Signals intelligence, or ‘SIGINT’, is the useful information gained from collecting, decrypting and analysing signals. Signals intelligence agencies collect and analyse information from the intercepted electronic communications of adversaries.
The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), a statutory body with functions established by the Intelligence Services Act 2001, is one such agency. The ‘signals’ part of its name refers to the radio frequencies (RF) of the electromagnetic spectrum. The ASD analyses this spectrum to work out what kind of device is emitting the signal of interest, where the device might be, who is using it and what intelligence the signal is carrying.
What signals intelligence involves
Communications intelligence, or ‘COMINT’, is information gleaned from foreign communications that are intercepted by other than the intended recipients.
Electronic intelligence, or ‘ELINT’, looks at non-communication signals, such as radar or energy emitted by missiles or aircraft.
Foreign Instrumentation signals intelligence, or ‘FISINT’, is SIGINT derived from electronic communications, such as telemetry, from remote systems such as missiles, space vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), revealing their performance, speed and location.
Tasking is the process of allocating resources to collect signals assessed as potentially carrying information of intelligence value, based on an understanding of targets and how they communicate or use electronic equipment.
Collection is the process of intercepting the signals that may carry messages or information from targets or devices of interest. This can involve anything from tuning a radio receiver to the right frequency to picking up a satellite beam.
Processing is the transformation of collected signals into a recognisable format, such as signal characteristics, letters, numbers, pictures or speech.
Exploitation involves evaluating the intelligence value of processed communications or signals, and can involve analysis, decryption or translation.
Dissemination is where the final SIGINT product is provided to assessment agencies, government, the Australian Defence Force and partner agencies.