Post-World War II

Signals Intelligence (Sigint)

Materials on postwar Sigint cooperation between the United Kingdom, the United States, and additional parties can be accessed through the Liaison Table of Contents.

Aldrich, Richard J.

1. "GCHQ and Sigint in Early Cold War, 1945-70." Intelligence and National Security 16, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 67-96. And in Secrets of Signals Intelligence during the Cold War and Beyond, eds. Matthew M. Aid and Cees Wiebes. London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2001.

"[B]y most forms of measurement,... the volume of product, the size of budget, or numbers of personnel, GCHQ was the most important service" of the British secret services during the early Cold War.

2. And Michael Coleman. "The Cold War, the JIC and British Signals Intelligence, 1948." Intelligence and National Security 4, no. 3 (Jul. 1989): 535-549.

Aldrich, Richard J. GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain's Most Secret Intelligence Agency. London: HarperPress, 2010.

Norton-Taylor, Guardian, 19 Jun. 2010, finds that the author "shows how GCHQ developed into a global intelligence-gathering agency of truly industrial proportions with resources that include the navy's submarines and HMS Endurance, the South Atlantic survey ship based in the Falklands.... GCHQ now supplies timely intelligence to British troops on the battlefield. Its technology is also supplying MI5 and the police with 'real time' intelligence on terror or crime suspects."

A reviewer for The Economist, 8 Jul. 2010, says that "Aldrich skilfully weaves together the personal, political, military and technological dimensions of electronic espionage.... In the internet age, the agency faces two challenges: how to monitor the rivers of digitalised information that flow around the world; and how to maintain political legitimacy for governments to gather and store large quantities of personal data so that the information can be searched for patterns of terrorist and criminal activity. Its work is harder than ever."

West, IJI&C 24.2 (Summer 2011), calls this "by far the best book yet published to cover the organization's postwar history." Nonetheless, the reviewer makes a number of criticisms of the work. For instance, he says that "Aldrich makes some strange, though not very significant, missteps" in dealing with the VENONA material. In addition, "his treatment of GCHQ's role during the 1982 Falkland's conflict is definately suspect."

For Glees, Cryptologia 35.3 (Jul. 2011), there are a number of problems with this "massive book," not the least of which is its length. The story of an organization such as GCHQ "is inevitably going to be dry.... Sexing it up with tales of political failures, scandals and outrages make for a book that is both frustrating and terribly long."

Ball, Desmond J. "Over and Out: Signals Intelligence (Sigint) in Hong Kong." Intelligence and National Security 11, no. 3 (Jul. 1996): 474-496.

Mills, Dennis R. "Signals Intelligence and the Coder Special Branch of the Royal Navy in the 1950s." Intelligence and National Security 26, no. 5 (Oct. 2011): 639-655.

"[I]n the late 1940s and the 1950s, Britain's national sigint programme was a complex partnership between GCHQ and the three armed servies that required large number of listeners. Accordingly, the Royal Navy created the Coder Special Branch in the autumn of 1951 in response to a growing need for a body of men capable of intercepting Russian naval radio traffic."

Richelson, Jeffrey T., and Desmond Ball. The Ties That Bind: Intelligence Cooperation Between the UKUSA Countries. Boston & London: Allen & Unwin, 1985. The Ties That Bind: Intelligence Cooperation Between the UKUSA Countries--the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, Australian and New Zealand. 2d ed. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

Clark comment: In this work, the prolific and knowledgeable Richelson teams with Ball, Australia's preeminent intelligence scholar, to lay out the development and maintenance of intelligence cooperation and coordination among the so-called UKUSA countries, particularly in the area of signals intelligence, from World War II to the late 1980s. There are brief reviews of the British, Australia, New Zealand, Canadian, and U.S. "security and intelligence" communities.

According to Surveillant 1.2, the second edition "updates the state of the UKUSA network, incorporating events since 1985 as well as new information ... regarding pre-1985 events." But, as Wark, I&NS 7.2, notes, the revisions are minimal and fail to focus on significant changes in New Zealand's status and on sweeping changes in the structure of Canadian intelligence.

Sexton refers to The Ties That Bind as an "essential source for those seeking to understand the genesis of the Anglo-American intelligence and security network fostered by the Cold War." On the other hand, Lowenthal finds the account "[m]arred by an evident hostility" to some of the activities on which the countries collaborate and an "occasional analysis by innuendo." And Gelber, I&NS 2.1, questions whether all the facts stuffed into the book are of equal importance.

Thomas, Andy. "British Signals Intelligence after the Second World War." Intelligence and National Security 3, no. 4 (Oct. 1988): 103-110.

The author gleans several nuggets of information about British Sigint up to the early 1950s from records available at the Public Record Office.

Urban, Mark. "The Magnum Force." Telegraph (London), 1 Sep. 1996. [http://www. telegraph.co.uk]

The British decision "to part-pay for an American spy satellite came after the ... failure of an attempt to go it alone with an electronic snoop in space -- Zircon.... By the mid-Eighties the inequalities in the GCHQ-NSA relationship was causing real alarm....

"Zircon would be a geosynchronous satellite that would sit over the Soviet Union, feeding information direct to Whitehall. The vision was to survive from 1983, when initial studies began, to the autumn of 1986.... It was cost that doomed Zircon.... In 1987 GCHQ's entire annual budget was about £350 million. The cost to the UK of owning and maintaining a single satellite would have added about £100 million a year in perpetuity.... Ministers ... opted to buy American....

"The complex arrangements were agreed in a super-secret memorandum of understanding between the US and British governments which, it is thought, was signed in the latter part of 1988. One of the satellites would have a metaphorical Union flag on the side, but Britain could also consider itself part-owner of all of them. The UK would also have the right to 'task' any of the three satellites, but the 'British' satellite would never be delivered to the UK and the highly-sensitive technology within it remained within the NSA's security system. The NSA could also override GCHQ, even in tasking the craft."

West, Nigel. [Rupert Allason] GCHQ: The Secret Wireless War, 1900-1986. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986. The SIGINT Secrets: The Signals Intelligence War, 1900 to Today. New York: Morrow, 1988.

According to Petersen, this book "[t]reats the British experience, with substantial collateral information on U.S. intelligence." McGinnis, Cryptolog, Summer 1996, says West provides an "exhaustive history" of the British effort. In addition, "[p]ost war COMINT collaboration among the Allies is covered in detail.... The book is highly recommended as an anthology of what has happened in the COMINT business in this century."

Sexton argues that "West relies on others and offers little that is new or original." Peake, AIJ 15.1/91, seems in accord with that judgment but adds that West, nonetheless, makes a contribution by bringing together material from various other sources "in one coherent presentation." Going off on a real tear against West, O'Halpin, I&NS 2.4, finds "many ... questionable statements and errors of fact in GCHQ, " and declares the book to be "simply an unreliable synopsis of what is already available."


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