Defense experts and officials in Taipei and Washington had mixed reactions to the embarrassing news, published on Monday by Defense News and Kyodo news agency, that security at a key signals intelligence facility in northern Taiwan was so lax that neighboring cows were observed walking freely around the base.
Located in Linkou (林口), Taipei County, Linyuan Base collects imagery and signals intelligence deep inside China and at sea.
The facility, which is operated by the Ministry of National Defense’s (MND) ultra-secret Office of Telecommunication Development (OTD), General Staff Headquarters, was built in 2000 and started operations in 2003, Defense News wrote.
Kyodo said construction of the OTD facility cost more than NT$4 billion (US$124 million).
Consisting of a large building for data processing, barracks, a number of satellite dishes and two Circularly Disposed Antenna Arrays (CDAA), or “crop circles” that detect the direction of radio signals, the site has been described by local sources as a combination of the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) and National Reconnaissance Office.
The facility has a range of about 5,000km and can cover all of China, and the larger of the two CDAAs is still, according to Desmond Ball, a signals intelligence expert, “the most important high-frequency radio interception and direction-finding station in Taiwan.”
Ball also told Kyodo that the base is important for maritime surveillance and to track People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships.
Despite the importance of the base, a work order by the defense ministry said the perimeter fence is “insufficiently high,” adding “in several places, the fence has toppled over or is leaning, with cows breaching the perimeter on several occasions.”
“The fence is not serving its purpose and poses the greatest threat to base security,” the report for the upgrade project says.
Both antenna arrays are accessible either by car, unpaved roads or private land, Kyodo wrote
During a recent visit, there were no guards and no signs of surveillance cameras along the perimeter, though razor wire and some makeshift fences appeared to have been recently laid, preventing the cows from entering the premises, Kyodo reported.
On two separate visits, journalists were able to walk around the base, without being intercepted by guards.
Despite the glaring security shortcomings, an infrastructure upgrade project may not be completed until January 2012, Kyodo reported, adding that from the total budget of NT$107.3 million set aside for the upgrade, only NT$3.1 million, or 3 percent, was allotted last year, while a little more than NT$70.5 million, or 66 percent of the total budget, is to be spent this year.
Asked for comment, John Pike, director of the Global Security think tank in Washington and one of the most respected military and intelligence analysts in the US, told the Taipei Times: “Presumably, if there was an actual need for the fence, it would be in good repair. On the other hand, seriousness and sense of purpose have not always been evident in Taiwanese military preparedness.
“It could be symptomatic of a lax approach, a certain carelessness — and that’s serious,” he said.
“Letting the fence fall down does qualify as being newsworthy and needs some special explanation because it is contrary to common sense,” Pike said.