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INTelligence: Signals Intelligence

The president and policymakers rely on insights from Central Intelligence Agency products to help form their foreign policy decisions. CIA officers use a variety of sources in formulating their assessments. The following article is the second in a series that will explore different sources and collection disciplines, which are the building blocks of what we call “finished intelligence.” This article focuses on signals intelligence.

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Communication is an important part of everyday life; especially when it comes to leading a country. World leaders communicate with their people in a variety of ways. All of these forms of communication emit a signal that can be collected. The information gathered from these intercepted signals is of vital importance to national security.


Signals Intelligence

The Intelligence Community refers to the collection and exploitation of signals transmitted from communication systems, radars, and weapon systems as signals intelligence (SIGINT).

SIGINT consists of:

  • Communications Intelligence (COMINT) – technical and intelligence information derived from intercept of foreign communications.
  • Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) – information collected from systems such as radars and other weapons systems.
  • Foreign Instrumentation Signals Intelligence (FISINT) – signals detected from weapons under testing and development.



SIGINT is collected in a variety of ways depending on the type of signal targeted. NSA collects the raw SIGINT and then NSA translators, cryptologists, analysts, and other technical experts turn the raw data into something that an all-source analyst can use.


Signals Analysis

Once the NSA has collected, processed, and analyzed SIGINT, it is passed on to CIA and Intelligence Community analysts who use it to complement information from other sources to produce finished intelligence.

The volume and variety of today’s signals adds challenges to the timely production of finished intelligence for policymakers. It is a lot of work to track and analyze all the SIGINT collected.


Importance of SIGINT

SIGINT is one of the most useful sources of information and can often provide a new and different perspective on a critical intelligence topic for the nation’s policymakers.


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Posted: Aug 26, 2010 11:39 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:39 PM