The technology behind modern intelligence

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21427530_lThe modern world we live in dictates the use of many modes of electronic communications: Wired and cellular communications, surfing the internet, sending e-mails, instant text messages and more.

Guerilla fighters and terrorist cells naturally also use the same kinds of media to plan their attacks, equip and arm themselves, carry out terrorist acts and coordinate escape routes from given locations, areas or states.

A nation’s ability to fight terrorist organizations is tested by implementing electronic means of detection, targeting and interception on any kind of media that can be processed and used to provide intelligence data. This means that a state has to be connected to the local communications infrastructure in order to reach any kind of electronic traffic usable by terrorists.

The sum of intelligence actions carried out by security and law enforcement agencies using civilian communications is called SIGINT, or signal intelligence. These actions generally include interception of calls using cellular phones or landlines, and even voice-over-IP calls over the internet. They also include locating those taking part in the conversation, sometimes up to GPS levels of accuracy.

How does the SIGINT chain of intelligence look like?

First there’s goal definition. The decision makers in the intelligence agency determine which targets require information gathering, and the interception officers translate this operational requirement to specific wiretappings based on a certain phone number, the name of a wanted terrorist, or the IP address of a suspect’s computer.

This is where classified, dedicated technological systems come into play, allowing the agents of the intelligence organization to record any information transaction that may be terror-related. After or during the recording the contents are documented and information received from various sources is passed on to data processing and analysis officers.

iHLS – Israel Homeland Security

All the content collected by SIGINT systems, including calls, internet traffic, text messages and location data, are entered into huge databases. Any crucial details can be quickly retrieved later, used to assist tactical counter-terrorism operations.

The best known, large SIGINT system in the world is the American Eschelon. It’s based in the United States, although extensive installations containing reception and interception antenna are spread around the world, operated mainly by U.S. allies such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain. Considering the system’s geographical spread it’s obviously capable of reaching transitions all over the world.