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Russia Building New Intelligence Center in Nicaragua


By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security

Moscow recently hammered out a deal with the Nicaraguan government to supply the Nicaraguan military with $80 million in T-72 tanks, according to the Washington Free Beacon. The cost of the tanks is $9 million – more than the entire defense budget of the Nicaraguan military.

Since Managua doesn’t have any hostile neighbors, the deal looks specious. Nicaragua claims that it will use the tanks in counter-narcotic operations, but that explanation isn’t just dubious. It’s patently ridiculous.

Russia Needs Facility for GPS in Central America

What may be behind the deal is the new Russian GLONASS site, currently under construction in this Central American nation. GLONASS is the Russian version of GPS that was under development for decades. After many fits, starts and delays, GLONASS is finally operational.

Moscow needs to expand the GLONASS system to fill a niche currently lacking in its defense sales. GLONASS has been the default system behind many of the precision-guided Russian weapons used in Syria. Unfortunately for marketing purposes, Russian munitions have been notoriously inaccurate in that theater.

New Facility Would Have Intelligence Collection Abilities

The GLONASS facility isn’t likely to be a single-use facility as the necessary components in its construction can be used for electronic intelligence gathering. Since Russia lost access to the Lourdes facility in Cuba and the Azerbaijani collection facility, Moscow has a profound need to increase its signals collection abilities.

Currently, Russia employs a fleet of military vessels and numerous civilian vessels outfitted with signals collection abilities. Though this approach does work and is a necessary component of a modern navy, Russia sees the need for something more robust. This new facility in Nicaragua may fit the bill.

Russian Espionage A Motivating Factor in Construction of New Facility

Another motivating factor falls into the realm of classic espionage. Russia has had access to Edward Snowden for some time now. Through the material Snowden made public, Moscow has likely been able to discern some U.S. signals intelligence collection capabilities and may see the need to match or disrupt these collection activities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Nicaragua in the recent past. This offer of military sales in exchange for a permanent presence for GLONASS in Central America may go a long way in fulfilling the need for Russia to increase its signals collection capabilities.

On Nicaragua’s part, the tanks may indeed be used against an enemy, but not a neighbor and certainly not a drug-trafficking cartel. After Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega took the presidency in 2006, he moved the country in a hard left direction, which has sidelined many opposition groups.

In some cases, these groups reconstituted armed insurgencies in the north of Nicaragua. At present, government forces and insurgents have only engaged each other in limited fashion, though Mr. Ortega may have something else in mind entirely. Nicaraguan terrain isn’t exactly conducive to tracked vehicle warfare, but T-72 tanks can be useful in an urban environment. Even in Managua, however, their utility would be limited

Russia is facing a severe economic decline, but it still has the need to collect intelligence. In pursuit of this goal, Russia will make large expenditures. This new site in Nicaragua is just one more example of the costs Russia is willing to shoulder to ensure a robust intelligence gathering system.