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From Our Home Page Archive

        Home Page as originally published in April 2017

— This Month —

Part I - The Role Of Traffic Analysis In SIGINT Surveillance

The Key Factors In "Wiretapping"

Part II - Traffic Analysis In War, Vietnam 1964

The Intelligence Cycle  

- - - - -



Our Association is a not-for-profit fraternal organization. Its purpose is a) to foster camaraderie among the graduates of Signal Corps Officer Candidate School classes of the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War eras, b) to organize and offer scholarships and other assistance for the families of Officer and Enlisted OCS cadre who are in need, and c) to archive for posterity the stories and history of all of the Signal Corps OCS Officers who served this great country. We are open to ALL former Army Signal Corps OCS graduates, their families and friends, as well as other officers, enlisted men, those interested in military history, and the general public. Please, come join us. For more information about our Association, to see a list of our Officers and Directors, or for contact details, click on the OCS Association link at left.

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ArmySignalOCS Editor

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 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 done.

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 collection.

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 stopping by.


Part I - The Role Of Traffic Analysis In SIGINT Surveillance

Signals Intelligence 

The Key Factors In "Wiretapping"

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 not interchangeable.

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]

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, software applications.

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.

SIGINTFor 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 ELINT.

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 was ELINT.

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 wiretapping.

GCHQ, LondonPerhaps 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 Britain.

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.

Traffic Analysis

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.

Continued at top of page, COLUMN AT RIGHT

Where's the other shoe, soldier?


Vietnam Campaign Ribbons

This page last updated 1 April 2017. New content is constantly being added. Please check back frequently.

Update 4 March Received an eMail and picture from a former student of OCS Candidate James Falkenstrom, Class 07-66. It read as follows: "I 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!    

Update 1 March 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 our Reunion Info link at the top of the column at left, under the heading INFO CENTER.

Update 1 February 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 discipline.

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 Traffic Analysis.

Social Network AnalysisIn 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” names.

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. 

Quantifiable Intelligence

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.

Un-quantifiable Intelligence

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 battles.

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.




2017 Army Signal OCS Reunion


Part II - Traffic Analysis In War, Vietnam 1964

Traffic & Crypto Analysis 

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 seek.

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 CycleThe 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 commander.

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 Collection.

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 mission?”

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.


OCS Wisdom


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 return to your place in the article, click here




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