IC21: The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century

Staff Study
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
House of Representatives
One Hundred Fourth Congress


V. SIGINT: Signals Intelligence


                        Executive Summary

     The SIGINT staff study relied heavily on the foundation of the
Committee's oversight and evaluation of both the National Security
Agency (NSA) and the United States SIGINT System (USSS) for the
past several years, to include recent hearings dedicated to SIGINT
program management and the Global Network Initiative.  This was
augmented with two panels, one composed of the Division Chiefs
within NSA's Directorate of Operations (DO), and one of the Chiefs
of the Service Cryptologic Elements (SCEs); a variety of focused
interviews; and a series of questions for the record.

     The study states at the outset that NSA is an extremely
successful organization and that the recommendations contained in
the study are intended to improve an agency and a functional system
that have provided invaluable support to the nation's policy
makers.  Although the study group does not believe that the
cradle-to-grave approach to a discipline is necessarily the most
constructive approach for the future, it has served the nation well
in the past and certain elements of the NSA model are worthy of
emulation by the rest of the technical intelligence community.

     The success of the SIGINT system has been in large part due to
NSA's formally established technical control over the discipline,
which has resulted in the development of a coherent architecture
for collection, processing, exploitation, analysis and reporting. 
However, this very strength has become also a weakness, as the
resources required to maintain the Consolidated Cryptologic Program
(CCP) infrastructure are now competing with investment in the core
missions of NSA.  Because of the way the Intelligence Community is
structured and "managed," SIGINT requirements compete only with
other SIGINT requirements within an artificial top line dictated in
large part by last year's appropriated amount.  Increasing
personnel costs, for example, thus result in reduced research and
development expenditures, one of the few "discretionary" funding
categories within the CCP.  

      In the broadest sense, SIGINT is a "bridge" between imagery's
ability to observe activity and HUMINT's ability to gauge
intentions.  With its current global reach and multiple sources of
collection, SIGINT provides a hedge against strategic deception and
can be extremely useful for the tipping of other collection assets. 
As the Information Age continues to evolve, the task of maintaining
the SIGINT system's global reach is becoming more difficult;
however, the trend towards increasingly interconnected
telecommunications networks using various transmission media, in
conjunction with the more fluid geopolitical environment of the
post-Cold War world, makes global access more critical than ever
before.  Access, however, is only one piece of the puzzle.  The
most important challenges of the future may lie in the quantity and
quality of what is being transmitted rather than the means of
transmission.  The ability to filter through the huge volumes of
data and to extract the information from the layers of formatting,
multiplexing, compression, and transmission protocols applied to
each message is the biggest challenge of the future.  Increasing
amounts and sophistication of encryption add another layer of

     Signals Intelligence today is at a crossroads.  The global
revolution in communications technology demands new techniques, new
procedures, and a new corporate  mindset.  The technical challenges
currently facing the SIGINT community are daunting, but the outlook
of those involved is cautiously optimistic.  As with past and
future SIGINT targets, the very technology that creates the
difficulties can be the most effective tool to overcome them.  This
assumes, however, a sufficient level of investment to enable SIGINT
to stay close behind technology.  A commitment to preserve the
technical capability to access and exploit all major communications
media worldwide requires a level of investment that is not now
planned for the SIGINT system over the Future Years Defense Program
(FYDP).  And yet, SIGINT is already the most expensive of the
intelligence disciplines.  How to balance the required level of
investment in technology with the maintenance of existing core
capabilities is perhaps the true challenge for SIGINT as it moves
toward the 21st century. 

     In keeping with our recommendations in the Intelligence
Community Management staff study, we believe that the rest of the
technical collection community would benefit from the application
of a  variant of the DIRNSA's (Director of NSA) technical control
over SIGINT.  We also believe that the Intelligence Community (IC)
and the nation would benefit from programming and budgeting
decisions that were based on a cross-discipline analysis of
collection, production and infrastructure requirements and
capabilities, rather than artificial trade-offs within programs or
specific disciplines.  Our proposals for improved community
management of R&D investment and, in particular, consolidation and
reform of personnel management should also prove of significant
benefit to the SIGINT community.  This study highlights the need
for improved management and focus of SIGINT R&D to ensure that
critical areas are adequately funded and the need to reshape the
workforce for the 21st century.     

     In a more centralized structure, the SIGINT "stovepipe" would
still exist, although ideally with much greater permeability at all
levels, to capitalize on the professionalism and expertise of the
cryptologic workforce.  However, we believe that much of the
analysis that is conducted at NSA today is more properly done under
the auspices of an all-source collection agency such as Defense
Intelligence Agency (DIA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
although this resubordination could be done electronically rather
than physically.  We also believe that there are specific areas of
the SIGINT system that require improvement or more management
attention; these are detailed in the classified study.

This document is sponsored by the U.S. House of Representatives on the United States Government Printing Office web site.