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From Our Home Page Archive
Page as originally published in April 2017
— This Month —
Part I - The Role Of Traffic
Analysis In SIGINT Surveillance
– The Key Factors In
Part II - Traffic Analysis In War, Vietnam 1964
The Intelligence Cycle
- - - - -
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What Fools We Suffer...
All of the recent talk about surveillance and
wire-tapping of government leaders, Russian
oligarchs, Donald Trump when he ran for the
Presidency, the notorious Trump Tower itself,
political hacks, “transition team” members,
foreign Ambassadors, the internet, and the
American people too—by all of the talking heads
and know-it-alls spouting their half baked
opinions on this topic—is enough to make an old
Signal Corps hand laugh. When these jokers talk
of surveillance, ninety-nine point nine-nine
percent of them don’t have a clue as to what
they are talking about… let alone what
information is being surveilled or the amount of
it that our government is “Hoovering” up from
all around us.
If these fools really knew what is going on
within our "intelligence" community, every one
of them would die of an apoplectic fit.
Suffice it to say that we here at
ArmySignalOCS.com are not going to be the ones
that “unmask” the truth about the extent of
government surveillance that is taking place
around us, including against Joe Normal himself,
never mind Trump and his minions. Nope, not us.
But what we will say is that any fool that
thinks his communication, and the information it
contains, is secure from our government is,
well, a fool.
What we will do instead is focus on the history
behind SIGINT and where the idea of surveilling
“the enemy” came from... as well as how it’s
Where did this trend come from, you ask?
From war, of course. And it was us… the U.S.
Army Signal Corps… that led the charge in
perfecting this craft.
Sad to say, today, for most of this work we have
been supplanted by the NSA. But not in the early
days though… no Siree… in the early days if you
wanted SIGINT about a third party, you turned to
the U.S. Army Signal Corps to manage its
So sit back for a bit and read what we have for
you. Below you will find two historical pieces
about surveillance, and Traffic Analysis in
particular. In Part I we provide the specifics
as to what is involved in SIGINT, COMINT and
ELINT, while in Part II we provide you with a
couple of examples of how it was put to good use
in the Vietnam War.
Enjoy what we have for you, and thanks for
Part I - The Role Of Traffic Analysis In SIGINT
The Key Factors In
Trump called it "wiretapping," which
we all know it was not. But what was it that those
surveilling his communication with the world at large were
doing? If not wiretapping, what?
The answer lies in how picky you want
to be when it comes to selecting a verb to describe the
process of gathering signals information about the
communication taking place between two individuals. For us,
wiretapping works, although clearly the technical
description that goes along with the word is not what the
use of it is meant to imply. How about Signals Interception,
or Signals Intelligence? How about Communications
Interception, or Communications Intelligence? Better still,
how about Electronics Interception, or Electronics
Intelligence? Need we go any further?
You see, these three catch-all
phrases—SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT—that are meant to describe
the process of gathering the communications passed between a
sender and an intended recipient, for the purpose of a)
analyzing it and b) gleaning some intelligence from it,
pretty much fit the bill when it comes to describing almost
any form of surveillance. Yet strictly speaking, they are
In the case of the alleged Trump
wiretaps, using SIGINT in this manner would be a misuse of
the word. So, to set the record straight, before we move on
to look more deeply into the process and history behind the
U.S. Signal Corps' art of surveillance, let us further
define the key elements of the methods of communication
gathering and analysis that our military uses.
- - -
To begin with, there are three key
words that bear on this topic. As we have said, they are
SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT.
1. Signals Intelligence, or SIGINT, is
the better known of the three. SIGINT is one of the key
segments of the intelligence discipline. By definition,
SIGINT is intelligence gathering by interception of
signals. It matters not whether the communications
being intercepted is between people (where it is called
communications intelligence, or COMINT) or from electronic
sources not directly used in people-to-people communication.
All that matters is that there is some
form of communication signal being intercepted—in some
manner—from which one intends to extract “intelligence.”
2. The next key word is Communications
Intelligence, or COMINT. COMINT is one of the subordinate
means for gathering information or intelligence, it falls
within the definition of SIGINT itself. Generally it relates
to intelligence gathered from communication that takes place
between people—real people, as opposed to data such as that
relating to the number of missiles fired, or other kinds of
communication based signals and information. That kind of
data is called ELINT.
3. Electronic intelligence, or ELINT,
is—as already said—communication based data and intelligence
that stems from non-human forms of communication.
Recognizing that in the end all forms of communication are
spurred by a human interaction, the point here is not that
ELINT has no reference to humans, but that the information
contained within it is generally transmitted and received
(i.e. carried) as and via a non-human form of communication,
where the sender and receiver are more often than not driven
by… in the early days of WWI and WWII, machines, and today,
In the Trump surveillance case it is
claimed that the NSA, or the British GCHQ, tapped into the
communication link that fed data back and forth between a
physical branch of a Russian bank located in Trump Tower,
and another branch of that same bank located somewhere in
Europe. This form of eve’s dropping is what ELINT is all
about. The violation of U.S. law in this case, if there was
one, will probably be determined on the basis of where the
link that was tapped into took place… New York, or, say,
somewhere in Europe, perhaps where the undersea fiber optic
cable that ties Europe to the U.S., comes ashore.
Regardless of whether the link we are
speaking of exists or not, or was tapped into in order to siphon
up communications related to Mr. Trump... if something like that
did happen, the process of Hoovering up that data would
fall within the purview of ELINT.
our purposes then the point we are making is that
surveillance revolves around the three key elements, which
us Signaleers know as SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT.
As to where these words got their
meaning, the reader should recognize that the lexicon
involved has changed over the years. Thus, it would not be
unusual for those WWII Army Signal OCS graduates reading
this article to be confused about the meaning of SIGINT, and
especially our definition above of ELINT… because during
WWII the term SIGINT did not exist. Back then it was called
Later, when the term SIGINT came into
vogue, the users at the time changed the order of the word
stacking, and made ELINT a subset of SIGINT. To make matters
worse, back in those days (late 50s) COMINT was known as
“radio intelligence,” a definition it kept until the middle
of the 20th century.
Over the years then, as different
parties managed the task of collecting SIGINT, COMINT,
ELINT, and radio intelligence, they called it different
things. By the time Vietnam rolled around, us Signal Corps
guys were regularly using SIGINT as the term to be applied
to signals based surveillance and intelligence gathering, of
almost any flavor. And while we tend to still call it that
today, when the NSA began to get involved—on the civilian
side—they took over control not only of the Hoovering
process, but also the definition of the words being used.
Thus today we find ourselves in a
situation where when President Trump speaks of
“wiretapping,” the NSA and Congress run around with their hair on fire,
saying that no “wiretapping” occurred… when in reality what
Trump—an inelegant user of words at best—was talking about
The media maggots, sworn haters of
Trump, add to this fire by jumping on the bandwagon, using this as an
opportunity to jump on Trump and confuse the entire issue
for the public, by saying that there is no proof of
not, but we’ll bet that if someone took the time to look
beneath the sands of a certain north Cornwall beach in the
United Kingdom, where the powerful US–U.K. internet cable
comes ashore, one would find a “hack” placed on that cable
by the GCHQ. And if someone looked in the switching center
in England where that hack terminates, they might just find
a reverse link that sends the data—ELINT—collected there,
back over the very same cable to… wonder of wonders… the NSA
at Fort Meade, Maryland.
In this manner, in one fell swoop, our
clever government could tap any American’s communications
and data without breaking the law that states that they
cannot—within the United States—surveil an American citizen.
After all, the surveillance would be taking place in Great
Be that as it may be, our interest
here is more about how information that is gathered, via
ELINT or whatever, is turned into intelligence, as opposed
to how it is gathered. The best way to understand that is a)
to look at the process of analyzing the information being
gathered to find out what intelligence it holds, and then b)
look at an actual example or two of how this kind of
surveillance worked back during the Vietnam War days, when
all of us young Signal OCS graduates were running around the
countryside trying to figure out what the enemy was up to.
As though the terms SIGINT, COMINT and
ELINT are not confusing enough, when it comes to turning
gathered information into intelligence it’s all about
Traffic Analysis, or T/A.
Here again the term we use may not be
familiar to many of our WWII, or even Korean and Vietnam War
readers. That’s because while within the Signal Corps the
concept of Traffic Analysis has been around for 40+ years,
the word Traffic Analysis was not used to define the work
that was being done. Instead, the work being done was
defined as— Ta Da!—SIGINT, COMINT or ELINT
This same thing happens when it comes
to the matter of deciphering crypto based communication that
has been captured. During the Korean and Vietnam Wars,
Signal Corps people that performed this task usually spoke
of performing cryptanalysis, when in reality, by today’s
standards, they were performing T/A. Again, the fault—if
there is a fault—lies with the NSA, who picked up all of
these terms from the Signal Corps, and then proceeded to use
them in their own way, within their own organization, while
the military stuck to its own definition(s).
And of course, now that the T/A is
being done by the NSA—on the civilian side of life—in
amounts far greater in scope than anything the Signal Corps
might ever have done on the military side of life, the
overall rules of the game—including how various words are
defined—are being driven by the NSA, not the Signal Corps.
Be that as it may be, no matter how you define the words
involved, or who does the defining, Traffic Analysis (T/A)
and Cryptanalysis (C/A) go hand in hand, and from these two
primary components comes what is today called COMINT.
This page last updated 1 April 2017.
New content is constantly being added. Please check back
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 picture Tom was kind enough to send to us on the
07-66 Class Page. Click here to jump to it, and thanks Tom!
– 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.
– Candidate Thomas Geis, OCS Class
09-67, dropped us a note to update us on his status. His
note consisted of these short words:
Geis Thomas A. LTC (ret) PH, BSM"V" CIB. Thanks Tom.
Continued from left column...
Structurally, today Communications Intelligence (COMINT) is
considered a subset of SIGINT, with Traffic Analysis (T/A)
being considered—within the military—as a subset of
COMINT—while within the NSA—it can be either a subset of
SIGINT or COMINT.
As to when this ambiguity takes place, it generally occurs
when someone from within the military performs T/A on SIGINT
stemming from the interception of plaintext messages, or
information gathered from things like POW interrogations,
captured documents, open source publications (maps,
transportation schedules), radio direction finding (RDF)
data, FIS (foreign instrumentation signals), or any other
form of information that can yield intelligence helpful in
both the process of Traffic Analysis and Cryptanalysis.
For our purposes, what we are interested in is not which
form of intelligence analysis takes precedence over another,
but how the elements of T/A come together such that they can
be used for the purpose of producing intelligence
information able to aid in cryptanalysis where necessary, as
well as support the collection of additional data for the
purpose of gaining and understanding enemy plans,
objectives, knowledge and capabilities. All summed then, it
can be said that Traffic Analysis is the study of traffic by
unintended recipients, and is an intelligence focused
To What End, T/A?
Operationally, T/A involves the study of “external” features
relating to the communication(s) being transmitted.
Specifically, it involves the study of both communication
and non-communication electronic emissions, telemetry
signals, and any other form of communication
transmission—excluding code or cipher message content. These
latter two, again, fall within the purview of Cryptanalysis
(C/A), and so technically don’t fit within the realm of
saying these things, one gets a clue as to why T/A is
performed. But to understand it fully one must look at the
people doing the work.
Such people are called Traffic Analysts, and as one can
imagine, Traffic Analysts study the characteristics of the
signals being swept up. They do this by looking at things
such as radio frequency usage, call-signs, (a series of
letters and/or numbers assigned to a specific radio or
transmitting station), transmission schedules, locations of
transmitters (found via RDF or other means), the routings
and volumes of the message traffic being studied, any
informal “chatter” that might be going on between two
transmitting targets or (in the old days) radio operators,
and even—during WWII and the Korean War—the unique
characteristics that might be exhibited by a Morse code
operator. To this point, during WWII and the Korean War so
unique was the cadence produced by individual Morse code
operators that T/A and C/A analysts could identify them
individually… even assigning them what were called “fist”
The combination of these two then—T/A and C/A—have over the
years comprised the major technical approaches the Signal
Corps took when it came to developing COMINT that could be
passed to field commanders for their use. The information
derived from the performance of T/A and C/A, when combined,
usually enabled a field commander to learn something about
not just his enemy’s intentions, but much more. This, as we
all know, is supremely important, as in war it is easier to
defeat an enemy we understand, even partially, than to fight
an enemy that poses an enigma to us.
To this extent, intelligence is the means by which a
commander can come to understand his enemy. That, after all,
is what T/A is all about.
What is it about the enemy that commanders need to learn?
Commanders need to gain knowledge at a variety of levels,
ranging from that which is quantifiable to that which is
purely intangible. T/A helps them gain this knowledge.
On the quantifiable front, commanders want to know
measurable things: like the number of enemy personnel,
armored vehicles, artillery pieces, and aircraft the enemy
has at hand. Similarly, they want to know the disposition,
organization and location of enemy forces. Next come things
that relate to technical matters, like the performance
characteristics of those weapons the enemy has.
Leaving the enemy’s intentions aside, traditionally
intelligence has focused on these types of tangible factors.
When properly gathered and parsed via T/A and C/A, the
result is able to provide a field commander with a concrete
image of the threat facing him, and the nature of its combat
power. Yet while these tangible factors provide the
foundation for developing a more complete understanding of
an enemy, they still fall short of what a commander needs in
the way of holistic information about the foe that faces
him. To gain a full perspective of who the enemy is and how
he will react, T/A and C/A Analysts must also ferret out
intangible factor-based intelligence.
In this area, it’s not the numbers that matter, as they can
provide only a partial insight into an enemy’s capabilities.
Instead, the goal of the T/A Analyst is to uncover the less
quantifiable elements of the enemy’s state of being. Here
the Analysts must focus on those parts of the SIGINT, COMINT
and ELINT that will provide subjectively deduced clues to
the enemy's level of readiness. Things such as his state of
training, quality of his leadership and the morale his
forces hold become important.
When it comes to this form of un-quantifiable intelligence,
commanders need to know the enemy's methods—things such as
his doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures—as well as
his past performance in training and combat.
Yet even this is not enough. A successful commander cannot
truly know an enemy simply through analysis of his physical
environment, material might and political and military
institutions; instead he must also seek out information
relating to those moral and cultural forces that drive him
to fight in the first place, as these will shape his actions
on the field of battle.
Surprisingly, Signaleers know that Traffic Analysis and
Cryptanalysis can go a long way towards providing this kind
of information, and answering these questions for a combat
commander. The reason for this is that while war is
ultimately a human conflict, and much of human nature is
decidedly illogical and incalculable, the facts that
surround the situation of war can provide clues as to how an
enemy will not just react, but use the tools he has at his
disposal when he takes to the field of battle.
From all of this we know then that developing sound
intelligence requires an understanding of not just the
technical elements of an enemy’s formation, but also the
institutions, preferences and habits he derives from his
culture, which in the end will determine how he fights his
Think we are overselling our case? Then recall if you will
Kim Jong-un, the tubby guy in charge of North Korea. Do you
think we, as commanders, know enough about this guy to know
if he will strike, when he will strike, and how? Or not?
We think not. We think that when it comes to North Korea,
more T/A has to be performed.
The need for this kind of intangible information aside, our
guess is that by now many of you are saying, “Yes, we know
that commanders must appreciate the values, goals and past
experiences that motivate the enemy they face. And we know
that as much as possible they should gain insight into
why their enemy fights, but are you trying to tell us that
Signal Corps (or NSA) based T/A and C/A Analysts can provide
all of this?”
The answer is yes, if it is done right.
That in fact is the very purpose of T/A and C/A. In Part II
we will show you an example or two of how this was
accomplished during the Vietnam War. For now, let us talk a
bit more about what actually goes into T/A and C/A.
Part II - Traffic Analysis In War, Vietnam 1964
The Intelligence Cycle
Traffic Analysis is a hard thing to get one’s head around.
As Signaleers, we all know about surveilling the enemy’s
communication, looking for gems that will give us an edge in
combating him, but it’s hard to think in terms of how one
goes about picking from the plethora of loose noise and
traffic that comprise the signals we surveil the gems we
In Part I we looked at what comprises signals surveillance,
and found that key among the tasks to be performed was
SIGINT, COMINT and ELINT. Digging further, we soon
discovered that these three comprise just the tip of the
iceberg. The real work involves something called Traffic
Analysis (T/A), and its subset partner Cryptanalysis (C/A).
In the case of these two, the work involved is pure
drudgery: skimming the SIGINT gained for those bits that
will tell us something of value about our enemy. But what
kind of value are we looking for? What exactly is it that
all of this eves dropping is supposed to uncover?
The answer, not surprisingly, is simple: information that
will give the ground commanders on our side a heads up as to
what the enemy’s intentions are. Or put another way, in
military terms: enemy intelligence. To do this however
requires that a cycle of analysis be followed, where the
bulk of the work involved is done by the Signal Corps.
Intelligence Cycle describes the general sequence of
activities involved in developing such information. Not
meant to prescribe a specific procedure to be followed, the
Intelligence Cycle serves to do nothing more than describe a
process that more often than not leads to intelligence gems.
As designed by the Signal Corps, long ago during WWII, the
Intelligence Cycle has six phases through which information
is planned, obtained, assembled, converted into
intelligence, provided to decision makers, and, ultimately,
used in making decisions.
The first phase in the intelligence cycle is Planning and
Direction. This phase consists of the identification of
intelligence requirements and the planning of intelligence
operations and activities to satisfy those requirements. The
commander states the goal of the intelligence effort, while
his Signal Corps counterpart directs the effort. This Signal
Corps Officer, an intelligence officer as much as a
Signaleer, manages the entire effort for the combat
In doing this, the Signals/Intelligence Officer is guided by
the commander's intent and the established priority
intelligence requirements. In the early days the commander
also provided some element of specific guidance to keep the
effort focused on the intelligence he was seeking. Over time
however it has come to be realized that letting the combat
commander guide the SIGINT element of the work often caused
equally important information to be overlooked. Because of
this, today’s Signal Intelligence Officers tend to plan and
direct the entirety of the supervision of collection,
processing, production, and dissemination operations, as
well as develop the intelligence structure needed to support
planned or ongoing operations.
Collection is the second phase of the intelligence cycle.
During Collection, organic, attached, and supporting
intelligence sources collect and deliver information to the
appropriate Processing or Production units—or, in some
instances, directly to the appropriate commander for
immediate action. Effective Collection depends upon the use
of a variety of mutually reinforcing sources. Necessary,
planned redundancy and overlap of sources increase the
reliability of information and can reduce the effectiveness
of enemy deception or denial efforts.
Processing and Exploitation is the third phase of the
Intelligence Cycle. It involves the conversion of raw data
into a form suitable for the production of intelligence.
Largely a technical function, Processing and Exploitation
converts the data into an understandable form and enhances
its presentation. Examples of Processing and Exploitation
include developing and interpreting a piece of film,
translating a foreign language text, or decoding an
encrypted radio report.
Not all information requires Processing; some is collected
in a form already suitable for Production. Sometimes
Processing and Exploitation occurs automatically during
The fourth phase of the Intelligence Cycle is Production.
This involves the activities by which processed data is
converted into intelligence. Production involves evaluating
the pertinence, reliability and accuracy of information. It
involves analyzing information to isolate significant
elements. It includes integrating all relevant information
to combine and compare those elements of information with
other known information. Finally, Production involves
interpreting the information to form logical conclusions
that bear on the situation and that support the commander's
plan to engage the enemy.
Production as a process centers around synthesis—the most
important element involved in developing usable
intelligence, and the place where the real magic happens.
Production arranges the intelligence pieces to form a
coherent image of what is going on. It is this step which
adds meaning to all of the other pieces, creating knowledge
where none existed.
By itself, synthesis does not generally create a complete
image—i.e. totally filling in the gaps and eliminating
uncertainty. But what it does do is help to provide an image
from which a commander can reach an acceptable level of
understanding. In the end, synthesis answers the
all-important question of “what effect does all of this
portend, and how, with this knowledge, can we accomplish our
The fifth phase of the Intelligence Cycle is Dissemination,
i.e. the timely conveyance of intelligence in an appropriate
form, and by a suitable means, to those who need it.
Depending on its importance and time-sensitivity,
intelligence may be disseminated—or in modern day parlance
“pushed” directly to users, or sent to an accessible
database from which commanders can “pull” the intelligence
they seek. Regardless of how it is Disseminated, in a well
run Intelligence Cycle intelligence will flow by any number
of channels or means to those in need of it.
1. There is of course one more primary
form of surveillance that has come of vogue lately, and that
is GEOINT. If you would like to know more about it, come
back and read our
Home Page next month, May 2017. – To
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