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1. Organisations and methods
What is communications intelligence?
1. Communications intelligence (Comint) is defined by NSA, the largest agency conducting such operations as "technical and intelligence information derived from foreign communications by other than their intended recipient". (4) Comint is a major component of Sigint (signals intelligence), which also includes the collection of non-communications signals, such as radar emissions. (5) Although this report deals with agencies and systems whose overall task may be Sigint, it is concerned only with Comint.
2. Comint has shadowed the development of extensive high capacity new civil telecommunications systems, and has in consequence become a large-scale industrial activity employing many skilled workers and utilising exceptionally high degrees of automation.
3. The targets of Comint operations are varied. The most traditional Comint targets are military messages and diplomatic communications between national capitals and missions abroad. Since the 1960s, following the growth of world trade, the collection of economic intelligence and information about scientific and technical developments has been an increasingly important aspect of Comint. More recent targets include narcotics trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and organised crime.
4. Whenever access to international communications channels is obtained for one purpose, access to every other type of communications carried on the same channels is automatic, subject only to the tasking requirements of agencies. Thus, for example, NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ, used Comint collected primarily for other purposes to provide data about domestic political opposition figures in the United States between 1967 and 1975.
5. The United States Sigint System (USSS) consists of the National Security Agency (NSA), military support units collectively called the Central Security Service, and parts of the CIA and other organisations. Following wartime collaboration, in 1947 the UK and the US made a secret agreement to continue to conduct collaborative global Comint activities. Three other English-speaking nations, Canada, Australia and New Zealand joined the UKUSA agreement as "Second Parties". The UKUSA agreement was not acknowledged publicly until March 1999, when the Australian government confirmed that its Sigint organisation, Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) "does co-operate with counterpart signals intelligence organisations overseas under the UKUSA relationship". (6) The UKUSA agreement shares facilities, tasks and product between participating governments.
6. Although UKUSA Comint agency staffs and budgets have shrunk following the end of the cold war, they have reaffirmed their requirements for access to all the world's communications. Addressing NSA staff on his departure in 1992, then NSA director Admiral William Studeman described how "the demands for increased global access are growing". The "business area" of "global access" was, he said, one of "two, hopefully strong, legs upon which NSA must stand" in the next century. (7)
Other Comint organisations
7. Besides UKUSA, there at least 30 other nations operating major Comint organisations. The largest is the Russian FAPSI, with 54,000 employees. (
China maintains a substantial Sigint system, two stations of which are directed at Russia and operate in collaboration with the United States. Most Middle Eastern and Asian nations have invested substantially in Sigint, in particular Israel, India and Pakistan.
How intelligence works
8. In the post cold war era, Comint interception has been constrained by recognisable industrial features, including the requirement to match budgets and capabilities to customer requirements. The multi-step process by means of which communications intelligence is sought, collected, processed and passed on is similar for all countries, and is often described as the "intelligence cycle". The steps of the intelligence cycle correspond to distinct organisational and technical features of Comint production. Thus, for example, the administration of NSA's largest field station in the world, at Menwith Hill in England and responsible for operating over 250 classified projects, is divided into three directorates: OP, Operations and Plans; CP, Collection Processing; and EP,