Technology & Intelligence
The Narrowing Gap
The Impetus for Intelligence
Intrigue, espionage, coded correspondence, meetings behind closed doors, and
clandestine operations described much of the European political scene during
the Renaissance. These activities also took center stage occasionally in the
17th and 18th centuries.
Accounts of these fascinated Americans. Most Americans, busy carving their
futures out of the vast North American wilderness in the 17th and 18th
centuries, found little time, however, to practice these arts at home.
Generally, Americans felt such activities belonged in distant Europe. The
practitioners of this so- called "Black Art" included several of the
most notable people in Europe. Nicolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince to instruct
young Cesare Borgia in the art of subversion and the uses of intelligence. Sir
Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State for Queen Elizabeth I, devised the
first permanent peacetime intelligence apparatus.
Both numbered among those who used intelligence to achieve national
objectives in early modern Europe. Cardinal Richlieu became perhaps the most
sophisticated user of intelligence, wielding nearly complete power in France in
the early 17th century. The presence of the Atlantic Ocean minimized European
influences upon many of the colonies in America. American intelligence developed
early in the nation's history out of the necessities of war. It often gravitated
to new developments in technology.
The First Uses of Intelligence in America
Few people think of George Washington, the father of his country, as one who
employed spies. Yet, during the Revolutionary War he directed a large spy
network. Some records indicated he may have employed as many as several hundred
agents. They used cryptology or secret writing to communicate with him when he
was the commander of the Continental Army. Washington personally supervised many
His records show a payment of $333.33 to an agent not ever identified to go
into Boston and establish a means of secret correspondence. The agent received
instructions to forward news of troop movements and other activities.
Washington's agents wrote secret messages between the lines of personal
letters using invisible ink (lemon juice) and other substances. Hollowed out
shoe buckles, shoes or boots, snuff boxes and the folds of clothing be-came
convenient hiding places for sensitive information.
Alexander Hamilton, Washington's secretary for a time, worked extensively
with secret inks, codes and geometric designs to conceal valuable information
from British detection. During the siege at Yorktown, Washington received news
about British troop positions from Boston school teacher James Lovell, the
father of American cryptanalysis. Lovell's news, once deciphered, proved useful
in leading to the victory that followed.
As the first president of the United States, Washington continued to support
intelligence operations. Long after his death, information surfaced that
Washington made more extensive use of intelligence than any other American
president prior to the 20th century.
The end of the American Revolution brought an end as well to the activities
associated with intelligence. The interest Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin
and others had in cryptography largely disappeared as America, now a new
republic, concentrated its attentions on other issues.
In the early 1840s, Edgar Allen Poe, known as the author of often bizarre
and macabre poetry, surfaced as a master cryptographer. In his work, "The
Gold Bug," he rekindled popular interest in the art of cryptanalysis. The
story focused on a mystery that developed around a secret message. Like many of
his readers, secret codes and secret writing fascinated Poe. This avocation came
to life in "The Gold Bug."
Poe's interests and writings popularized cryptanalysis across America. What
would bring together intelligence on the one hand and secret codes and secret
writing on the other?
Balloons and the Telegraph
The Civil War represented the first major event in America that encouraged
openly the marriage of intelligence with new technology.
Balloons, used in Europe as early as 1794 for reconnaissance, had not been
popular in the United States. Nevertheless, they captured the interests of
several who publicized their potential. By 1861, leading aeronauts suggested the
Union Army should consider the use of balloons.
June 18, 1861, Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, a 28- year- old self- styled professor
from New Hampshire, demonstrated the military possibilities of balloons to
President Lincoln. During an ascent over the Columbia Armory near Capitol Hill
in a tethered balloon, Lowe communicated with the War Department's telegraph
system. Once aloft, he sent a message from a telegraph set in the balloon
connected by cable to another set on the ground.
Impressed by what he witnessed, President Lincoln secured an appointment
for Lowe in Gen. George McClellan's Army of the Potomac. Despite remarkable
achievements, the Union Army's balloon corps disbanded in 1863, a victim of
The telegraph emerged in 1863 as a welcome replacement to visual flag
signaling and to balloons. Operators conveyed information quickly and securely.
By 1864 telegraph lines connected Washington to most Union headquarters across
the country. Telegraphers sent information routinely from Washington to
subordinate commanders in the field. Confederate forces used the telegraph as
well but on a much more limited basis.
The telegraph, however, had a problem. Wiretapping made it highly
vulnerable. Both sides used taps to send false information. In addition, an
operator's touch on the key identified him as surely as his voice. To protect
the security of military
telegraphic communications, both sides developed simple cryptological
systems and ciphers that used word transposition. By 1864, both Union and
Confederate forces employed false telegraphic messages to misinform the enemy.
Sherman did this in March 1864, when he learned the Confederates had tapped
telegraph wires near Memphis, Tenn. He sent out false orders telling one of his
units to go to Savannah. This drew out the illusive Confederate Nathan Bedford
Forrest who led his troops to Savannah to cut off the alleged Union force. A
much stronger Union cavalry force under secret orders from Sherman nearly
While the telegraph enabled intelligence activities to be carried out, it
did not take long be-fore those who used it had to contend with the possibility
of discovery because of the manipulation of the technology.
The First Photo Intelligence
Just two decades after the Civil War, a new technology married intelligence.
In 1887, the Office of Naval Intelligence ordered ships to photograph
foreign coastal defenses. This represented the first carefully organized example
of photographic intelligence. As Matthew Brady, the famous photographer of the
Civil War, had so ably demonstrated, a picture could say volumes.
By the late 1880s, photographic intelligence had become a major strategic
collection effort for the U. S. Navy.
The Birth of the Radio
In 1895, an Italian physicist brought to the attention of the world
a device that would revolutionize how nations carried out intelligence
activities. G. M. Marconi's first transmission of radio waves went the distance
of a football field. Four years later, two British warships equipped with
Marconi radios sent and received messages a distance of 89 miles. By late 1901,
Marconi transmitted a radio message from Newfoundland to Cornwall, England, a
distance just over 2,000 miles.
The possibilities seemed endless. Military forces could now communicate
considerable distances without a physical connection. In 1910 several nations
including Great Britain, Germany and Japan admitted to using radios extensively
in their official communications.
In 1912, America made use of the radio when Ralph Van Deman designed and
built the United States Army's first mobile intercept van called a radio tractor
unit. Van Deman developed it primarily for use by the army while in the field.
Its first use came unexpectedly in 1916. In response to Pancho Villa's raid on
Columbus, N. M., March 9, 1916, Brig. Gen. John Pershing received orders to
cross the Rio Grande with 4,000 American troops and disperse Villa's band.
Pershing's soldiers took radio tractors with them. They proved invaluable in
communicating information to forward units. Pershing also became the first
American commander to employ air power in his quest for Villa. Capt. Benjamin
Foulois commanded the 1st Aero Squadron. In the course of their duties the aero
squadron pilots with the unit's eight Curtiss JN- 3s carried the mail, conducted
observation missions, engaged in aerial photography, tracked ground troops and
generally flew reconnaissance missions. Foulois and his airmen carried out these
duties for the first time in a combat environment.
While Foulois's airmen did not find Villa, they demonstrated against
overwhelming odds several uses of the airplane when aviation had not yet grown
out of its infancy. A relatively new and only briefly tested innovation had been
used to carry out reconnaissance and operational missions as part of the
Punitive Expeditionary Force.
American Intelligence in World War I
During World War I and the years immediately following, technology and
intelligence grew as in-separable twins.
The airplane really came into its own during the war as an observation
platform and an instrument of war. World War I initially confirmed its
versatility and laid the foundation for its future development, often against
stiff odds. Immediately after the war, the establishment of a foreign data
section at McCook Field, Ohio, brought the United States into the business of
collecting information about scientific and technological developments in
Airplanes and related discoveries received special attention. This section
would later evolve into the Foreign Technology Division and later again into
National Air Intelligence Center.
Essentially, communications and electronic intelligence as we understand
them today got their start in the first two decades of this century. Also during
this period, American intelligence began to rely significantly upon technology.
The Growth of American Intelligence Between Wars
The development of American intelligence between the wars focused upon the
roles played by William Friedman and Herbert Yardley. Yardley got his start in
intelligence as a telegrapher at the U. S. State Department during World War I.
After the signing of the Armistice ending the war, Yardley created a
cryptanalytic bureau whose job it became to decipher codes used in diplomatic
correspondence by other nations.
His new organization, dubbed the American Black Chamber, set up operations
in a brownstone row house near Columbia University in New York City. Yardley's
group proved their worth when they succeeded in decrypting Japanese diplomatic
ciphers. Armed with this news, the American Secretary of State, Charles Evans
Hughes, was able to obtain terms favorable to the United States during the
Washington Naval Conference of 1921.
By 1929, however, America's leadership saw little reason to continue funding
for Yardley's operation. Yardley received orders to shut down and turn over his
materials to William Friedman and the Signal Intelligence Service.
Angry, out of a job, and disappointed over his future prospects, Yardley
wrote a book called The American Black Chamber. In this book he explained in
considerable detail the activities of his former unit. The United States
Government forbade the publication of a second edition of the book, but its
contents quickly became public knowledge. When descriptions from the book
reached Japan and the other nations Yardley discussed, tensions ran high for
months. They promptly changed their codes.
It would take Friedman and a team several years to break the new Japanese
(Purple) Code for example. Nevertheless, it was Friedman and his associates
whose work in decoding would ultimately culminate in the formation of the
National Security Agency whose specialties today include SIGINT and
American Intelligence in World War II
World War II represented a flowering of technological changes and
refinements to innovations appearing in the 1900s. Sometimes technology moved
faster than the abilities of humans to master it.
In August 1940, Army Intelligence had broken the Japanese diplomatic code.
The decryption effort bore the name MAGIC.
By late November 1941, MAGIC had produced information that American
installations in the Pacific might well be in danger and that war with Japan was
entirely possible. On Dec. 7, 1941, MAGIC intercepted and decoded a radio
message from Tokyo to the Japanese Embassy in Washington. The message signaled a
break in diplomatic relations between Japan and the U. S. While the information
was available 8 hours before the first bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, there existed
no national decision- making process at this time. There were no analysts to
sort out quickly all the possibilities and there were no established procedures
to notify those empowered to make the appropriate decisions.
Signals intelligence brought major allied successes in World War II. Admiral
Chester Nimitz, significantly outnumbered by superior Japanese naval forces in
the Pacific, used COMINT to confirm the Japanese intent to attack Midway.
With this prior knowledge, Nimitz positioned his forces in advance and
inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese Navy. The Japanese never recuperated. In
early April 1943, U. S. Army Intelligence, through Purple, intercepted news that
the commander in chief of the Japanese Imperial Navy would be visiting bases in
the Bougainville area of the South Pacific.
Using COMINT derived from MAGIC, the date, place and time of arrival allowed
American forces to ambush the admiral's bomber. Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto's plane
crashed, leaving no survivors.
World War II also bore witness to important improvements in tech-nology.
These made easier the job of being intelligence officers. Scientists and
engineers with M- 209 converters, preliminary versions of what later would
become computers, processed vast amounts of data quickly.
New cameras and better film brought tremendous advances to aerial
photography. Improvements in radios allowed the Allies to transmit coded
instructions to the French resistance just before zero hour on D Day. The Allied
landings at Normandy and the successes that followed brought into the spotlight
the utter importance of coordinated intelligence on many fronts to military
Like the telegraph in the Ameri-can Civil War, the radio in World War II
proved invaluable. Enemy operators could intercept its messages. On several
noteworthy occasions, disastrous consequences resulted. World War II represented
a watershed in the close relationship between technology and intelligence. What
would follow would be a much closer relationship between the two.
Post World War II Intelligence Restructuring
At the end of World War II, the nation's leaders clearly understood the
expanded role the U. S. would have to play in post World War II international
affairs. The debacle at Pearl Harbor be-came a sober reminder of the need to
have a cohesive intelligence structure in place in an emerging Cold War security
Had senior leader-ship been given sufficient warning of the impending
Japanese sneak attack, they could have in-formed the service commanders in
Hawaii to be vigilant.
The lack of central control over cryptologic operations in the immediate
post war era greatly concerned senior U. S. officials. With the Soviet
domination of Eastern Europe already completed, the looming specter of Communist
domination over the war torn nations of Western Europe appeared a very real
possibility. The modern American cryptologic efforts born in the years prior to
World War II and perfected during the conflict clearly pointed to the need to
change the manner in which intelligence activities were carried out.
In an effort to deal with the fast changing world situation, a combined
intelligence board to oversee cryptologic issues began operations in late 1945.
Consisting of members from the State Department, Army and Navy, the board
recognized that the uncoordinated and fractionalized cryptologic apparatus in
place since the 1920s had to be better controlled.
On Feb. 15, 1946, after approval by the Army and Navy, a new executive
organization called the Coordinator for Joint Operations was established.
The CJO's role in the nation's intelligence structure involved carrying out
the routine business of coordinating central cryptologic matters.
Prior to the birth of the CJO in September 1945, the cryptologic function of
the U. S. Army, the Signal Security Agency, gained status as a separate
independent command called the Army Security Agency, cutting its ties to the
Army Signal Corps. In an effort to put into perspective the need to restructure
intelligence within the U. S. government, it is necessary to examine the broad
intelligence picture in the U. S. at the end of World War II.
President Truman's disestablishment of The Wartime Office of Strategic
Studies Sept. 10, 1945, ended that intelligence organization's activities.
In its place, Truman created the Central Intelligence Group, the forerunner
of the Central Intelligence Agency. Tasked with providing the President with a
single source of information, the CIG began operations on Jan. 22, 1946. The
State Department and the military branches worked out arrangements to provide
the new CIG with manpower to carry out its important mission.
The National Security Act of 1947 and
Air Force Intelligence
By early 1947, the deteriorating relationship between the United States and
Soviet Union presented itself as a prominent factor in the need to re-structure
America's National Defense establishment.
The National Security Act of 1947 stated the intent of Congress was to
provide for the authoritative coordination and unified direction of the armed
forces under civilian control but not to merge them. A separate, but equal issue
within the act itself dealt with the need to create a peacetime foreign
intelligence organization— the CIA. Congress had virtually no role in the
creation and development of the CIG.
The CIG formally became the CIA Sept. 18, 1947 — the same day the U. S.
Air Force gained its genesis. The early relationship between the new CIA and the
DOD quickly became an indispensable link within the new national security
establishment. In a time before high technology intelligence tools like the U- 2
or space borne intelligence satellites existed, early CIA intelligence estimates
sometimes lacked objectivity. Indeed, in one of the more important early CIA
intelligence estimates on the status of the Soviet Nuclear Weapons program, only
the Air Force dissented with the CIA — accurately predicting that the Soviets
would explode a nuclear device by late 1949 — four years earlier than the CIA
The CIA experienced early growing pains and in January 1951 the newly-
formed office of current intelligence began publishing the all-source Current
The United States Air Force
and the need for a
Separate Intel Organization
Until September 1947, and the implementation of the National Security Act
which created the Department of Defense and sanctioned the United States Air
Force, SIGINT matters remained largely a service-specific operation.
The first vice chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg,
endorsed the establishment of a separate Air Force cryptologic intelligence
organization. Vandenberg, an astute user of cryptologic products as an air
commander in World War II, recognized the imperative and clear need to have an
independent air force entity to provide the same type support to the still
fledgling Strategic Air Command.
U.. S Air Force Security Services' roots began to grow in mid 1948 in a
transition agreement worked out between the Army Security Agency and the Air
Force. The agreement pro-vided for USAFSS to have only a mobile and tactical
role for the new service's cryptologic organization. The agreement established
the Air Force Security Group June 23, 1948, to oversee the transfer of ASA
resources and personnel to a new and as yet unestablished, Air Force cryptologic
With the Department of Defense structure now in place, the Joint Chiefs of
Staff in 1949 moved to consolidate control over the separate services'
cryptologic efforts by setting up the Armed Forces Security Agency.
AFSA, announced by Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson in the spring of 1949,
provided for a unified cryptologic organization intended to conduct intelligence
and communications security activities within the fast growing Department of
Defense establishment. AFSA survived until 1952, when the organization was
redesignated as the National Security Agency. At this time, NSA assumed the
responsibilities as the executive agent of the U. S. Government for SIGINT
The 1950s Following the Korean conflict, in which USAFSS earned a permanent
seat at the table as an Air Force intelligence organization, technology
continued to drive command efforts to provide quality intelligence products.
Following the War, USAFSS quickly moved to use the best communications
technology available to provide a direct and timely response to the requirements
of military commands and other organizations receiving intelligence support.
In June 1954, USAFSS implemented the point of analysis and reporting concept
on a test basis at the 6901st Communications Center in Europe and the 6902nd
Special Communications Center in the Pacific.
The organization also implemented the new concept of mobile operations when
the first mobile unit deployed in late 1956 in response to unrest in the Middle
East. During the mid- to- late 1950s, USAFSS fulfilled the intelligence needs of
tactical commanders during contingencies.
The command's first modern airborne operations commenced in 1954,
complementing the new mobile concept. By the end of the 1950s, USAFSS had well
established airborne, ground and mobile cryptologic operations, providing
support for the now firmly established U. S. Air Force.
The 1960s saw USAFSS deeply involved in the Vietnam conflict. In early 1962,
USAFSS deployed its first Emergency Reaction Unit to South-east Asia. Later that
year, USAFSS began providing a cryptologic capability from Thailand in support
of U. S. operations in the Pacific.
Modern technology in airborne operations also had its beginnings during this
time. In 1962, USAFSS crews began flying the first RC- 135 missions in the
Arctic region. In September 1964, with the Vietnam War now raging in the
aftermath of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, USAFSS C- 47 and C- 130 aircraft began
full fledged airborne reconnaissance operations in Southeast Asia.
In 1967, with U. S. military involvement in the Vietnam conflict growing,
USAFSS took on the job as the central evaluating agency for U. S. Air Force
electronic warfare activities. The new role for USAFSS marked the first major
change in the command's mission since its inception two decades earlier.
Transistors now enabled large mainframe computers to make significant
differences in the large intelligence picture. New technology also allowed the
introduction of systems like STRAWHAT and TEBO at USAFSS ground sites, further
automating many labor- intensive unit field operations.
The 1970s USAFSS' application of technology during the 1970s began to set
the framework for the later application of all- source intelligence support to
the warfighter. Following the end of the Vietnam conflict, USAFSS, eager to
support and apply its experience with technology to new missions, quickly became
a main player in the EW arena.
The redesignation of the Air Force Special Communications Center as the Air
Force Electronic Warfare Center July 1, 1975, moved USAFSS firmly into playing a
central role in the Air Force's now rapidly expanding EW mission. By 1978, the
AFEWC's role had expanded involving new and state- of- the- art EW technologies
to counter command and control systems of potential enemies. The AFEWC also
realized significant strides in the analysis of defense suppression techniques
for the F- 4G and EF- 111 aircraft.
The Department of Defense restructuring of the late 1970s initially
envisaged several of the main mission functions of USAFSS being divvied up and
the disestablishment of USAFSS as a major command.
The Air Force reorganization plans announced April 12, 1978, called for a
new Separate Operating Agency and for the Air Force Intelligence Center to take
over some of USAFSS' missions. Additionally, the AFIC would assume
responsibility for the Air Force Foreign Technology Division at Wright-
Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The reorganization plans quickly changed as U. S. security interests shifted
focus to the Persian Gulf. With USAFSS now playing an expanding EW role, the
command was redesignated the Electronic Security Command Aug. 1, 1979.
This decade saw the introduction of the simple integrated circuit which
would later foreshadow even more significant technological breakthroughs.
The rate at which communications- electronics technology progressed during
the 1970s, essentially drove the need for the U. S. Air Force to have a
dedicated SIGINT/ EW organization in place as the 1980s began.
ESC thrived in a decade where growing defense budgets allowed the command to
take advantage of several technological break through. This enabled ESC to
begin to focus its attention on furnishing vital all- source intelligence
support to warfighters and theater commanders.
During the 1980s, ESC and its subordinate centers stepped forward in
providing Air Force combat operators with unbroken command, control and
countermeasures (C3CM) support. By the middle of the decade, the AFEWC became
the primary source of EW/ C3CM analysis and advice for the Air Force. EW and
C3CM support and program management activities for the Constant Web Data Base
program migrated from the ESC Directorate of Operations to the AFEWC in 1988.
By this time, AFEWC personnel using microprocessor driven high- speed
computers provided senior battle commanders with analytical reports on major
exercises and on EW systems effectiveness throughout the world.
ESC started its venture into the realm of space operations during this
decade. In 1986, ESC began an association with the U. S. Air Force Space Command
with the activation of the Headquarters Space Electronic Security Division at
Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
During this time, ESC provided invaluable support to a number of significant
military operations and contingencies including Urgent Fury, El Dorado Canyon
and Just Cause. ESC operations reaped the benefit of the capabilities of modern
computer microprocessor based systems. The introduction of the Conventional
Signals Upgrade and other systems profoundly changed the mechanics of ESC's
intelligence operations. Clearly, the 1980s portended the arrival of the
information age. In the area of global security, matters changed faster and more
profoundly than technology. Perestroika, alive and well in the Soviet Union,
provided the impetus for the Soviet people to question openly their system of
government as Communism began to wane at the end of the decade.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 saw many of the Soviet
Satellite states of Eastern Europe quickly wilt.
As 1990 began, ESC stood poised to make an unprecedented contribution
affecting the future of both the command and the U. S. military.
ESC units served at the forefront during operations Desert Shield and Desert
Storm. Personnel from several command organizations played key roles in helping
to orchestrate the concept of Information Dominance during the Persian Gulf
conflict. ESC helped to provide all- source intelligence to warfighters in
Desert Storm with high tech microprocessor-based systems like the Tactical
Information Broadcast Service and Constant Source. Iraq's command and control
system, annihilated by airpower several weeks before the start of the ground
war, became a prime example of how Information Dominance was used in warfare.
For the first time during a conflict, as retired Chairman of Joint Chiefs of
Staff Gen. Colin Powell aptly stated: "Personal computers were force
As quickly as Desert Storm unfolded, ushering in the age of Information
Warfare, unparalleled tremors occurred in the global security environment as the
Soviet Union disintegrated in December 1991. New security issues quickly arose
as America's super power rival faded into the relative obscurity afforded to
many third- world nations. The clear need to restructure Air Force intelligence
encouraged the creation of a streamlined Air Force Intelligence Command to
succeed ESC Oct. 1, 1991.
AFIC, moving towards becoming a truly all- source intelligence organization,
was formed by merging the personnel and missions of the Air Force Foreign
Technology Division and elements of the Air Intelligence Agency into a single
command. After 1991, the bi- polar security landscape of the Cold War gave way
to a global economy- oriented multi-polar world.
Information technology now expanded exponentially, merging and interrelating
with all aspects of the global economy. At the same time, the U. S. Air Force
also changed. It experienced an unprecedented draw down.
The objective Air Force pointed to the need to restructure intelligence
further and the Air Force Intelligence Command found itself redesignated as a
Field Operating Agency — the Air Intelligence Agency on Oct. 1, 1993.
Emphasizing increased support to the warfighter, AIA wasted no time moving
to exploit the fast-developing information technologies of the 1990s.
During the course of the past few years, military forces have operated in an
"info sphere," where the need for precise, instantaneous intelligence
is increasing over the entire spectrum of military operations.
Now on AIA's horizon is an age where the Agency plays a key role in not only
helping the U. S. Air Force achieve information superiority in the 21st century,
but helping all U. S. armed forces shape the battle space.
In today's world nearly all actions depend on some link to a facet of
information technology. More of-ten than not that link is to the microprocessor
and its related hardware, software and network communication infrastructures.
Indeed, it is not an understatement to say that AIA's ability to deal with and
exploit information technologies will determine its destiny in the next
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