Spy Equipment from Cobham

The Intercept has published a 120-page catalog of spy gear from the British defense company Cobham. This is equipment available to police forces. The catalog was leaked by someone inside the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Posted on September 6, 2016 at 6:31 AM • 25 Comments

Comments

TatütataSeptember 6, 2016 9:02 AM

Honestly, I had never heard of these people. I should have... I checked out Companies House, found out that the current stock capitalisation is currently around 44G£. They also have a Wikipedia entry.

Nothing very surprising here, except that it's a one stop shop for Chief Wiggum and his likes. I was kind of expecting Hollywood-style stuff, but the laws of physics generally seem to be respected, which I find reassuring. Their tracking units are somewhat larger than those used by James Bond in Goldfinger...

Now that their catalogue is public should be good for business, they should be getting calls from even Podunk Arkansas PD.

Their video surveillance stuff is all based on European COFDM/DVB standards, presumably for compatibility with consumer TV receivers. I wonder how well that sells in 8VSB/ATSC countries, e.g. the USA. Must buyers apply for waivers from the FCC, and/or get licenses for spectrum usage?

The increasing sophistication and finances of criminals and terrorists - and the increasing demands of modern-day society and environments - means that investment in research and development is essential for innovating new technologies to tackle tomorrow’s challenges and developments. Cobham’s investment is market-led and guided by the specialists it employs, such as former members of law enforcement, Special Forces, bomb disposal squads and government agencies.

Oh yeah, the old myth of the mastermind criminal against which the men in blue will always need forever more money, resources, laws, impunity...

JasonSeptember 6, 2016 9:07 AM

The only thing missing is the price sheet. As I look over my property tax bill, it would sure be nice to know how much money is being thrown away on boy toys for our increasingly militarized police when our roads, bridges, and infrastructure is deteriorating. I guess if you have to ask, you can't afford it...

Who?September 6, 2016 9:16 AM

Can I buy a "Cobrahead LED Streetlight" and a "bug zapper"?
Oh, and a "outdoor trash can" too!

Peter A.September 6, 2016 11:36 AM

@itsme: drones no, but drone-mounted antennas, yes. Someone else sells the drones, someone else integrates this stuff. More orders, more contracts, more money to leech.

Passive Aggression & MonitoringSeptember 6, 2016 12:00 PM

What the people don't know, doesn't hurt them.

Quick somebody put out a DMCA takedown request on that site, those are copyrighted electronic documents by definition.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 6, 2016 12:18 PM

@ jer,

If that's marketing to the EU, video standards-wise, then why is "color" spelled wrong?

Read the office address in the front of the catalogue... So yes "color" is spelled correctly.

As for EU Video standards, it's actually not what you might think. The kit is lens to screen, thus there are not "interoperating" issues. Law enforcment is not fussed by FCC regulations in general because they have "exemptions" available for operating such kit. In effect the FCC is not interested in "content" only frequency, bandwidth, ERP and modulation type, which is "digital" PRK / MSK / other standards. Thus the system "air interface" is like nearly all "digital" systems that have type approval.

jerSeptember 6, 2016 12:19 PM

They solved all energy problems as well, I see.

"Power in - 100mW, power out - 1W", according to page 28.

AlarmageddonSeptember 6, 2016 12:48 PM

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/civil-liberties-groups-ask-fcc-to-probe-baltimore-police-use-of-cell-phone-tracking-devices/2016/08/16/37002b76-6336-11e6-96c0-37533479f3f5_story.html

First, we complain.

Then we throw rocks.

Later?

We get shot at by drones, hung in our cells by our selfies.

Don't bother calling 911 either, the cellular networks are a honeypot that only exists to sniff out large sums of money to supplement Barney Fife and Friend's income.

The writing's on the wall, and it smells like someone smeared crap all over it.

Where's the HUMan INTerest when you need it?

Get back to work you guys, the boss is coming.

You and I both know that you can't disrupt their network with a vote.

TatütataSeptember 6, 2016 1:17 PM

@Clive:

The problem I see: where can you buy a 120VAC, 25Hz DVB TV set in Podunk? Or is the stuff meant to be ultimately recorded and played back on a computer.

Leonardo HerreraSeptember 6, 2016 1:54 PM


I don't know, I just want to know how I can buy some of this stuff. Some pretty cool toys there :-)

Clive RobinsonSeptember 6, 2016 4:42 PM

@ Leonardo Herrera,

Some pretty cool toys there :-)

Not that cool, I see nothing there that I've not seen befor for well healed corporate clients, and on some cases I've made befor and sold to intermediary organisations. Kroll Asoc is one a number of corporate assistance organisation that used to "buy in" stuff like this, as middle men.

If you look at somr of the cameras you will find the same from other suppliers. As for some of the larger cameras there are a couple of South African companies make almost identical stuff. If you don't have "Tax Dollar deep pockets" you will find slightly lower spec but a lot lot cheaper systems from the likes of Swann. There are also quite a number of Chinese firms making "IP video cameras" which can easily be hooked together with WiFi routers etc. It actually takes not much effort to take a current WiFi router and make a block up or down converter so that the kit runs not at 2.5 or 5GHz but at 1.3 or even X-Band.

Thus I see little there that you could not make yourself from off the shelf components and information you will find in the better Ham / Amateur Radio info sources. In fact I would make a small wager that some of the stuff is just items from the likes of Mini-Circuits just bolted together in a custom case with a very high price tag (I've done it myself in the past as have a number of others I know).

Take for instance their GSM modems, the likes of Motorola sell modules that have the bulk of it in there including a USB 2 interface. You can spend around $50 and get a GSM Shield for the likes of a Raspberry Pi, the bolt some FOSS in with a few changes and the jobs done...

The real hard stuff would be reading and understanding the Mobile Phone Specs so the "faux cells" don't become obvious to users that have been tricked. But again the Software Defined Radio and similar groups have already developed big chunks of GSM radio software and the hardware to make your own cell site is fairly findable with a modicum of "Google Fu".

The problem is getting into the game, after all you don't get Cobham advertising much, as much of their work used to be via the largesse of various people in the defence indistry (you will however find them at "invitation only" defence industry fairs.

MartinSeptember 6, 2016 10:37 PM

Would love to see the equivalent catalog by U.S.A. company. But, even this British catalog is interesting; thanks for posting it.

fajensenSeptember 7, 2016 4:01 AM

@Jason
As I look over my property tax bill, it would sure be nice to know how much money is being thrown away

That's one reason we classify stuff, especially that kind of information. Another is that a lot of these systems don't even work to begin with and will never reach their design specs.

People might get really pissed off should it ever be proven that they could have pensions, healthcare, schools ... fully paid, for a mere fraction of the fraud, looting and waste that goes on under "National Security".

Clive RobinsonSeptember 7, 2016 4:23 AM

@ ???,

Swann makes home monitoring systems and components, they dabble in more invasion acktivities also?

They "may not directly" but their customers certainly do with their more covert products. As an example it was Swann ISM band and "pocket flap" cameras that the original RC drone micro helicopter and rocket builders used as they are very functional whilst being very light small, robust and importantly inexpensive. I've put them in several OO gage model railway engines and carrages so people using a layout can get both a Driver and Passenger eye view.

I've also put them in wall and desk clocks, briefcases, backpacks, ceiling mount fire/smoke sensors, desk lamps, book and file boxes spines and many many other things like childrens toys.

If you get one of those ISM band cameras and receivers, it's incredibly easy to make very small "Up/Down band converters" all it needs is a double balanced mixer and tiny single chip synthesizer all of which comes in a tiny surface mount IC these days that can often be found in $10 toys. Ham / Amature Radio, RC enthusiasts and security researchers have designs you can find on the internet have a look at Open Hardware SDR designs to see some of them in use. Adding one or two MAR type surface mount broadband amplifiers will increase the power output, and also with a few simple tricks reduce both the ISM and image frequencies down to negligable levels.

Not quite "James Bond" postage stamp trackers you can hide in the coach of a "Faberge egg" but getting closer day by day.

If you want to make higher power "repeaters" there are quite a few things out there. You can get an RTL-SDR receiver for $25, likewise you can by quite cheaply SDR-Transverters, the likes of Mini-Circuits, HP and several others make cheapish surface mount broad band amplifiers. You can buy quite cheaply Amature Radio Kits for various VHF/UHF/Microwave bands that will get you from a few milliwatts to a couple of watts and they usually need very little modification to work outside of those bands.

Heck if you are just looking for analogue voice repeater, go and buy a blister pack of two ALAN / Midland G7 UHF licence free PMR446 radios. Then have a look on the internet for the "export mods" which involves three links on the PCB. You then have a 3watt TX and they work not just on the PMR446 but 69 LPD channels --in the Ham 70cm band-- as well. Though technically illegal one heck of a lot of glider and ballon pilots have done this modofication so they can talk to their ground crews. Also do the antenna to SMA or BNC mods so you can get rid of the inefficient "Rubber duck" and put coax feeders to 1/4, 1/2, 5/8 wavelength, "Slim Jim", "J pole" or "slot radiator" omnidirectional antennas or even Yagi, LPDA or "backfire" arrays.

Having done the mods you work the devices "back to back" with a simple audio lead and PTT switch the details of which are definatly easily found on the Internet in many many places. The important part is to use say PMR on 446 for receive and a low LPD channel on 433 to give you a little frequency diversity, use vertical polarisation for RX horizontal for TX and mount the two antennas as far appart as possible. Try to use short runs of Coax especially on the RX and get the distance by using long way way cheaper audio cables. You could for the TX buy quite cheaply Amature Radio equipment there are a whole range of combined scanners and amature TX hand helds out there, many of which just like the G7's have PCB links that will change their TX frequency operating range.

albertSeptember 7, 2016 2:16 PM

Could some build a scraper to collate all of Clives comments by subject? Tags would be nice as well.
. .. . .. --- ....

r / agent rngSeptember 7, 2016 6:50 PM

@albert,

Likely the easiest way to classify his posts would be a weighted index of his procabulary, and then manually going back through them later.

Assuming he's not a disinformationnick, (hi @Clive) there's quite a bit of some fun in what would be most people's late orneries no?

Nick PSeptember 7, 2016 7:58 PM

@ Clive

This post probably disturbs me more than most given something just dawned on my unusually, slow brain: this Cobham is probably the same Cobham that bought Aeroflex/Gaisler. The Gaisler company that made Leon3/4, open-source SPARC's. The best supplier to bootstrap an OSS CPU on if you want simplicity or avoiding taint of Oracle. They do have a semiconductor unit, embedded products, and same niche (esp space) that Leon was made for. Still, I'd be uncomfortable trusting what they make from this point on if subversion or long-term availability was a concern.

The buck will have to stop at the Leon3's that were GPL'd. Maybe Leon4's if they were, too. I know Leon3's were. Good news is they're a great core and associated IP for down to 130nm. There's also a FT version to counter some hardware effects. So, may be useful after all.

Kevin ByrnesMay 1, 2017 8:34 AM

An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a co-worker who was conducting a little research on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast simply because I found it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this topic here on your internet site.

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