New name for MASINT

Details emerge about futuristic spy tech

The intelligence agencies have renamed their MASINT program and will now refer to the recondite spy discipline as the Advanced Technical Exploitation Program (ATEP). The name change surfaced in documents that describe a pending acquisition for contractor assistance in merging information from various types of sensors and systems to create cross-disciplinary intelligence.

MASINT, an acronym for Measurement and Signature Intelligence, has existed in the shadows of the better-funded and more public intelligence disciplines, or INTs, such as signals intelligence (SIGINT), human intelligence (HUMINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT) and so forth. The spy agencies' drive to eliminate the bureaucratic and information technology barriers that hamper creation of synergistic intelligence products based on combining information gathered by the various INTs meshes with ATEP's long-standing mission.

Details of ATEP's plans came to light in a sources-sought notice issued by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).

Sources-sought notices allow federal agencies to survey the availability of technologies they seek to acquire and typically signal an upcoming procurement. The ATEP notice states that NASIC might issue one or more six-year contracts for a total value of as much as $700 million.

The intelligence center said it was seeking vendors to produce ATEP technologies and conduct research and development in MASINT and Advanced Geospatial Intelligence (AGI) products.

The notice specified that would-be ATEP vendors should tell the government about their ability to design, develop and maintain software in Fortran, C, C++, HTML, IDL, Perl, Java and Java Script, running on UNIX-, NT-, and PC-based platforms and workstations.

The intelligence office also asked vendors to describe their capabilities in the fields of:
  • Intelligence data processing.
  • Data exploitation, or methods of using information from satellite and terrestrial sensors to create intelligence products.
  • Intelligence product dissemination.
  • Database management and archiving.
  • Mission planning.
  • Sensor performance assessment.
  • Algorithm and tool development principles for ATEP missions.

The basic principle of MASINT, and now ATEP, is to find new ways of detecting enemy forces' activities and characterizing the location, movements and performance of enemy weapons by merging data from various types of sensors. The acquisition notice asked companies to describe their capabilities in working with the following types of sensors:
  • Overhead non-imaging radar.
  • Synthetic aperture radar.
  • Spectral detectors.
  • Thermal infrared.
  • Ground-moving target indicator forensics.
  • Line-of-sight radar.
  • Over-the-horizon radar.
  • Airborne electro-optical sensors, known as Cobra Ball.
  • Laser intelligence.
  • Radio frequency MASINT.

All of the named technologies rely heavily on IT to make sense of the signals they gather.

Data from each type of sensor often can be used to generate a layer in a geospatial map to help correlate the known signatures of items of interest such as tanks and aircraft with related objects such as fuel tanker trucks.

The notice covers the non-nuclear AGI program, which excludes similar multidisciplinary work aimed at characterizing the location and operations of atomic weapons programs.

Much of the nuclear AGI work involves detecting and analyzing nuclear weapons facilities concealed in large underground caves, notably in Iran and North Korea. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has commissioned research in the nuclear AGI field, especially by using ATEP methods to analyze underground weapons factories' smoke, heat and other emissions.

NASIC said vendors should be prepared to work on or near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Responses to the notice are due today.

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