The SPECTRE of jammed satellites

The scene could have come from one of the spy movies Greg Justice loved.

At a Los Angeles coffee house in February, Justice, 49, was about to meet a stranger. He was nervous and had promised not to tell anyone else about his appointment with a Russian intelligence official.

Justice was fascinated with James Bond and Jason Bourne movies and the television program The Americans, the Showtime series about Russian spies living undetected in the United States. He had paid for the online courses “Spy Escape and Evasion” and “Fight Fast.” At the meeting, he introduced himself as “Brian.”

The official stroked Justice’s ego, telling him, “you’re very, very important to the Russians.”

To Justice, this made perfect sense.

Since 2000, he had worked as a third-shift production engineer at Boeing’s El Segundo, California, satellite factory building the U.S. Air Force’s GPS 2F, Wideband Global Satcom and Milstar spacecraft as well as NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites and NOAA’s GOES weather satellites.

Credit: www.007museum.com

Credit: www.007museum.com

“My hope for initiating this relationship is that we can both benefit,” Justice told his contact.“You can get something that will maybe help you; and I can get something that will help me,” he said.

“What I’m offering is basically everything on our servers.”

What Justice wanted in exchange was cash.

Within a couple of days after the meeting, Justice went back to work, inserted his badge into his work station, typed in his personal identification number, and began copying files from Boeing’s servers to thumb drives. Then, over the course of four meetings over several months, he delivered the flash drives in exchange for payments of $500 or $1,000 in cash.

The Russian official, of course, was an undercover FBI agent.

On July 8, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Justice was being charged with economic espionage and violating the Arms Export Control Act. He faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

Most of the pilfered documents, Boeing and the Air Force Office of the Special Investigator told the FBI, had little foreign intelligence value. And if they were sold to enemies overseas, they would have little benefit to countries that already launch satellites.

But the documents did contain four trade secrets, which would put Boeing at a disadvantage for future competitions to build military satellites, the complaint said.

It’s not clear exactly how Justice popped up on the FBI’s radar, but the complaint mentions that Boeing’s security system took screen captures of Justice’s computer every six seconds and that in November 2015 — a few months before that first meeting with an undercover FBI agent — he inserted a USB drive into his computer.

The FBI says Justice did not have access to classified information, but Boeing officials were particularly concerned that one of the allegedly stolen documents detailed “sensitive anti-jamming technology” aboard WGS. Boeing is already under contract for improved anti-jam capabilities for the final batch of WGS satellites, WGS 8 through 10. By jamming the WGS satellites, an enemy could prevent or limit the U.S. military and its allies from communicating via video or voice or from transferring imagery.

Jamming, whether intentional or deliberate, is a big concern to the Defense Department. “When it comes to SATCOM, the thing I worry about first is jamming,” Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command, said last year.

The affidavit outlining the case against Justice provides insight into one man’s ugly choices and the vulnerabilities that still exist in systems meant to keep national security space secrets out of enemy hands.

But perhaps, more than anything, it puts a fine point on what kind of problem jamming has become and how the Air Force is counting on Boeing to help solve the problem.