Pentagon’s Spies Want to Upgrade Their Secured Cellphones
BY ROBERT BECKHUSEN04.19.136:30 AM
The Pentagon has big plans for its spy agency. But first it’s going to upgrade its secret agents’ cellphones.
That’s the gist of a recent request for information from the cryptic Virginia Contracting Activity (or VACA), the public face for the Defense Intelligence Agency’s secretive contract business. According to the request, the DIA is looking for a company with the “ability to work and store classified information at the SECRET Collateral Level” to design custom “cellular phone point-to-point communication systems.” In other words, a private communications link.
It even sounds like the DIA wants someone to build it a bespoke cellphone. This is not for certain, as the request uses broad language. The agency states the contractor must be proficient in designing “custom packaging and advanced miniaturization for communications” – in addition to a “high level of proficiency programming and testing cell phones.”
Among other specifics, the designers will need to have “a high level of proficiency in the manufacturing and production of custom transmit systems” from the design and integration stage to programming the firmware. The DIA also expects industry to develop and deploy a “functional prototype and operational evaluation,” and to eventually train people how to use the tool for operations. An addendum to the solicitation is classified, but the agency says it expects to award a multi-million-dollar, three-year contract sometime in the fall for the project.
The “cellular communications capabilities” are “for intelligence,” the request notes vaguely. But this kind of project isn’t exactly a surprise coming from the DIA, which has increasingly shifted towards a kind of old-school spycraft under the direction of Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was picked to head the agency last year after heading up intelligence in Afghanistan and for the Joint Special Operations Command.
Flynn’s institutional changes include the creation of a consolidated Pentagon spy force called the Defense Clandestine Service along with plans — if not the funds — to deploy hundreds of more spies to work overseas recruiting foreign agents and gathering intelligence.
The DIA doesn’t want to just buy new custom cellphones. It wants to crack and analyze them too. In December, the agency sought information from industry for a number of “technical exploitation” tools to analyze data found in captured media including hard drives and “mobile devices.” Broadly speaking, it’s what the DIA would need to rapidly sort through digital files — like the kind found in Osama bin Laden’s compound — while hunting for hidden information. In addition, the agency hired ex-Blackwater merc firm Academi to train its agents.
But the DIA isn’t quite on the level of the CIA. There’s been questions from the Senate whether the agency’s intelligence-gathering skills are up to snuff. Developing some of the basic tools would be a start.