SIGINT for Anyone

The Growing Availability of Signals Intelligence in the Public Domain

by Cortney Weinbaum, Steven Berner, Bruce McClintock

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This Perspective examines and challenges the assumption that signals intelligence (SIGINT) is an inherently governmental function by revealing nongovernmental approaches and technologies that allow private citizens to conduct SIGINT activities. RAND researchers relied on publicly available information to identify SIGINT capabilities in the open market and to describe the intelligence value each capability provides to users. They explore the implications each capability might provide to the United States and allied governments.

The team explored four technology areas where nongovernmental SIGINT is flourishing: maritime domain awareness; radio frequency (RF) spectrum mapping; eavesdropping, jamming, and hijacking of satellite systems; and cyber surveillance. They then identified areas where further research and debate are needed to create legal, regulatory, policy, process, and human capital solutions to the challenges these new capabilities provide to government.

This was an exploratory effort, rather than a comprehensive research endeavor. The team relied on unclassified and publicly available materials to find examples of capabilities that challenge the government-only paradigm. They identified ways these capabilities and trends may affect the U.S. government in terms of emerging threats, policy implications, technology repercussions, human capital considerations, and financial effects. Finally, they identified areas for future study for U.S. and allied government leaders to respond to these changes.

This research was conducted within the Cyber and Intelligence Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation perspective series. RAND perspectives present informed perspective on a timely topic that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND perspectives undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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