As of 2011, Russian intelligence is said to have been able to access the encrypted communications of FBI mobile surveillance teams. The backup system would not have been safe after that either.
Russian spies were able to access the radio communications of the lightweight radio systems FBI teams use in intelligence operations, thanks to the cracking of the encryption. They intercepted the communication, among other things, with mobile eavesdropping stations: spies walked or drove vans to a place near the FBI teams. The Russians’ actions hampered the FBI’s ability to track down the locations and occupations of Russian spies on American soil. The Russians would thus have gained insight into the tactics and composition of the American teams.
Whether they could crack the communication in real-time is unknown. The FBI has long been in the dark about how Russia could undo the encryption. The facilities of Russian diplomats in the United States also played a role as intercepting, processing and cracking stations. These included two locations in Maryland and New York that Russia had to evict in 2016 by then-President Obama, giving dozens of Russian diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.
In addition to the radio communications, the Russians were also able to successfully intercept the FBI’s backup system. This system consisted of telephones with walkie-talkie-like features. Russian intelligence was able to identify those phones and pick up the signals.
The findings emerge from conversations Yahoo News held with more than 50 employees and former intelligence and security personnel. Some point to the fact that cracking was facilitated by the FBI’s use of flawed, ineffective systems. An integrated communications infrastructure was to be built, but it never got off the ground.