Author Topic: The Sinking of the ARA General Belgrano 33 Years On...  (Read 5036 times)

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Offline Alan Taylor

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The Sinking of the ARA General Belgrano 33 Years On...
« on: May 03, 2015, 23:16:28 PM »
The Sinking of the ARA General Belgrano 33 Years On...

ARA General Belgrano


I met up with a very dear friend recently during his visit to London. I got to know Ralph Peterson during my fourteen year stay in the Philippine Islands from 1992 until 2005. Ralph was a retired colonel in he US Army, living out his retirement in Angeles City in the province of Pampanga on the Island of Luzon. Both of us had a professional careers which involved diplomatic, military, tactical and strategic communications. My first overseas role was as a "civilian contractor" in Southern Oman's Dohfar province based at the then RAF Salalah from 1970 until 1973. From then on I found myself a regular Middle East observer of recent conflicts Iran-Iraq war whilst stationed in Dubai and Abu Dhabi during Operations Desert Shield then Desert Storm (1st Gulf War).

Ralph and I ended up chewing the rag about old times and old technology compared with what is available today in terms of both military and diplomatic communications. These seemingly rather disconnected circumstances led us the communications and SIGINT surrounding the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano during the United Kingdom Argentina conflict over the Malvinas Islands in May 1982.


In 1982 the only significant allied military surveillance satellite systems were owned by the United States, and these were dedicated to cold war surveillance of the Soviet Union and its allies in Europe. The management of European SIGINT gathering was, and still is managed from the NSA's monitoring site at Menwith Hill close to Harrogate in Yorkshire.

NSA Monitoring Site at Menwith Hill

In addition to the monitoring of satellite and High Frequency HF SIGINT, the Menwith Hill site was an integral part of the UK's backbone microwave networks carrying voice, FAX and TELEX traffic enabling real time surveillance of the United Kingdoms internal telephony network. In recent years national high capacity fibre optic carriers have been routed through the NSA's Menwith Hill station enabling extensive monitoring of the UK's data and Internet traffic.

Back in 1982 the United Kingdom's SIGINT and monitoring capability in the South Atlantic and South America was in a word miserable.. The only option was to approach the USA and ask to use their facilities on Ascension Island. Washington at first refused Britain permission to use the USA-operated SIGINT facilities and for refuelling RAF jets. Only after Mrs Thatcher intervened personally with Ronald Reagan did the Americans reluctantly concede. Thatcher also asked for access to the NSA's surveillance satellite network. Again Regan agreed and the NSA re-tasked and re-targeted one of its new VORTEX SIGINT satellites to monitor and observe the South Atlantic and the 200 mile exclusion zone around Falkland Islands. Regan overruled protests from both the CIA and NSA saying that this would significantly shorten its operational life, tie up essential personnel, and be extremely expensive. The operational lifetime of satellites is primarily dependant upon the usage of hydrazine fuel for its station keeping tasks. Re-tasking a satellite to a region it was not intended for would result in very high usage of station keeping fuel, and a significant reduction in operational its lifetime.

The United States provided the entirety of the the United Kingdoms satellite SIGINT in the South Atlantic both prior to and during the Falklands conflict.

Thatcher thanks USA for SIGINT support and use of Ascension Island facilities see:

The Sinking of the Belgrano

Firstly, one has to remember that the Belgrano was sunk outside of the 200 mile exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands. British accounts insist that the Belgrano was en-route to attack British naval assets within the exclusion zone, and that the Belgrano's location was revealed by high frequency radio intercepts, and the decryption of a message sent to an an oiler en-route to refuel the Belgrano, and that the British submarine HMS Conqueror stalked the oiler to the target. This is the official version of events released to a largely compliant British media in 1982. The reality of events however is very different.

It was later announed in the House of Commons by the then Secretary of State Mr. Heseltine that the navigation logs of HMS Conqueror which showed her course, location and heading when she engaged the Belgrano had "gone missing" See:

The location of the Belgrano was entirely the result of American SIGINT data passed to the United Kingdom. How?

To understand the SIGINT path that resulted in the sinking of the Belgrano one needs to examine who supplied the off-line teletype encryption machines the the Argentinians were using. The Argentinian were using Swiss encryption machines supplied by CRYPTO AG. In collusion with the NSA CRYPTO AG had engineered the machines and developed the ciphers in direct collaboration with the NSA which ensured that the NSA had a back-door into the ciphers. CRYPTO AG encryption machines were sold to about 120 countries for military, diplomatic and banking usage.

Hans Buehler

The CRYPTO AG NSA connection was globally outed in 1992; ten years after the Belgrano was sunk when Hans Buehler CRYPTO AG's top salesman was arrested for espionage by the Iranians. You can read about these issues here:

The NSA had been sharing decrypted intercepts from compromised CRYPTO AG machines with GCHQ for years prior to the 1982 Falklands and this continued for years after the conflict. Argentina's diplomatic, strategic and military communications were an open book to the USA. Just how the intercept occurred is uncertain; whether by satellite SIGINT of Argentinian in country communications via the re-tasked VORTEX satellite or via the USA's NSA's monitoring station on Accession Island which was established in the 1960's. In any case the dice were severely loaded against the Belgrano.

The Belgrano's position was transmitted to GCHQ by the NSA on or around May 1, 1982. How can we be sure? Nothing is 100% sure; however in a declassified US document dated the 1 May 1982 Argentinian naval movements (redacted) were clearly a subject. See:

On May 2, 1982 the Belgrano was sunk by HMS Conqueror.

In a diplomatic cable there is a definite sensitivity about this issue. However; now 30 years on from the sinking of the Belgrano, this second look appears to firmly point the finger at the United States.

Summary of Events:

1. British SIGINT capability in the South Atlantic in 1982 was almost no existent.

2. At the personal request of British PM Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President Ronald Reagan ordered a VORTEX SIGINT satellite to be re-tasked to cover the South Atlantic Falklands area.

3. The Argentinians were using Swiss CRYPTO AG cipher machines which were developed with NSA collaboration, thus rendering Argentinian communications totally transparent to US monitoring sites.

4. The Belgrano's position was transmitted to the British on or around 1 May 1982

5. Redacted US documents specifically mention Argentinian naval movements on the 1 May 1982

6. Diplomatic cable demonstrates UK/US sensitivity and less than convincing rebuttal of the USA/UK SIGINT sharing.
 See: UK FCO spin US concerns

( New U.S. Documents Show Washington Sided with British in Early April 1982 While Publicly Declaring Neutrality. See

( Royal Navy Fleet orders & rules of engagement April 1982. See )

« Last Edit: May 07, 2015, 17:16:37 PM by Alan Taylor »