July 27, 2013
In one of the slides given to the London newspaper The Guardian by Edward Snowden, there is a poor quality PPT slide showing the locations of all NSA and “Second Party” satellite communications (SATCOM) signals intercept stations around the world. The slide shows that there was a NSA SATCOM intercept station in Thailand, although the codename for the site cannot be clearly read beause of the poor quality of the image.
While trawling around on Google Earth looking for older conventional SIGINT antennas, my friend Ed M. accidently found the NSA SATCOM intercept station on the northern edge of the city of Khon Khaen in eastern Thailand, population 114,000 people.
As you can see from the most recent Google Maps satellite imagery, the station is approximately 100-acres in size and consists of a large 40,000-50,000 square-foot operations building on the western side of the ops compound and four radome-enclosed parabolic antennas. My guess is that two of the radome-enclosed antennas are used for SATCOM intercept and two antennas used for relaying the intercepted material back to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade or perhaps the NSA Hawaii SIGINT processing, analysis and reporting facility in Wahiawa, Hawaii. As almost everybody now knows, this is where Edward Snowden worked until he fled to Hong Kong in May 2013.
There is also a PUSHER-type circularly-disposed antenna array (CDAA) array located just north of the ops compound, which appears to be slightly smaller and more compact than the 4-acre AN/FLR-9 antenna array I worked with back in the early 1980s.
NSA activated this facility at Khon Kaen back in October 1979 and designated it as the INDRA Facility. Its mission was to eavesdrop on the radio traffic of Chinese army and air force units in southern China, especially in and around the city of Kunming in Yunnan Province. Back in the late 1970s the base consisted only of a small CDAA antenna array that was remote-controlled via satellite from the NSA listening post at Kunia, Hawaii, and a small force of civilian contractors from Bendix Field Engineering Corp. who job it was to keep the antenna array and satellite relay facilities up and running 24/7.
According to the papers of the late General William Odom, the INDRA facility was upgraded in 1986 with a new British-made PUSHER CDAA antenna as part of an overall upgrade of NSA and Thai SIGINT facilities whose objective was to spy on the neighboring communist nations of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodi0a (then known as Kampuchea).
The base apparently fell into disrepair in the 1990s as China and Vietnam became more friendly towards the U.S., and by 2002 archive satellite imagery showed that the PUSHER CDAA antenna has been torn down, perhaps indicative of the fact that the base had been closed.
But at some point in the almost 13 years since the 9/11 terrorist attaks, the Khon Kaen base has been reactivated and dramatically expanded to include a sizeable and important SATCOM intercept mission. I presume that the NSA presence at Khon Kaen is relatively small, and that most of the work is done by civilian contractors working for the agency. There is also almost certainly a contingent of Thai SIGINT personnel belonging to the Royal Thai Armed Forces Security Agency.
If anyone can help fill in the gaps in my knowledge, I would be very appreciative.