The “buena vista” (good view) most appreciated by China is the vantage point Dr Castro provides for the Chinese military in spying on the United States.
According to Professor Desmond Ball of the Australian National University, Chinese personnel have been operating two intelligence signal stations in Cuba since early 1999, after an agreement reached in February 1998.
One is a large complex at Bejucal, just south of Havana, which is equipped with 10 satellite communications antennas and is mainly concerned with intercepting telephone communications in the US.
A “cyber warfare” unit is also based at Bejucal, which monitors data traffic, Professor Ball said in a paper delivered to a conference on China’s military role, held in New Delhi last month.
The second station is located north-east of Santiago de Cuba, and is reportedly dedicated to intercepting satellite-based US military communications. “China is actively and extensively engaged in the whole realm of signals intelligence, electronic warfare and cyber warfare activities,” Professor Ball said, adding that it maintains “by far the most extensive signals intelligence capabilities of all the countries in Asia.”
The only other foreign-based intercept stations are thought to be in Burma, although the Chinese military also maintains a fleet of specialised ships and aircraft for mobile interception operations. Equipment comes from Russia and Israel, as well as domestic laboratories.
Although its technical expertise is still poor, China has been conducting cyber warfare exercises since 1997; computer viruses have been used to disrupt military communications and public broadcasts, with theoretical targets including Japan, India, South Korea and Taiwan.
An information warfare unit has been operating since 2000. The military interest is matched by individual hackers in China, whose feats have included crashing the White House website.
Chinese cyber attacks are easily countered by anti-virus and network security programs available in the West.
“China is condemned to inferiority in information warfare capabilities for probably several decades,” Professor Ball said.
Alan note: Chinese intelligence capabilities have improved considerably since 2003 and they - as well as the Russians -are providing intelligence information to Islamic Iran on a daily basis.