Satphones, Syria, and surveillance

Jillian C. York and Trevor Timm write: Yesterday morning, journalist Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London was killed, along with French photographer Rémi Ochlik, in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, where more than 400 people have been reported dead in recent weeks.

Disturbingly, the Telegraph, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and the AP all reported that Colvin and Ochlik were likely deliberately killed by the Syrian army and their location may have been tracked down through their satellite phones.

On Monday night, Colvin appeared on CNN, telling Anderson Cooper that “the Syrian army is shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.” Responding to Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s statement that he was not targeting civilians in the barrage of rocketfire raining on Homs, Colvin accused the regime of “murder” and said: “There are no military targets here…It’s a complete and utter lie that they are only going after terrorists.” A few hours later, she was dead.

The Telegraph quoted Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for the Paris-based Liberation newspaper who was with Colvin in Homs last week, as saying: “The Syrian army issued orders to ‘kill any journalist that set foot on Syrian soil’” and that the Syrian authorities were likely watching the CNN broadcast. The Telegraph then described how “[r]eporters working in Homs, which has been under siege since February 4, had become concerned in recent days that Syrian forces had ‘locked on’ to their satellite phone signals and attacked the buildings from which they were coming” (emphasis ours).

How could this happen?

At this point, we don’t know how Colvin and Ochlik were located, but based on the various reports, it is possible that they were located using surveillance technology that tracked their satellite phones. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Satphones, Syria, and surveillance

  1. blowback

    Any insurgent carrying a weapon is a military target and there are plenty of photographs of insurgents carrying weapons in Babr Amr.

  2. ana souri

    Very sad indeed whenever a journalist dies in the crossfrire. These two snuck into the country and managed to find their way into a section of the city under siege and being shelled by the army and were able to broadcast “the army is shelling a city of cold starving civilians”. Were they targeted by the army after their Sat signal was tracked, very likely, isn’t this what armies do when they track an illegal satellite signal.
    I do not condone the killing of journalists. They have a tough job and in many cases end up in the crossfire. Let’s not forget Daniel Pearle and many journalists who died covering the Iraq war and the Israeli aggression against Gaza. These are a different breed of people who risk their lives for stories.
    I have to question however, what would the US army have done if they caught a Sat signal during one of their sorties against Iraqi insurgents or Talibans. Would they first investigate to make sure it is not a journalist, would they hold their fire even if they figure out these are journalists. What would the US army do if while patrolling a section in Iraq they know have Al Qaeda infiltrators and track a Sat signal.
    God have mercy on their souls.

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