SIGINT and Cyber Intelligence

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Scott Fitzpatrick


It’s fascinating to watch the political climate being held sway with what are identified as “cyber terrorism” and “cyber war.” But it’s not the first time the Department of Defense has had to come to grips with a polemic decision that would require reengineering their entire fiscal architecture.

Such is the nature of the biz – reorganizations, changes to nameplates and business cards. Such dyspeptic paths only come to light once every other path has been absolved, leaving nothing but an absolute direction to go.

Any change is fuel for humor, but no one seems to have found it yet with regard to the increasingly bureaucratic cycles that are burned when it comes to allocating missions and the funding for what actual operators on the ground need to perform.

Cyber Intelligence is dominated by SIGINT (Signals Intelligence).  If a capability is within the Cyber domain, SIGINT folks will immediately focus their attention to something else because they know that the hurdles to overcome a cyber capability within a SIGINT operation are much too great.

It’s a mentality that continues to saturate the flow of money – and ultimately choosing what capabilities – can be extended or granted to the respective agencies.

If a cyber capability fits perfectly into an operation – which frequently happens in the mobile space – the end unit cannot acquire the technology because if (in regards to mobile) it crosses a carrier, it will be cordoned as a SIGINT technology, not as a cyber capability from the powers above.

If a military executive has only a couple of cards to play his or her political capital with, out of all the decisive actions they can make, it’s not going to be winning favor for acquiring cyber capabilities with SIGINT money.

Per the NSA, SIGINT is intelligence derived from electronic signals and systems used by foreign targets, such as communications systems, radars, and weapons systems. SIGINT provides a vital window into foreign adversaries’ capabilities, actions, and intentions.

Interestingly enough, our brothers-from-another-mother in China saw the demarcation line and funding conflict coming enough to avoid it in 1999.

Defensive and intelligence tasks – specifically cyber defense and cyber espionage – are assigned to the 3rd Department, which historically focused on signal intelligence (SIGINT).

They wrote a new Information Warfare strategy – Integrated Network Electronic Warfare (INEW) – that merged the cyber and SIGINT functions, which makes budget allocation much more mellifluous.

For the purposes of this discussion, it sounds fairly logical to me, as the DOD still separates the cyber and SIGINT missions, money and tasking. But it begs the question, how would you measure the efficacy of a massive cyber program – by the amount of instances you own over the past year on the net?

There is the who has the most dominant cyber programs, but that is measured against who has the most effective programs.

I would venture that we are the global leaders in SIGINT and CYBINT. The U.S. has routinely outspent the world in defense allocations.

Intelligence spending is an opaque transparent through our Senate, let alone in other countries. Of course, Russia and China release accurate figures on their defense spending and especially what they spend on intel… Right?

This leads us to the proposition: How to do you measure the value of intelligence?  What is valuable intelligence?

Getting insider trading tips on stock purchases or sales can be great intel, like in Trading Places. That, we know, was solid intelligence. Or having visual and signal confirmation that a target is in a location that can be hit, like confirmation that Osama was in that particular house.

In terms of Cyber, how do we measure the value of intelligence?  We’ll look into that question in the next installment…

This was cross-posted from the Dark Matters blog. 

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