U.S. peacekeepers use Net to access classified network

U.S. peacekeepers use Net to access classified network

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

Halfway around the world, U.S. peacekeepers in East Timor are accessing the Defense Department's classified network through the Internet.


Lt. Col. Timothy Gibson, left, and Lt. Col. Gerald Daniels say they hear less often from peacekeepers in East Timor, which they say means SIPRnet access works.


That 'very unusual' development could set a precedent for regional disaster relief and peacekeeping operations communications, a DOD communications support official said.

Australian officials, who are leading Operation Stabilise in East Timor, awarded a communications support contract last year, but the contractor could not let U.S. troops access the DOD Secret IP Router Network, said Army Lt. Col. Timothy Gibson, the U.S. Pacific Command's computer security division chief at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.

'The Australians had no intentions of providing reach-back [communications] for each of its partner nations, including the [United States]. SIPRnet, in this case, is a U.S.-only system and therefore was not part of the plan,' said Army Lt. Col. Gerard Daniels, the U.S. Pacific Command's plans, exercise and contingency operations chief.

On Dec. 8, up to 50 U.S. troops working in the United Nations Transition Assistance operation started using AT&T Corp. 1610 secure data devices, which resemble secure telephone units without handsets, Daniels said.

'It was just like a modem dial-in' to the Defense Information Systems Network, which hosts SIPRnet, Daniels said. To deal with poor phone line quality, the troops began using Motorola Inc. network encryption devices connected to a SIPRnet server at Camp Smith, he said.

U.S. Pacific Command officials leased a 128-Kbps Integrated Services Digital Network circuit from an Internet service provider, Daniels said.

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'The network encryption devices provide a secure tunnel through the ISP,' he said. 'The routers compensate for any poor line quality by bit-error rate testing. When [they were] using the [secure data devices] and the line quality degraded, the connectivity was lost completely, which required re-dial-up and connectivity.'

The command wanted a link with a regional DISN step site, but the commercial configuration in East Timor couldn't connect, Daniels said.

To ensure security, U.S. Pacific Command officials connected the Camp Smith SIPRnet server with the network encryption device, Daniels said. An Australian provider picks up the network encryption device's Internet traffic and sends it to troops in Darwin, Australia, and Dili, East Timor, which decrypt the signal before it goes to the router, he said. Firewalls in Darwin and Dili increase security.

DOD officials have checked the Darwin and Dili locations to ensure that the SIPRnet terminals are secure, Daniels said.

Gibson estimated that the Internet connection gives the troops a 256-Kbps communications pipe through a provider's Synchronous Optical Network. The setup lets the U.S. Pacific Command use a commercial provider, so DOD doesn't need to own the network.

The U.S. Pacific Command signed an agreement through which it pays $700 per month for the Darwin Internet connection and $13,685 per month for the Dili connection, which costs more because it is in an undeveloped area.

'It turned out that it was faster and cheaper than dial-up connections,' Gibson said. 'We've had no complaints from the users.'

Troops started using the Motorola equipment on the network in February.

In East Timor, Marine Brig. Gen. John G. Castellaw led a peak force of more than 400 U.S. troops who provided communications, intelligence and logistics support to the allies.

Task Force Thunderbird, a company-size unit from the 86th Signal Battalion at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., provided communications support until its departure in late December. Castellaw left East Timor on Feb. 21; about 50 soldiers remain.

Before the upgrade, the 86th Signal Battalion used Navy systems to access the Non-Classified IP Router Network, SIPRnet, AUTODIN, UHF radios, VHF video feeds, videoconferencing, voice services and WAN connectivity to the coalition partners, Daniels said [GCN, Oct. 4, 1999, Page 49].

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