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Australia Cracked US Combat Aircraft Codes 280

Posted by kdawson
from the end-run-around-the-bureaucracy dept.
SpamSlapper writes "Former defense minister Kim Beazley has told how Australia cracked top-secret American combat aircraft codes in the 1980s to enable the shooting down of enemy aircraft. The radar on Australia's US-made Hornets could not identify most potentially hostile aircraft in the region — they were set up for European threats — but despite many requests, the codes were not provided, so 'In the end we spied on them and we extracted the codes ourselves.' The Americans knew what the Australians were doing and were intrigued by the progress they made."
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Australia Cracked US Combat Aircraft Codes

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  • by Dystopian Rebel (714995) * on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:57AM (#20680985) Journal
    "Austria" [www.cbc.ca] is a friendly OPEC member.
    • by Ajehals (947354) <a.halsall@pirateparty.org.uk> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:02AM (#20681083) Homepage Journal
      I just read your post (after posting my own) and had a sudden heart stopping moment that I had read Austria as Australia, as a Brit I assume that would be unforgivable, after all everyone knows that those Australians in their leather pants and kiwi accents are totally different from the BBQ obsessed, Cricket incompetent Austrians.
      • kiwi accents

        You are thinking of New Zealand. Australian's have ozzie accents :) Dingo's come from Australia and Kiwis (both the bird and the fruit - well technically the latter comes from China), come from New Zealand.
      • by Scrameustache (459504) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:29AM (#20681485) Homepage Journal

        as a Brit [...] Cricket incompetent Austrians.
        To be fair, cricket is a made up sport without any real rules that the British and their colonies play in order to confuse outsiders.

        We're on to you...
        • by Stefanwulf (1032430) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:36AM (#20681605)
          Yeah, I for one will only play sports that people didn't just make up. You know, the ones without arbitrarily defined rules.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          Pah!

          Cricket is easy. You have two teams of eleven.

          The team that is in go out to bat, and the team that are out go out to field.

          When all of the team that is in get out, the team that's out goes in.

          Repeat. Endlessly.

          Brockian Ultra Cricket is the same but involves Universes, or something, instead of balls.

          What's not like about a sport with a position called 'Silly Mid-Off'?
        • by kalirion (728907) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:22PM (#20684987)
          To be fair, cricket is a made up sport without any real rules that the British and their colonies play in order to confuse outsiders.

          If only you knew the true horrors of the origins of cricket..... That's one reason the rest of the universe looks down on humans. To make a game based on the Krikkit Wars.....
        • by IngramJames (205147) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @04:52PM (#20687713)
          You're half right.

          Actually, cricket is an excuse to lie in the sun all day drinking beer while watching other people do gentle excerise. The rules are there so that anyone who questions what you're doing will eventually give up and go away by the time you're explaining the rule for Leg Before Wicket - if not sooner. Anyone who has taken the time to learn the rules enjoys lazing in the sunshine, so you're safe from them.

          The only flaw in this otherwise superb idea is that Britain doesn't actually get any sunshine.

      • by Sique (173459)
        On the other hand Austria (the ones with the Alps and the cows and the fantastic ski athlets) was in 2003, during the buildup for the Iraq war, infact threatening to shoot down U.S. aircraft if the U.S. airforce were continuing to fly over Austria without a permit.
        In retailiation for that the U.S. were postponing sending the codes for the new Austrian military aircraft in 2007. So also Austria might be persuaded to crack U.S. codes.
    • ..Americans can't tell one country from another.. Austria is quite a walk up from Australia. Makes you wonder how you decide which country to attack next.
    • by Bemopolis (698691)
      Oh ferchrissakes somebody get some mods who watch the fucking news to mod this as "Funny" already. Sheesh.
  • Procurement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ajehals (947354) <a.halsall@pirateparty.org.uk> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:58AM (#20680989) Homepage Journal
    Whoever arranged the procurement of those aircraft in the first place wasn't terribly smart. Who would spend Millions of AU$'s on something that in effect doesn't work, and not just some feature is missing, but the primary use of the thing is impaired, oh and the supplier wont help. As for cracking the codes, when can we expect the Australians to release the cracks? I hate the fact I cant use the F18 I bought on Ebay to shoot down Asia Pacific Rim based Aircraft..
    • by gardyloo (512791) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:00AM (#20681051)
      It's OK --- DVD John will get that sorted out in a few days.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by kryten_nl (863119)
        They cracked the iPod, how difficult could a F-18 be?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by roseblood (631824)
        I've already got it sorted out. Ready?

        UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT A B SELECT START

        [This text brought to you by the "lameness filter" that says I was YELLING too much in this comment.]
        • He might have to try a few times - I've heard the select buttons on F18s tend to wear out quite quickly
    • Re:Procurement (Score:4, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:11AM (#20681209) Journal
      Here's a different article that puts his words into context:
      http://www.sundaytimes.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=569118 [sundaytimes.co.za]

      His comments came "In his farewell speech to parliament before retiring"
    • Re:Procurement (Score:5, Insightful)

      by westlake (615356) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:13AM (#20681237)
      Whoever arranged the procurement of those aircraft in the first place wasn't terribly smart. Who would spend Millions of AU$'s on something that in effect doesn't work

      There are export controls on military hardware and crypto. News at eleven. You buy the plane. You adapt it to your needs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ajehals (947354)
        Granted, but if you are A) A military ally B) A political ally C) A major Trading partner, and D) Allowed to buy modern war planes, you'd think you could organise ot so that the aircraft do what you want. At the end of the day military hardware is pretty much a buyers market (if you have the cash). On a side note does anyone know what happened with the promised waiver of the USA's International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) with regards to the UK?
        • Re:Procurement (Score:5, Informative)

          by Protonk (599901) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @12:11PM (#20682143) Homepage
          Read the original comment:

          The export restrictions on military hardware doesn't just stop Joe Shmoe from buying an F-18. It helps to create an entire bureaucracy around the sale of same items. Let's take an example of something that isn't strictly military, but dual-use.

          Hughes aircraft puts up a satellite on a Chinese launch vehicle (rocket) because it is cheaper than the US alternative and the launch window is more favorable (only so many launch vehicles fly at any given time). Rocket blows up in the air. Hughes aircraft gives the Chinese some pointers in ground control as to what caused the failure and how to avoid it in the future. partially becausee the ground operators were just THERE, partially because Hughes wants to put other satellites up later on the same kind of vehicle, and they don't want a 120 million dollar fireball for their efforts.

          OOPS. Turns out that that 'advice' improved a dual use technology, and that the State Department (and Congress, blah, blah) wasn't too happy about it.

          How did we figure out which bits of information were allowed or forbidden? It isn't just as simple as "are you an ally? Are you buying our stuff? Ok, go nuts." there is a complex (read: clumsy) enforcement scheme designed to stop information from leaving US borders. We all know this as what stopped cryptosystems from being exported--even though they weren't military-created or robust in any way.

          Export enforcement schemes are complex and unwieldy. There is a strong incentive to streamline these restrictions (from Defense Corporations), but also strong incentives to strengthen them (From organizations like the state dept, the NSA, and from Congresscritters who get elected by raising up bogeymen).

          • by Ajehals (947354)
            Yeah I get it.

            But the procurement of Military hardware (which isn't going to be dual use, its not like Australia bought the F18's for crop dusting...) is done by diplomats at a fairly high level, not by company execs. At that level there is scope for all sorts of things ranging from simple technology transfers through to special dispensation. What I was commenting on was that whoever forged this deal either was always aware of the limitations and presumed there was a way around them, assumed that they woul
            • by Protonk (599901)
              But it IS done by company execs along with those diplomants. The sale is negotiated by US Defense Corps to Austrialian diplomats. It is in the interest of the seller (Boeing/MCD) to limit their disclosure of problems in the products--if they had been clear that there existed a mechanism to prevent the planes from being functional that WOULDN'T be disabled by the US, they would not have made the sale. The end product meets the needs of the buyer only insofar as the buyer does due diligence--that's where t
        • by sane? (179855)
          The US has a habit of attempting to limit the control the purchasers actually have over their products - in the defence field as well. You'll probably find that Australia wanted to be able to designate A-4s as targets, but the US wanted $Xmillion to make the software change and probably screw up some other stuff at the same time. Therefore Australia cracked the radar software to gain control over their purchases. This behaviour is actually one of the main reason many allied countries avoid buying from the U
      • by Don853 (978535)
        It's probably less export controls and more the disorganized clusterfuck of Initech-like companies that make up the US military-industrial complex. Somebody probably did tell them that they were going to give them the codes, but the request ended up getting lost or mistranslated somewhere in the chain of communication - or got to someone who was hidden behind a union and just couldn't be bothered. It's amazing how long it can take even really simple things to get done when you've got as many bureaucrats,
    • Re:Procurement (Score:5, Informative)

      by t123 (642988) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:17AM (#20681299)
      This is the Australian defence force we're talking about, the one that spent AU$1 billion on helicopters for the navy [youtube.com] that don't:
      1. Fly at night
      2. Fly in bad weather
      3. Fly over water
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by archen (447353)
        A good excuse to stay at home and drink beer... why wouldn't the Aussies buy this?
    • by Xiaran (836924) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:24AM (#20681413)
      I suspect Australia(disclaimer Im Australian) thought that as the US and Australia are very close allies the USAF might give us the ability to use the aircraft we purchased. But hey we followed the US into Iraq so what the hell do we know :)
      • I suspect Australia(disclaimer Im Australian) thought that as the US and Australia are very close allies the USAF might give us the ability to use the aircraft we purchased.

        I see your problem. The F/A-18 is not a US Air Force aircraft, it is a US Navy aircraft. You went knocking on the wrong door. :-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Marsmensch (870400)

      You're absolutely right, but this happens a lot with US arms exports which are normally crippled (on purpose) and have poor post sale support. This is done on purpose by the americans to maintain greater leverage in influencing politics in different regions. It's not what you would expect from a good ally, but it is a clever strategy.

      Another example of this are F-16's sold to Chile recently. The codes and procedures for the onboard computers where not provided, something the other models which competed fo

  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:00AM (#20681035)

    Mr Beazley said the Americans knew what the Australians were doing and were intrigued by the progress they made.
    So, we knew that they knew that we cracked the aircraft codes. But did they know that we knew that they knew? It also begs for the question that if they did, did we know that they knew that we knew that they knew?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      And, for God's sake, what is the plural of nemesis?
    • "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."
    • by jmv (93421)
      As we know,
      There are known knowns.
      There are things we know we know.
      We also know
      There are known unknowns.
      That is to say
      We know there are some things
      We do not know.
      But there are also unknown unknowns,
      The ones we don't know
      We don't know.

      -- Rumsfeld
      • by Yetihehe (971185)
        "And no one will convince us that white is white and black is black" - Lech Kaczynski, President of Poland ;)
  • by packetmon (977047) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:00AM (#20681067) Homepage
    The Americans kept saying they'd provide the codes, but never did. Pictures tall kid dangling candy over another kids head. "Here you go" kid jumps... "Sucker..." "Here you go!" kid jumps again... "Sucker..."
    • by biocute (936687)
      Pictures tall kid dangling candy over another kids head

      Johnny's third attempt hit Sammy's crotch though.
  • by corser (995751) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:03AM (#20681091)
    does the DMCA apply retroactively? If so, then Australia can never step foot in the US again.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by trongey (21550)

      ...Australia can never step foot in the US again

      You apparently don't realize that Australia is a very large island south of Asia. Islands don't have feet. They have roots.
      • by Bemopolis (698691)

        slands don't have feet. They have roots.
        And that is why no man is an island. But wait —what about the Isle of Man?

        My head hurts.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:03AM (#20681095)

    The Americans knew what the Australians were doing and were intrigued by the progress they made.

    Well, keep in mind that there was a huge Aussie fad in America in the mid-late 80's. We were ALL surprised at how much progress they made at the time. If it hadn't been for the unfortunate "Yahoo Serious" setback in 1988, who knows what they could have ultimately done.

  • by Seumas (6865) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:08AM (#20681147)
    Up
    Up
    Down
    Down
    Left
    Right
    Left
    Right
    B
    A
    START
  • by z0idberg (888892) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:08AM (#20681151)

    "We spied on them and we extracted the codes,"


    So did they managed to crack the codes or did they spy on the US and somehow obtain the codes? I read TFA and still can't figure out which.

    I expect it was they cracked the codes as seeing as "Americans knew what the Australians were doing and were intrigued by the progress they made.". I don't imagine the seppos would feel "intrigued" about being spied on.
  • by E++99 (880734) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:10AM (#20681177) Homepage
    'In the end we spied on them and we extracted the codes ourselves.'

    This is a massive violation of human rights. The US DOD has many Australians in it, who may have therefore been spied on by the Australian government without a warrant. Therefore Australia is a police state.
    • ...is this some attempt to make light of Bush's warrantless spying? If so, sorry, it didn't work very well.
  • Intrigued? (Score:5, Funny)

    by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:11AM (#20681193)
    "Oh look at them, they're trying to crack our codes..."

    "Oh look, they're actually succeeding. How intriguing!"

    "Hey, wait a sec, they're pointing those missiles at use. I continue to be intrigued!"
  • because at the time, all Australian aircraft fuel was under seige by Lord Humongous in the desert, and Crocodile Dundee was MIA on a walkabout
  • by aktzin (882293) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:14AM (#20681261)

    This reminds me of news reports about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It's meant to replace the F-16 and also be available for export to allied nations starting with the UK. Unfortunately for the potential buyers, the US government wasn't offering to share all the technical details and source code that our allies would need to fully operate and maintain the aircraft. With a quick Google search I just found this article from last year saying the US and UK came to an agreement, don't know what's happened since then. I vaguely remember the Royal Air Force and Navy threatened to cancel their orders and just buy Eurofighter Typhoons instead.

    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/f35-jsf-program-us-uk-reach-technology-transfer-agreement-02495/ [defenseindustrydaily.com]
  • not enough info (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sam_paris (919837) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:14AM (#20681269)
    I actually RTFA and there is not information on how the Australians cracked the codes, how they spied on the Americans or how the Americans knew about this and why it was so intriguing.

    It was to answer those questions that I actually read TFA, so tell me, what use is TFA without the answer to those questions?
  • Export aircraft (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bullfish (858648) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:18AM (#20681317)
    Though this information has only been released 20 years later, you can bet that any country buying export aircraft from another is going to have their people make adjustments to both the airframe and electronics (including software) to suit their pupose. No one is going to pay a barrel of money for aircraft and not adapt them for their needs. They are also not going to say what they did (for a long while) as that info will no doubt be classified. Ditto the originating country's aircraft will have features that are not exported for the same reasons.
  • I suspect the only thing the Australians did was notice "Hey, there's a F-15 going by our window with USAF on it, the radar IFF says that plane is squaquing "4773". That other USAF is squawking "4771". Let's surmise US fighters all squawk 4773 today and heavies squawk "4771".

    That's the most likely meaning of the "codes". Not encryption methods at all.

    • I'm probably going out on a limb here but I have a suspicion that it is a bit more complex than that.
    • "That's the most likely meaning of the "codes". Not encryption methods at all."

      No, I think the most likely meaning of "code" is "source code". The software that runs inside the radar.
      • No, I think the most likely meaning of "code" is "source code". The software that runs inside the radar.

        No, you are engaging in a geek bias. Politicians would refer to source code as programming, code almost certainly refers to cryptographic data. I expect that we are talking about cryptographic keys needed to decode the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) signals of combat aircraft.
  • I suspect this is not related at all to cryptography but "code" here reffers to the software inside the radar signal processor. What they likely had to do was reverse engineer it because they could not get the source code.
  • They were THAT CLOSE to being helpless against an attack by New Zealand. No more Olivia Newton John, Crocadile Dundee, Men at Work...
  • Pony Up, AU (Score:3, Funny)

    by neckjonez (731991) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @12:47PM (#20682855)
    I'd say you owe us at least a couple slabs of VBs!

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