Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cyber taunt counters Singapore's stance on information security and WikiLeaks


Singapore’s military muscle has been flaunted in a cyber taunt that shows what lurks behind the fence line of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) installations.

The timing of the blog post on appears to be a snub to warnings by the Singaporean government that it will come down hard on WikiLeaks-type impresarios.

See the cyber taunt for yourself here.

The images posted give bird’s eye views of selected SAF bases used by the Army, Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). The images of these premises, which show the military infrastructure and equipment contained therein, are the stuff of wet dreams for defence buffs.

It is also the best advertisement the SAF can ask for.

Thanks to the images, any viewer who knows nothing about Singapore’s defence would realize that for a tiny city state, Singapore’s military packs quite a punch. Posted on the internet on a (presumably) high traffic site, it reaches eyeballs around the globe, educating those clueless about Singapore’s strategy of deterrence with images that show dormant military might.


No fewer than four RSAF air bases are showcased. KC-135R aerial refueling tankers on the flightline at Changi Air Base (West) suggest the long reach of RSAF warplanes.

The RSN’s Changi Naval Base is neatly presented with haze grey warships tied up alongside its various piers. There are more empty berths pierside than those occupied by warships, suggesting an operational navy with warships on patrol.

And thank goodness for all the fatigue parties and nagging RSMs who roster full-time National Servicemen for mundane tasks like gardening. All the camps look spick and span, with recreational facilities like swimming pools and running tracks making camp complexes look more liveable than rundown districts in some countries.

Contrast this with the SAF post-Independence in 1965. Singapore had no air force, a two-ship navy and just two battalions of infantry.

It will be clear from the cyber taunt that the SAF has grown into a tri-Service fighting force housed in elaborate camp facilities, air and naval bases, plus a plethora of hardened ammo dumps covered by grass-covered knolls paid for by Singaporean tax payers.

Even without Google Earth’s all-seeing eye, security planners must realize the challenges keeping military installations secret in a country with a National Service army. The name and address of SAF camps can be found in literature for Operationally Ready National Servicemen (i.e. reservists), blocks of public housing in Jurong and Hougang give residents a panoramic view of RSAF runways – and a blast of the sound of freedom every time a RSAF warplane roars into the air on full reheat.

What Singapore should keep secret – and this is perhaps the crux of the government’s tough stance on OSA breaches – are the special modifications made to black boxes in military hardware that give SAF war machines that extra edge in battle.

No amount of imagery intelligence can reveal why the RSAF’s F-5 fighters are a cut above the rest, as these supersonic warplanes look almost identical to F-5s flown by regional air arms.


Satellite imagery may photograph SAF munitions depots whenever Indonesian haze doesn’t shroud the Republic’s skies, but no satellite sensor can peer into the depots to spot what lies within.

The blog post on SAF installations reveals the amount of data that people can trawl from satellite images, if they know what they are looking for. Indeed, military forces the world over have been the subject of close attention by netizens and self-appointed imagery analysts on various sites like this one here.

So there's no reason for histrionics just because Singapore's secrets have been supposedly laid bare. Afterall, Google Earth wasn't invented yesterday.

And just as the curious, the cheeky and the scheming rely on satellite imagery to find out more about Singapore’s security apparatus, Singaporeans must likewise leverage on such technology to keep an eye on its neighbourhood.

In some ways, the SAF is already doing so - and has been at it since pre-WikiLeaks days.

The work these professionals perform - out of the limelight and without public recognition - gives tiny Singapore the ability to see above and beyond.

6 comments:

Mike Yeo said...

"What Singapore should keep secret – and this is perhaps the crux of the government’s tough stance on OSA breaches – are the special modifications made to black boxes in military hardware that give SAF war machines that extra edge in battle."

"Satellite imagery may photograph SAF munitions depots whenever Indonesian haze doesn’t shroud the Republic’s skies, but no satellite sensor can peer into the depots to spot what lies within."

"So there's no reason for histrionics just because Singapore's secrets have been supposedly laid bare. Afterall, Google Earth wasn't invented yesterday."

The three passages above. Spot on.

bdique said...

for a while the link was down...was there that much traffic?

In any case, this really isn't worth getting fidgety about. The taunt has kinda flopped: is it still news if all one is doing is republishing readily accessible info?

HaveAHacks said...

Come on lah, what's your problem ? Any adversary worth bothering with already has access to better imagery from its own or 3rd party sources, plus assets on the ground. Why give in to govt hissy fits demanding that they alone have the right to control the flow of information ? What's the purpose of this site ?

FinalFive said...

Yeah Mike, fully agree. There is so much to say about the dangers of breach of infosec and official secrets, but seems that no government agency wants to play fair to properly define what is "Secret".

Most definitions generalise an official secret as something which, once disclosed, exposes the state to great harm. That's not near precise enough for us to usefully understand when a secret is really a secret.

Or alternatively, just say the specific information that would give the enemy a decisive edge.

An intelligence officer once told me, a good intelligence set up worth respecting is one that has and properly deploys its hawks, as well as its snakes. It is a huge amount of information that is collected - From the siting of buildings and vehicles, down to the specific enemy commander's favourite type of coffee. Which amongst these constitutes an official secret? Depending on the plan (1) disable the base, (2) steal the assets, (3) poison the commander, anything could fall into the definition of an official secret. Hm.

MSD Answer: Heck lah, ban all. Pioneer - go and write something on Commitment to Defence.

Anonymous said...

The above pictures aren't really that useful anymore, since there's also a time element involved in the information (Google Maps are usually about 6 months or older).

Now, if someone put a HD video on Youtube of an overflight over these areas the same day it was taken, well that would be something else entirely...

Femora_SG said...

It's not just the minister who decides what is secret or not, for purposes of the Official Secrets Act.

http://www.todayonline.com/Voices/EDC110114-0000178/An-objective-test-of-secrecy