Yakima Training Center

Overview of the Yakima Training Center's antenna complex.

The Yakima Training Center (YTC) is a United States Army training center (Army maneuver training and live fire area) located in south central Washington state. It is bounded on the west by Interstate 82, on the south by the city of Yakima, on the north by the city of Ellensburg and Interstate 90, and on the east by the Columbia River. It comprises 327,000 acres (132,332 hectares) of land, most of which consists of shrub-steppe, making it one of the largest areas of shrub-steppe habitat remaining in Washington state.1

According to a 2001 report by the European Parliament, the Yakima Training Center is also an integral part of the ECHELON global communications interception system.

History

From GlobalSecurity.org:

Yakima Training Center (YTC), also known as Yakima Firing Center (YFC), is an Army maneuver training area located in central Washington northeast of the town of Yakima and west of the Columbia River. Although designed for Army use, the main impact area (MIA) and Multi-Purpose Range Complex (MPRC) are approved for use for conventional and tactical weapons deliveries. See attachments 1 and 2. The MIA is used primarily for tank, artillery, and infantry gunnery. The MPRC is a tank and infantry firing range consisting of numerous remotely controlled moving and pop-up targets. A FAC (either AFAC or GFAC) must be present to provide positive control to flights desiring to expend at YTC. In this case, Yakima becomes a Class “B” range. See Chapter 5 for additional ground safety requirements. At discretion of Range Control, a FAC may not be required for orientation/range familiarization or other flights where no ordnance will be expended.

YTC is approximately 25 nautical miles by 21 nautical miles, including the impact area. The terrain is undulating and dominated by three east-west parallel ridges with large intervening valleys. Vegetation consists primarily of sagebrush, bitter brush, and bunch grasses. Average precipitation is six to nine inches per year, mostly snow. Winters are severe and summers are hot and dry. Temperatures range from below 0ºF in winter to above 100ºF in summer. The Yakima Firing Center is located in a small east-west oriented valley near the upper part of the Yakima Valley. Topography is complex with numerous minor valleys and ridges giving a variation in altitude of up to 2000 feet. This variation in local relief makes for a significant variation in winds and temperatures over short distances. This valley has a climate that is relatively dry and mild. Its weather is modified by the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east. Summers are dry and tend to be hot, and winters are cool with occasional light snowfall. Precipitation patterns follow that of the Fort Lewis area with a late fall and early winter maximum. However, due to the Cascades, total precipitation amounts are small. Summers are sunny with clear skies 80 percent to 85 percent of the time. Winds are generally light with speeds averaging less than 10 mph. Wind speeds of over 40 knots are only recorded about three times a year. A peak gust of 48 knots has been recorded at Yakima Municipal Airport. Prevailing wind direction is from the west in the winter and from the west-northwest during the summer. However, gusts up to 70 knots have been recorded at higher elevations in the firing center.

ECHELON Intercept Station

The European Parliament’s 2001 “Report on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system)” describes the Yakima facility as an integral part of the ECHELON system.  According  to the report, as early as the 1970s the Yakima station was capable of intercepting all INTELSAT communications originating within the Pacific region:

In the early 1970s the Yakima station was established in the north-western USA and in 1972/73 the Morwenstow station was built in southern England. At that time, Yakima had one large antenna (trained towards the Pacific) and Morwenstow had two large antennae (one trained towards the Atlantic, the other towards the Indian Ocean). By virtue of the location of the two stations, all communications could be recorded.2

The following possible satellite intercept capabilities are listed in the EU Parliament’s 2001 report:

INTELSAT 802 (174°), 702 (176°), 701
(180°)
GORIZONT 41 (130°E), 42 (142°E), LM-
1 (75°E)
INMARSAT Pacific area
Waihopai, New Zealand
Geraldton, Australia
Pine Gap, Australia
Misawa, Japan
Yakima, USA – only Intelsat and Inmarsat

Map of ECHELON intercept coverage as early as the 1970s. From the EU Parliament's 2001 report.

A map of later coverage capabilities, also from the EU Parliament's 2001 report.

An article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer elaborates on the YTC facility’s dual-purpose role as an ECHELON station:

Just a few miles north of town, the National Security Agency is eavesdropping on the world with satellite dishes that pick up satellite and microwave signals from cell phones, e-mails and home phones.

The listening post has a view of Interstate 82 from its location on the Army’s gigantic Yakima Training Center, but it may be one of the best-kept secrets in the Pacific Northwest.

That could change during the debate about the Bush administration’s surveillance of domestic communications with parties overseas.

“In the entire country, it happens to be in your back yard,” said James Bamford, a former network news investigative producer who documented the Yakima installation in his 1982 book about the NSA, “The Puzzle Palace.”

“It doesn’t make noise, doesn’t send smoke,” he said. “It’s almost invisible. The whole agency is virtually invisible.”

Bamford and others keyed into electronic eavesdropping say the Yakima Research Station has played a major role for decades in Echelon, the global surveillance network operated by the NSA and its counterparts in the British Commonwealth — Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

And it has a sister installation in Sugar Grove, W.Va.

Created by a secret executive order signed by President Truman in 1952, the agency spent its early days doing wiretaps of telephones and telegraph lines. By the late 1960s, it had a growing array of listening posts capable of intercepting satellite signals.

Because the Earth is curved, intercepting satellite communications takes teamwork. The result is Echelon and its network of listening posts. The biggest is thought to be at Menwith Hill north of London.

Passers-by can see the satellite dishes from the freeway north of Selah, but that’s as close as they’re likely to get.

Access is severely restricted, enforced by its location inside a 260,000-acre Army base used primarily for artillery training and target practice.

The base’s official Web site does not mention the installation.

“We really don’t have any comment about the research station,” center spokesman Jim Reddick told the Yakima Herald-Republic newspaper last week.

Aerial Photos

Yakima Training Center in 1996.

Yakima Training Center.

Radome west of the main Yakima facility.

Base to the west of YTC antenna facilities.

Source notes:

  1. Yakima Training Center.  Wikipedia.  Accessed July 1, 2010.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakima_Training_Center []
  2. 2001 EU Parliament Report: Echelon Global Private and Commercial Communications Interception System.   European Commission, Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System.  July 11, 2001.  http://publicintelligence.net/2001-eu-parliament-report-echelon-global-private-and-commercial-communications-interception-system/ []

6 comments for “Yakima Training Center

  1. Jay Mahn
    January 10, 2011 at 7:58 am

    I had to laugh at this. After being Stationed at Yakima three different times from the mid 70′s to the early 90′s. This was not even close to being a secret. Its visible from the Freeway and everyone knew it was a NSA site. Funny stuff. Now It is outed. If thats the case common knowledge appears to be the correct tactic. Its been there for 40 years.

  2. January 20, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    My grandson will be sent their this Feb 2012–Do they have other training then live fire ? Do they have H/AC schools or training in this area ?———Thanks for all infor you may give

  3. Joe Solita
    February 18, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Was at Yakima from 63 through 65. Love the area. Went up in the Cascade many a time. Would have stayed after service but had family back in Ill. The climate is great. Sorry that i have been able to get back to see the Firing Center.

  4. Scott
    May 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Interesting to note, as I was a the Yakima ASA site in 1974 after coming back from Vietnam it was very strange then, under ground bunkers, CIA, NSA operations destruction of documents on US Political officials being spied on, etc. we were all under ground most of the time. I later had to arrest a 2nd LT. from Ft. Lewis at Yakima for smoking and selling Marijuana since he had a Top Secret clearance and was the man who knew too much he got promoted to Captain and transferred, that’s when we knew we were all involved in illicit electronic eavesdropping on US elected Officials, and covering of the POW’s left behind. The 89th MP group under the command of then Col. Kanamine and General McFadden were the two who approved the cover up.

  5. David Rahfeldt
    May 23, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Cannot speak directly to the “cover-up” comment except to note that officers follow orders, policies, directives, as they are required to do so under the law.

    When you cast a wide net one catches fish you did not want or intend to catch and have to throw back those you are not legally allowed to harvest.

    Same thing happens in intelligence operations.

    Listen to joe the butcher in DC and you get Mr. Senator as well since he happens to buy from Joe or play cards with him or such.

    When that happens, you have to shred the records of communications that “got in your net” … since in communications … liike fishing … you have no control over what undesired or unintended fish might swim into the same net as your intended target.

    To always put a spin on things as ‘evil or illegal intent” is vastly inappropriate.

    The bulk of intelligence activity is both legal and carefully proscribed.

    The men and women who spend their lives, and sometimes give their lives in such service deserve our respect and appreciation just as much, perhaps more, than the soldier doing front line service with a gun in his or her hands.

  6. James D. Morin
    July 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Was stationed there in 1968 for about 10 months. Assigned as a fire fighter with the YTC Fire Department. Worked under Chief Johnson (federal employee). Was senior enlisted person assigned to various apparatus in the Fire Department.

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