Pentagon tweaks MASINT methods

The Defense Department has issued new directives on how it builds Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) projects, which typically use advanced systems to glean data from merged sensor information.

Meanwhile, computer scientists at Teheran University also are studying how MASINT and the Internet pose new challenges for intelligence agencies.

DOD agencies rarely comment on their MASINT activities publicly except in general terms. Representatives of the Iranian intelligence agencies were not available for comment on this story.

However, a March 18 DOD directive and a related June 12 instruction document have shifted the technology development methods for MASINT projects and possibly disclosed hitherto unpublicized intelligence activities.

The March directive assigns responsibility for implementing MASINT and related technical intelligence projects jointly to the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Director of National Intelligence.

The directive calls for the two organizations to oversee MASINT missions from beginning to end, including their collection, processing, exploitation, reporting and customer satisfaction phases.

The directive exempts the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency from the MASINT oversight authority specified for DIA and DNI.

It calls for the oversight agencies to use air-, ground- and sea-based systems in addition to what it calls persistent or long-term methods to provide MASINT to customer organizations. The directive also gives DIA and DNI authority over DOD's little-known National Signatures Program.

MASINT systems frequently identify and characterize enemy assets, including weapons and underground structures, by gathering and analyzing the distinctive signatures associated with those entities.

Those signatures frequently are gleaned by combining data from two or more types of existing sensors. The intelligence discipline traditionally is divided into five phases that reflect data available through sensors pointed at various chunks of the electromagnetic spectrum in addition to sound data and chemical emissions.

The department's June 12 instruction covers MASINT training standards and methods. It also assigns responsibility for the development of technical intelligence curricula to various DOD organizations. DIA and the department's undersecretary of intelligence will develop and review various technical aspects of the MASINT training regime, according to the instruction.

On the other side of the globe, Iranian computer scientist Nader Naghshineh of the Information Studies Lab of the Faculty of Psychology and Education at Teheran University presented a briefing about MASINT and related concepts April 13.

The Iranian scholar's approach to exploiting technical intelligence bore the title 'Humint or Webint' ' human intelligence or Web intelligence. It was a PowerPoint presentation outlining a broad-brush or introductory approach to topics such as the effect of the Internet and similar entities on methods of information discovery.

A notable feature of the Teheran University presentation was a section that cites information-sharing problems among researchers caused by increasing technical specialization.

Naghshineh also noted that the vast increase in information creation has made it harder to pinpoint 'pockets or islands of relevant knowledge within the public domain that remain undiscovered due to the sheer volume of information one has to sift through.'

That problem of connecting the dots, or extracting useful intelligence from swelling torrents of intelligence data, has prompted many data-mining and advanced analytic information technology projects across the federal government.

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