2016: US Intelligence Activities in Japan

Security in East Asia  -  China - USA - Japan
Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Volume 14 | Issue 6 | Number 6, March 15, 2016

US Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Activities in Japan 1945 – 2015:
A Visual Guide

Desmond Ball, Richard Tanter


'Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire -- an empire of bases.'   Chalmers Johnson, America's Empire of Bases

Nobody, probably not even the Pentagon, knows exactly how many military bases the United States maintains in foreign countries, or how many have come and gone in the past. Today, there are certainlymore than a thousand, and still increasing, and expanding into new fronts, especially in Central Africa. A 'base' can mean many different things, but the ones that usually receive most attention are those where the mechanics of American power projection are most evident – US Marines on the ground or large weapons platforms in place or coming and going: warships, aircraft, submarines, and major ground force equipment. Important to scrutinise as these are, other, less conspicuous types of US foreign military facilities are arguably even more important in the US empire of bases. Before a missile can be launched, the target – and its role, characteristics, and defences - has to be known and found. There are different types and layers of intelligence that feed into such targeting matrices, ranging from flash time-sensitive observations through to the longterm maintenance of adversary electronic order of battle documents recording, for example, the location and capacities of opposition armed forces, air and missile defence radars, and their precise role in the event of combat. But all of this means that for those concerned to assess the consequences of US bases in foreign countries need to attend to signals intelligence bases whose constant and efficient functioning is a necessary prerequisite for power projection.

'Signals intelligence' or SIGINT is then one of the highest priorities for any military, and critical to US global operations. Signals intelligence bases range from huge Circularly-disposed Antenna Arrays or 'elephant cages' more than 400 metres in diameter picking up military transmissions from more than 7,000 kms away, to farms of parabolic antennas downlinking transmissions collected from the ground by SIGINT satellites in geosynchronous orbit, through to small antennas in embassies and consulates picking up local cell phone transmissions between towers. Signals intelligence interceptions are mainly classified as either communication intelligence (COMINT) made up of transmissions between people and electronic intelligence (ELINT) made up of other kinds of transmissions besides communication – such as radar emissions.

A key factor in the location and design of signals intelligence facilities is the type of signals they are attempting to intercept – especially their strength and frequency.  ....

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