ISR · 2:24am
Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance
Gettin' that spy thang on
It always helps to have dirt on your enemies. Intelligence doesn't just come to you - you have to go collect it.
Surveillance is constant observation, like a satellite that passes over periodically.
Reconnaissance is temporary observation, like sending a scout out ahead of the main force.
Intelligence is the product, the facts that are discovered from collection.
There are different kinds of collections: overt, covert, and clandestine.
Overt means that everyone knows who is doing what. For example, the bad guys know you have satellites and that you’re probably taking pictures of them.
Covert means that the identity of who did it is concealed. An anonymous wiretap, for example.
Clandestine means that that the operation itself was concealed. Like if you got in, copied something, and got out without the bad guys ever realizing.
There are a lot of different fields of intelligence. The INTS, as it were.
I said INTS!
Below is a brief list of INTS:
HUMINT: talking to humans, learning what they know
The practice of human intelligence is probably the closest thing to James Bond on this list – the part about meeting new people who might turn out to be bad guys. HUMINT, and all other INTS, can be overt, covert, or clandestine. The person giving up the information might know who they are meeting with and willing talk about what they know, or they might be unaware that you’re trying to get information out of them. Uncooperative sources can refuse to talk. They can also lie. However, done correctly, HUMINT can do something that no other INT can: it can tell us what the bad guys are thinking. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is well known for HUMINT.
IMINT: imagery, pictures
As previously mentioned, we have satellites to take pictures. Satellites follow predictable orbits, though, and bad guys can stop what they’re doing and wait for the satellite to pass over. Airplanes can take higher quality pictures and also fly unpredictable routes, but they can’t stay in the air forever. IMINT can also be as simple as a handheld camera. The pictures can be regular film, digital, thermal, or other neat things like synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which uses high resolution radar beams to map things. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) operates satellites. The Air Force has a lot of specialized aircraft for taking pictures.
GEOINT: examining geography, particularly the bad guys' backyard
IMINT pictures of the land are a big part of GEOINT, but so are things like soil composition and terrain. With GEOINT, you can identify things like mountain passes where bad guys are likely to travel or beachheads with firm sand that won’t sink your landing craft. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) processes pictures (primarily satellite imagery) along with other resources.
MASINT: measurements and signatures, testing materials
MASINT has a lot of subdivisions. For example, it can feed into GEOINT if you had to collect a sample of beach sand to test its chemical composition. If tests are happening on the Bad Guys’ New Weapon (BGNW), you can monitor it and observe the performance. If little pieces of the BGNW land in your backyard, you can test them to learn more about the hardware or what paint they use. If you happen to get your hands on an intact BGNW, you can reverse engineer it to exploit the technology. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is the national manager for MASINT.
There are a lot of subdivisions of SIGINT. COMINT is listening in on bad guy communications. ELINT is all other kinds of electronic signals. While it’s helpful to know what the signals are for, sometimes just picking up something is enough to tell you where and what the signal is coming from. This is useful for tracking the bad guys. FISINT - Foreign Instrumentation Signals - is a kind of ELINT. For example, if the BGNW is putting out data on its performance, maybe we could learn something from it. The National Security Agency (NSA) is the primary group for SIGINT. The Air Force and Navy both have specialized SIGINT collecting aircraft.
OSINT: open source, what is reported in the news
Working with unclassified news doesn’t sound exciting, but it sure is easy to collect. OSINT can be used as a supplement to other INTS or it could alert us that something is happening that we should pay attention to. For example, if some particular bad guys say that they’re increasing their budget, that could indicate that they will be a bigger threat in the future. In addition, unclassified research published as a thesis or in a scientific journal could indicate what the bad guys might be working on. Plus, if one particular bad guy has a habit of posting on Facebook or Twitter, you can also exploit that.
All this high tech stuff took first-world countries decades to develop. It’s not cheap to research or build. What’s a backwards dictator to do? How about just buying intel?
If Google Maps can show you your house, imagine what a paid service can accomplish. There are companies out there that get their income from taking satellite pictures of things for money. Some of them even offer full motion video from space.
There are also commercial intelligence companies that do data mining and open source analysis.
The easiest and cheapest method of getting intel is generally having people steal it, for example taking classified documents from work. Most spies are in the business of espionage for the money, however few have earned more than a million dollars in a career. This is still cheaper than trying to build billion-dollar equipment.
Defense Against the Dark Arts
Don’t want to be spied on? There are some things you can do. You can blind optical cameras with lasers and you can jam SAR cameras with transmitted radiofrequencies similar to the ones they operate at. Unfortunately, these actions require you to be an industrialized nation that can build the right equipment and isn’t afraid of causing an international incident. It’s easier, cheaper, and less provocative to just build some decoys (inflatable or otherwise) of your sensitive equipment and hide everything else in underground bunkers.
Not what I meant when I said, “blow them up.”
Another method of denying the enemy information is simply using proper OPSEC.
The purpose of ISR is to collect. By gathering and analyzing information from many sources, you can create a comprehensive intelligence picture to learn as much as you can. As they say, knowledge is power.