possibility of more jamming and possible damage to satellites through input overloads and urged Congress to pass a new felony statute which became 18 USC 1367.

Thomas Haynie, an employee of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s satellite uplink station in Virginia Beach was accused of the crime and CBN paid for his defense. At the time of the incident, CBN leader Pat Robertson was running for the Republican presidential nomination. As reported earlier here, US Attorney (now Judge) Henry Hudson tried to avoid this prosecution for a new felony statute where the offense occurred in his district and the prosecution was handed over to the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

James Wilson, the excellent prosecutor assigned to the case wanted an ironclad case to nail the conviction. The basic evidence consisted linking Haynie to the event consisted of my analysis of a tape recording of the event showing that the text in the jamming signal was a very close match to the the character generator unit at CBN and different that most other units of the same model due to manual adjustment internal to the device. Similarly event tape showed the transmitter used for the jamming started at partial power and 1.67 seconds later went to full power - a characteristic of a certain transmitter model that CBN had and a very close match to the turnon time delay of CBN’s transmitter.

Prof. Meier was engaged to do a statistical analysis of the data we collected, advise on what other data might be needed, and prepare a report on the confidence level associated with our identification of CBN’s facilities and Mr. Haynie. He advised us of how much data we should collect about the characteristics of other units of the same model character generator and transmitter and prepared a report showing a negligible probability that our identification of the CBN equipment as the source of the jamming was erroneous.

During the 1 week trial on Norfolk we had Prof. Meier on “strip alert” to fly there and testify if the defense seriously attacked our analysis, but I believe the strength of Prof. Meier’s analysis report deterred the defense from doing so and he never actually testified. But Prof. Meier was an inspiration to the whole prosecution team with his effective and clearly explained approach to this novel investigative problem. He was also our conscience to make absolutely sure we missed something in our identification. Also I had found Prof. Meier and first approached him, I was not fully aware of the magnitude of his contributions to medical research that came out in the recent obituaries. I am proud to have worked with him on this case and learned a lot from him. He is one of the most unforgettable person I met during my career.

An irony of this case 25 years later is that CBN’s Washington news office is now located at 1919 M St., NW, the former FCC headquarters building!