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Satellite Jamming Case 25th Anniversary

Haynie event

On September 6, 1987 as the country was enjoying the Labor Day weekend, cable viewers exercising their 1st Amendment right to watch the Playboy Channel (now PlayboyTV) were surprised to see the above image on their TV rather than Three Daughters, the film that was being shown.

On April 27, 1986 the first known incident of intentional domestic satellite jamming took place involving HBO’s satellite signal for cable TV. Below is a news story about it:

While some viewed it as a prank, satellite owners were validly concerned that such jamming used higher power than the satellite was designed for and could permanently damage a satellite transponder. Your blogger was part of an FCC/FOB (now Enforcement Bureau) team that identified the party responsible for the jamming within a few days and with both technical evidence and circumstantial evidence convinced him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Within 6 months Congress, at the encouragement of the satellite industry, passed 18 USC 1367 making such jamming a felony:


(It is hard to imagine Congress dealing with such an issue so fast now, but the speed was an indication about the concern over this issue at the time. Note that this section was passed contemporaneously with Section 333 of the Communications Act on jamming in general, makes “willful or malicious interference” a misdemeanor and is interpreted by the cellular industry as denying FCC, but not NTIA, authority to authorize jamming in any circumstance. Note further that 18 USC 1367(b) specifically exempts any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of a law enforcement agency or of an intelligence agency. FCC has never ruled on any interpretation of Section 333.)

Given this recent legislation, less than a year old at the time of the Playboy incident, FOB repeated the thorough type of investigation that identified the source of the Captain Midnight jamming the previous year in less than a week. It took a few days longer than the first time, but the team - basically the same people as in the previous case - identified the perpetrator as Thomas Haynie, an employee of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, now CBN. Since Robertson was running for the Republic nomination against Bush (41) at the time, this made the case a political hot potato! At no point during Mr. Robertson’s candidacy did information about this case leak out.

While there was never any evidence that anyone else in CBN was involved in planning or executing the incident, there was later clear evidence that CBN staffers gave false and misleading statements to investigators and actually destroyed evidence, perhaps as part of a “coverup”. It appeared that CBN paid the full legal defense cost of Mr. Haynie’s later trial, estimated to be about $300,000 - apparently from funds it collected as charitable donations for its main mission.

Haynie was convicted in 1990 after a jury trial in Norfolk and in 1991 the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. The appeals court decision is a good summary of the trial and the evidence presented.

Last night 8 of the veterans of this case gathered to reminisce about it. Most of us had not seen Dick Smith, former Chief of FOB and later OET, in many years and were pleased he took time from a family visit to join us. In the 25 years since this incident and its successful prosecution, there has never been another case of intentional domestic jamming from a US source.

The 2 successful investigations had their intended effect!

Playboy team 25 yrs

Satellite Jamming Sleuths at 25th Reunion: “Joe” Monie, Charles Magin, Dick Smith, Richard Engelman, Michael Marcus, James Higgins, Bob Weller, George Dillon

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