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The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

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A Secret History of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)

Posted November 14, 2008 4:20 PM by Steve Melito

The National Security Archive, an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University, is reporting the release of a newly declassified history of signals intelligence (SIGINT) during the Cold War. In response to the Archive's declassification request, the U.S. government's National Security Agency (NSA) has declassified large portions of a four-part "top-secret Umbra" study, American Cryptology during the Cold War. According to the NSA's web site, the Agency is "the Nation's cryptologic organization" and "a high technology organization . . . on the frontiers of communications and data processing."

What is SIGINT?

Signals intelligence (SIGINT) involves the interception of encrypted and unencrypted signals, whether between people or machines. SIGINT encompasses communications intelligence (COMINT), electronics intelligence (ELINT), and foreign instrumentation signals intelligence. COMINT deals with messages, voice communications, or text messages derived from the interception of foreign transmissions. ELINT, according to the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, is "derived from foreign non-communications electromagnetic radiations emanating from other than nuclear detonations or radioactive sources."

SIGNIT and the Cuban Missile Crisis

According to the National Security Archive, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was one of the darkest moments for NSA. SIGINT failed to warn U.S. decision makers about the presence of Soviet nuclear-armed intermediate and medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba prior to their discovery by U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. According to Thomas R. Johnson, author of American Cryptology during the Cold War, this vacuum "marked the most significant failure of SIGINT to warn national leaders since World War II."

Click here for more information about this important history of Cold War intelligence activities.

Resources:

http://www.nsa.gov/CAREERS/faqs_1.cfm#isNSA_1

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB260/index.htm

http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/jp3-55/3-55gl.htm

http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf

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