Last month we brought you a story
SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT, and their
evolution over time as a means to discern what some other
party to the “listener” is up to. In wartime, the party the
listener is interested in is almost exclusively the enemy.
Today however, things have changed. Today surveillance—of
these kinds and more—is performed against most any kind of
entity that holds intelligence, whether the entity is a
living being, or a technical concoction of some form; a
military or political entity, or a mass of civilians.
It may come as a surprise but in all
of this the largest intelligence gathering entity is not a
military or government entity, but a commercial one. Without doubt, the
largest and most famous
intelligence gathering entity out there—gathering up
information about every living thing and then some—is
Google. Yes, Google.
Why Google? Because while the NSA, as
gathers data from plebian sources such as telephone calls
and the like, the data is only used if it is relevant to its
needs. If it is not, then eventually it is discarded.
Google on the other hand gathers data
from every known source to man and not only keeps it but
uses the n-th degree of the detail found in it for
It may be that in terms of
pure numbers the NSA gathers far more data than Google does
but as we have said, most of it is useless to the NSA's
purposes. For Google, every bit of data it gathers is of
use, and the data it gathers is far more personal than that
one might find in a telephone call.
Think of the data the NSA gathers as a
pile of dirt, a massive pile of dirt if you will—the world’s dirt. Hidden within it are small
gems of gold. Without further processing however these bits of
gold will just sit there, useless to all until they are dug
Google on the other hand already knows
what bits of gold it wants to gather up, so it doesn’t waste
its time gathering up the dirt, only the bits of gold. And
it can do this because it knows where the bits of gold are…
unlike the NSA.
How can Google know where the bits of
gold are? Because the only gold it is interested in are
those pieces that will help them sell information
about you to advertisers, commercial enterprises,
governments, and yes… even the NSA.
The NSA is only
interested in those bits of gold related to violations of
U.S. laws, spying, political issues, and other arcane topics
not likely to be found on Facebook. Google is interested in
anything... ANYTHING... that can identify you, your likes
and dislikes, your income, health, sexuality, marital
status, and on, and on.
Google has it easy… it knows not
only where the gold it seeks is hidden, it also knows
exactly what kind of gold bits it seeks. In terms of what
gold bits it seeks, in addition to the content of the data
being gathered, it is also interested in things like your
PC’s MAC code, IP Addresses, the Apps you use, how you use
them, when you use them, who you communicate with when you
use them… as well as things like the sites you visit… and
on, and on…. and on, and on… and on, and on. Get the
It’s kind of disturbing, isn’t it? The
NSA knows about the dark side of your life, while Google
knows about—well—everything about your life.
In terms of how prevailing Google's
surveillance and information gathering is—sorry
to say—it is not the only
commercial entity out there doing this. It's partners in
crime include Facebook,
Apple, Amazon, and Yahoo... which together with Google are
considered the big five data gatherers
within the U.S.
What exactly do these companies do?
They track your on- and offline activities, primarily for
commercial purposes. Combined—as scary as the amount of data
is that the NSA holds—it is nothing compared to what these
five companies hold in the way of personal information about
Surveillance and data gathering has
come a long, long way from the days when we Signaleers were
the only ones doing it. No longer is the query one about
what the enemy is up to, now it’s about what YOU are up to?
And just as the amount and type of data that is being
surveilled and captured has increased, so too has the medium
being used to gather that data and intelligence.
Today intelligence gathering has
spread beyond the bounds of SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT to
include something called GEOINT, or Geospatial Intelligence.
As you will see, this form of INT too can be used for both
good as well as nefarious purposes. It all depends who is
doing the gathering, and to what purpose they are using the
data they have gathered.
While the big boys when it comes to
gathering intelligence from SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT may be
in the commercial sector (Google, et al), at this point the
only serious player involved in gathering GEOINT is our own
government. This it does via a government agency known to
only a few: the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or
So unknown is the NGA that even Barack
Obama had never heard of it. A story was published a number
of years back of his first learning of it, and it goes like
something like this:
While shaking hands at a Five
Guys hamburger restaurant in Washington in May 2009,
President Obama asked a customer seated at a table near him
about his job.
“What do you [do]?” he asked.
“I work at the NGA, National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency,” the man answered.
Obama appeared dumbfounded. “So,
explain to me exactly what this National Geospatial… does…”
he said, unable to finish the name.
Even after having it explained
to him, the President looked quizzically disbelieving, and
That was eight years ago, and still
today the NGA remains by far the most shadowy member of the
Big Five Government Spy Agencies.
So what is the NGA, and what is its
role in GEOINT?
The NGA is an intelligence agency,
formed as a combat support institution to function under the
U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and provide what is called
geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to the military—and in some
cases, other agencies within our government. As a body of
government it has only one task: to analyze images and
videos captured by American military drones. At this time,
since most of America’s military drones are to be found in
the Middle East, that’s where the bulk of the NGA‘s data
gathering is taking place.
Despite the fact that the focus of its
work is on the Middle East, and its lack of name
recognition, the NGA’s headquarters is the third-largest
building in the Washington metropolitan area, bigger than
the CIA headquarters and the U.S. Capitol combined.
Completed in 2011 at a cost of $1.4
billion, the main building measures four football fields
long and covers as much ground as two aircraft carriers. In
2016, the agency purchased an additional 99 acres in St.
Louis, to construct additional buildings at a cost of $1.75
billion, to accommodate its growing workforce. At present
the NGA has over 3,000 employees within the metro Washington
If you’re having a difficult time
figuring out why the American military—or our civilian
government itself—needs something like the NGA, look at it
this way: the NGA is to pictures what the NSA is to voices.
Its principal function is to analyze the billions of images
and miles of video captured by drones in the Middle East, as
well as every bit of code coming out of each and every spy
satellite that the world has circling the earth.
The drone footage in the Middle East
aside, one might be forgiven for asking the question, “How
much of what is being captured by the NGA is data gathered
from drones or satellites flying over CONUS?” How much of
the data and pictures being generated by the NGA’s
ultra-high-resolution cameras shows things that took place
within the U.S. itself?
Continued at top of page,
COLUMN AT RIGHT
This page last updated 3 May 2017.
New content is constantly being added. Please check back
– Received a few pictures of
Candidate Joseph E. Passantino, OCS Class 43-15, sent to the
Association's Archivist, MAJ (R) Green, by his daughter, Ms.
Beck. We've started a new "mini-bio" page for Candidate
Passantino, and posted the pics we received there. Ms. Beck
has promised to send more of his old pictures to MAJ (R)
Green to be digitized.
As he finishes them he has in turn promised
to send them on to us for posting. In the mean time, enjoy
what we have by clicking
here, and our thanks to Ms. Beck for providing the
photos to us.
Dennis Bielewicz, Class 09-67, sent in a couple of dozen
pictures from his days in OCS. We'll be adding them over the
next few days. Be sure to check them out
here, and our
thanks to Dennis for thinking of us. Hooah!
Received an eMail and picture from a former student of OCS
Candidate James Falkenstrom, Class 07-66. It read as
ran across your site while searching for Lt. Falkenstrom and
wondering what happened to him. Attached is a photograph I
took of him while we were stationed at Ft. Gordon in
1966-67. He was my commander while I attended avionics
school (35L20). I was an honor graduate there. We were the
first group to use the newly constructed barracks and
facility. After training was complete, I spent 24 months at
USAAMAC aircraft repair depot at Coleman Barracks, Mannheim,
Germany. — SP5 Thomas Goez,
St. Louis, MO. You can see the pictures Tom was kind enough
to sende to us on the 07-66 Class Page. Click here to jump
– It's not too early to
begin planning for our Army Signal OCS Association 2017
Reunion. This year it will be held in Washington, D.C. and
will celebrate the anniversaries of the WWII, Korea and
Vietnam Era wars. Take the time now to pencil it into your
calendar for this October... and while you are at it, check
out the latest information about the Reunion by clicking on
Reunion Info link at the top of the column at left, under the
heading INFO CENTER.
Continued from left column...
Our research says that efforts by
third parties to get this information have been met with
vague denials by the NGA. At this point, the general view is
that while attempts have been made to drag the agency into
domestic “spying” matters, it has avoided such and never
been involved in a domestically focused GEOINT, SIGINT,
COMINT or ELINT effort. On the surface, one can believe
this, as so far it has avoided the kind of headlines its two
far more famous siblings, the CIA and NSA, tend to generate
re. spying on American citizens.
Notwithstanding this, we should all
keep our eyes on this new spying behemoth our military has
created, watching to see if it turns its eyes on us.
As to how its services are used, it
didn’t take long after President Trump took office for him
to figure out the value of such an agency. To his credit, so
far he has kept it focused on military matters. After
studying up on what the NGA is all about, President
Trump decided that it needed more autonomous authority to do
its job than it had been given. With that in mind he
gave the CIA the
power to wage covert drone warfare with intelligence
gathered from the NGA.
While in our opinion this “right” should have gone to the
military alone, be it as it may be, the important thing is
that President Trump saw the value of the GEOINT information
the NGA generates, and authorized its use on those
quasi-military missions the CIA loves to mount.
Yet still, it troubles us that the CIA is allowed to shield
important information about such missions and operations
from the Pentagon, by simply instructing the NGA to carry
out its portion of a mission on the Q.T.
- - -
There is no doubt that this new form of GEOINT (as opposed
to SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT) that the NGA is generating is
going to change how America views both surveillance and
intelligence. For one thing, with this new agency being
formed to act as both an intelligence agency and a combat
support agency, its role is going to extend far more into
the active domain of performing missions than anything the
Signal Corps ever did back when it was conducting SIGINT
during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Back then, the Signal
Corps provided the intelligence, while the combat arms drew
from that intelligence what they wanted when it came to
defining and conducting the mission. Now today, the NGA will
be involved in both intelligence gathering and mission
With such an expansive role, the NGA will likely quickly
become America’s “spy” leader when it comes to timely,
relevant, accurate and actionable GEOINT. No doubt, this
will help it perform its quasi-military, CIA backed missions
much more successfully, but again, it will also likely
result in tremendous pressure being put on the agency to
direct its intelligence gathering efforts within the borders
of the U.S.—as it becomes pressured to fulfill the
President’s national security priorities to protect the
Finally, in case one thinks that the NGA, with its 3,000
government workers in Washington and additional 11,500
elsewhere, is sitting out there all by itself,
looking at photos from satellites and drones and deciding
what to do about what it sees, recognize that the agencies
that perform intelligence gathering for our government and
military are many and diverse. The NGA, while the lead
federal agency for GEOINT work, is just one of a global
consortium of more than 400 commercial and government
organizations that are involved—under
its auspices—in GEOINT. To this point, the NGA
manages all of these relationships. It sits at the
head of the consortium.
Operationally, the director of NGA serves as the functional
manager for America’s entire GEOINT program. Note these
important words… “functional manager for America’s entire
GEOINT program”… and remind yourself that no other form of
intelligence gathering—SIGINT, COMINT, ELINT, or any
other—has a functional manager in charge of all
aspects of that kind of intelligence gathering… across the
nation, across all disciplines, over all agencies,
government and private… none. For GEOINT to be considered so
important that our government has placed every aspect of
geospatial intelligence gathering under this one agency is
Further to this, the director of the NGA now also serves as
the head of the National System for Geospatial Intelligence
(NSG) as well as the coordinator of the global Allied System
for Geospatial Intelligence (ASG).
By now our readers should be taking a deep breath, and
asking who do these people report to. The answer, for all
practical purposes, is no one. The NGA stands alone within
the other spy agencies, primarily being intended to serve
the DoD, but doing more work for the CIA, and reporting to
no other agency. In its multiple roles though it does
receive guidance and oversight from DoD, the Director of
National Intelligence (DNI) and through its Congress via
their normal oversight committee activities.
For those of you interested in its list of deliverables,
taken directly from NGA publications, they look as follows.
1. Delivers the strategic intelligence that allows the
president and national policymakers to make crucial
decisions on counterterrorism, weapons of mass destruction,
global political crises and more.
2. Enables the warfighter to plan missions, gain battlefield
superiority, precisely target the adversary and protect our
3. Provides timely warnings to the warfighter and national
decision makers by monitoring, analyzing and reporting
imminent threats. Often, NGA has the only “eyes” focused on
global hot spots and can give unique insight into these
critical areas... North Korea being a case in point.
4. Protects the homeland by supporting counterterrorism,
counternarcotics, and border and transportation security. If
one thinks about it, the NGA is the real "Trump Wall"
that is being put in place along the Mexican border.
5. Supports security planning for special events, such as
presidential inaugurations, state visits by foreign leaders,
international conferences and major public events (Olympics,
Super Bowls, satellite launchings, etc.).
6. Ensures safety of navigation in the air and on the seas
by maintaining the most current information and highest
quality services for U.S. military forces and global
7. Defends the nation against cyber threats by supporting
other intelligence agencies with in-depth analysis of cyber
7. Creates and maintains the geospatial foundation data,
knowledge and analysis that enable all other missions.
8. Assists humanitarian and disaster relief efforts by
working directly with the lead federal agencies responding
to fires, floods, earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes or
other natural or manmade disasters.
One can only sit back in wonder at the size, role and
importance of this new military intelligence gathering
agency, based solely on the use of drones and satellites.
One wonders most what the Signal Corps Officers that served
in the Union Army Balloon Corps of the Civil War would
think, seeing how far GEOINT has come from their early
attempts to use height to spy on the Confederate Army.
The Real World Of Radio Traffic Analysis
The 3250th Signal Service Company and Patton's V Corps
Understanding what SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT is all about is
one thing, putting it into action is another. In several
previous columns over the past two months we talked at
length of these topics, and even provided an example of
their use in the Vietnam War. Long before Vietnam ever came
onto the scene however, these three methods of surveillance
and intelligence gathering proved their value in war beyond
the pale, making them an invaluable part of war fighting for
all time to come.
The proof of concept that we speak of occurred in WWII, in
the Battle of the Bulge. During that engagement the 3250th
Signal Service Company used SIGINT to its maximum potential,
by wrapping the idea within a structure of protocol,
process, command oversight, and practice that would extract
from it the kind of intelligence the front line commanders
so desperately needed. In the process, the Signaleers of the
3250th turned an idea—SIGINT—into a reality.
understand how this happened, one must first recognize that
back during WWII SIGINT consisted mainly of the practice of
radio traffic analysis. The 3250th, a Signal Service
Company, was established to do this, and more.
One of the units that went ashore during the second wave on
D-day, the 3250th was part of the V Corps. As constituted
for the D-Day invasion, it had 48 vehicles and 129 men.
Originally the men of the 3250th trained at Camp Crowder,
Missouri, after which they were sent to Britain, where they
were then broken up into several groups and reformed again
into the 3250th, 3251st, 325d, and 3253d Signal Service
The 3250th was officially organized on 1 April 1944, and
constituted on 12 April 1944 in England. Commanding it was
Lieutenant Edward Woodruff Snowdon, from New
York, a graduate of Army Signal Corps OCS Class 43-20.
Working in conjunction with him—for a short while, until
assigned to another unit in need of a commander—was another
Army Signal OCS graduate,
2nd Lieutenant Raymond Joseph Mondor from
Minnesota, a graduate of
Army Signal OCS Class 43-18.
Together these two men helped bring form and substance to
the practice of radio traffic analysis. In fact, so
effective was their work at bringing structure to the
process of RTF that the 3250th was the only SIGINT unit to
be awarded an Assault Landing Credit for the Normandy
One of the more important things they did was to lay out an
operational command structure where the Traffic Analysis
Officer in a SIGINT company would have operational control
over the entire operation of the radio intelligence company.
Note here we are speaking of operational control, not
command. This they felt was necessary since the Traffic
Analysis Officer typically had the greatest knowledge of
RDF and radio intercept communications methods, and the means by
which intelligence could be extracted from signals being
To add to the effectiveness of this operational command
structure, they also recommended that the Traffic Analysis
Officer act as the liaison officer with the unit’s
correspondent G-2 section. Finally, to make sure that
quality was brought into this equation, 2nd Lieutenants
Snowdon and Mondor required that the Traffic Analysis
Officer have extensive training and background in SIGINT and
the technologies that underwrote the process, in order to
successfully accomplish the mission. At the minimum, they
said, the Traffic Analysis Officer must have an
understanding of all problems found when it came to
obtaining radio intelligence. This they felt was absolutely essential.
While their recommendations failed to be codified as policy,
still, the concept of the officer-in-charge of the traffic
analysis section holding overall command over the SIGINT
process became the de facto routine within the Third Army,
during World War II. In practical terms, since the 3250th
Signal Service Company was responsible for SIGINT support to
Patton's V Corps, the intelligence Patton’s men worked off
of came at the behest of two young Army Signal OCS graduates
doing their damndest to provide the highest quality SIGINT
available. Based on Patton’s successes, it appears they met
From an operational standpoint, the 3250th, which was
originally part of the 29th Infantry Division, through which
it had arrived in Greenock, Scotland, on 11 October 1942,
was able to set up one of the earliest SIGINT sites in the
war. That site was called “intercept station LIMBO,” and was
set up just outside of Greenock.
traffic it gathered was sent on to the Signal Intelligence
Division (SID) for processing. The SID in question was
attached to Headquarters, European Theater of Operations,
USA (ETOUSA), in London. This particular SID was headed by
Colonel George A. Bicher, the U.S. theater’s SIGINT
authority in England. Here then, in this environment, the
company worked out its SIGINT kinks, before being directed
to create yet another listening station.
This second listening station was built in Devon, England,
to which the entire company was moved in May of 1943. Around
about July the company began working to intercept low
echelon German Army traffic from this station. However,
since there were no traffic analysts or cryptanalysts
assigned to the station, the results were spotty at best. By
spring of the following year, 1944, it didn’t matter, as the
company was busy preparing itself for the cross-channel
invasion that was to come.
In June, as part of the Normandy invasion, the 3250th moved
across the channel in two echelons. As the unit formed up on
the other side, they spent several nights under sporadic
enemy fire from the air. There, on the shores of France, the
company received news that it was to be assigned to support
the V Corps, which at that time was attached to First U.S.
Specifically, Detachment A of the 3250th, under command of
Army Signal OCS Class 43-20 graduate Lieutenant Edward
Snowdon, landed on 7 June (the day after D-Day) at Omaha
Beach. There he found himself and his men in the most
fearsome, difficult and daunting of circumstances possible.
Of all of the areas along the beach head, this particular
strip of beach terrain was receiving far more fire than the
others. In great measure this was because Montgomery's 21st
Army Group, which knew that the German 716th Infantry
Division was in the area, and was concentrating fire on this
particular strip of Normandy, failed to do anything about