ELINT – Most novelists get it wrong. Too often someone refers to a message picked up by an ELINT intercept. They should say either COMINT or SIGINT.
ELINT is an acronym for Electronic Intelligence, that is, non-communications intelligence derived from collection, processing, and analysis of radar and various guidance control systems.
Intelligence derived from the collection of spoken or written communications is called COMINT or Communications Intelligence. SIGINT, or Signals Intelligence, is intelligence derived from the collection, processing, and analysis of either of, or a combination of, COMINT and ELINT.
ELINT lingered in the background as COMINT remained as the ASA's primary focus. ELINT has always been a stepchild in the intelligence world. Agency decision makers did not always rely on raw ELINT data not confirmed by COMINT or HUMINT. The CIA believed only agents in the field could be relied on for worthwhile intelligence.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is the principal Signals Intelligence organization for the United States. In the past, NSA relied primarily on military resources for ELINT collection.
The United States Army Security Agency (ASA) was the Army’s signal intelligence branch; it also had responsibility for the security of Army communications and for electronic countermeasures operations. Other agencies were the Naval Security Group (NAVSECGRU) and the Air Force Security Service (USAFSS). Airborne ELINT intercept operators are nicknamed Ravens or Old Crows.
The ASA was composed primarily of soldiers with the highest scores on Army intelligence tests who qualified for a Top Secret/Crypto security clearance. During the years of the draft, this included sizeable number of college graduates, along with the majority who were college drop-outs.
The ASA was tasked with monitoring and interpreting military communications of the Soviet Bloc and their allies and client states around the world. The ASA was directly subordinate to the National Security Agency.
From the beginning, ASA was cloaked in an aura of secrecy, due to the nature of its mission. Even today, the agency is still little known. In 1976, the ASA was merged with the Army’s military intelligence branch to form the Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM).
Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the security services manned the front line of the Cold War. Assigned to isolated foreign outposts, naval vessels, or flying along the Iron Curtain, they collected signals intelligence and gave an extra layer of early warning. All too many died by accident or enemy action. The first American combat death in Vietnam was a soldier of the Army Security Agency. The Secret Cold War series is dedicated to their memory.
Thomas Jefferson: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."