During the Cold War there were hundreds of secret remote listening posts spread around the globe. From large stations in the moors of Scotland and mountains of Turkey that were complete with golf balllike structures called "radomes" to singly operated stations in the barren wilderness of Saint Lawrence Island between Alaska and Siberia that had only a few antennae, these stations constituted the ground-based portion of the United States Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) System or "USSS."
Operated by the supersecret National Security Agency (NSA), these stations were designed to intercept Morse Code, telephone, telex, radar, telemetry, and other signals emanating from behind the Iron Curtain. At one time, the NSA contemplated a worldwide, continuously operated array of 4120 intercept stations. While the agency never achieved that goal, it could still boast of several hundred intercept stations. These included its ground-based "outstations," which were supplemented by other intercept units located on ships, submarines, aircraft (from U-2s to helicopters), unmanned drones, mobile vans, aerostats (balloons and dirigibles), and even large and cumbersome backpacks.
With the collapse of the Communist "bloc" and the advent of microwaves, fiber optics, and cellular phones, NSA's need for numerous ground-based intercept stations waned. It began to rely on a constellation of sophisticated SIGINT satellites with code names like Vortex, Magnum, Jumpseat, and Trumpet to sweep up the world's satellite, microwave, cellular, and high-frequency communications and signals. Numerous outstations met with one of three fates: they were shut down completely, remoted to larger facilities called Regional SIGINT Operations Centers or "RSOCs," or were turned over to host nation SIGINT agencies to be operated jointly with NSA.
However, NSA's jump to relying primarily on satellites proved premature. In 1993, Somali clan leader Mohammed Farah Aideed taught the agency an important lesson. Aideed's reliance on older and lower-powered walkie-talkies and radio transmitters made his communications virtually silent to the orbiting SIGINT "birds" of the NSA. Therefore, NSA technicians came to realize there was still a need to get in close in some situations to pick up signals of interest. In NSA's jargon this is called improving "hearability."
As NSA outstations were closed or remoted, new and relatively smaller intercept facilities such as the "gateway" facility in Bahrain, reportedly used for retransmit signals intercepted in Baghdad last year to the U.S. sprang up around the world. In addition to providing NSA operators with fresh and exotic duty stations, the new stations reflected an enhanced mission for NSA economic intelligence gathering. Scrapping its old Cold War A and B Group SIGINT organization, NSA expanded the functions of its W Group to include SIGINT operations against a multitude of targets. Another unit, M Group, would handle intercepts from new technologies like the Internet.
Many people who follow the exploits of SIGINT and NSA are eager to peruse lists of secret listening posts operated by the agency and its partners around the world. While a master list probably exists somewhere in the impenetrable lair that is the NSA's Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, it is assuredly stamped with one of the highest security classifications in the U.S. intelligence community.
http://www.nsa.gov/public/publi00003.cfm Declassification Initiatives
Yhe NSA hunts the data that it gathers. One of NSA's activities is sorting through vast quantities of data and sharing relevant data in a usable format with all source analysts, military commanders, policy makers and others in the U.S. government. The NSA provides a significant amount of SIGINT to FBI headquarters.
The NSA today has a greater reliance on American industry. Project GROUNDBREAKER outsourced a significant portion of NSA's information technology. NSA awarded a contract to a private firm to develop TRAILBLAZER as an effort to revolutionize how NSA produces SIGINT in a digital age. A deal with another corporate giant is to jointly develop a system to mine data that helps NSA learn about its targets. Also, the NSA has partnered with academia for its systems engineering.
EXPOSING THE GLOBAL
SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM by Nicky Hage
for Law Enforcement Act
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