Spies Like Us: Spying without Spies


The alternatives to HUMINT, or human intelligence, include remote sensors that do the spy's work, but from a distance. The names given to these type of sensors are COMINT, or communications intelligence, SIGINT, signals, ELINT or electronic and IMINT or imagery intelligence. Of all these cool-sounding approaches to spying without spies, IMINT is perhaps the most important.

Imagery intel consists mostly of pictures and radars in spy aircraft and satellites. These provide amazing views of objects on the ground—some can even tell the difference between civilians and soldiers. The spy satellite American Keyhole 12 can see objects as small as a grapefruit from a distance of 250 miles.  Mind you, only a Ruby Red, but still...

Seabed hydrophones track the sound of enemy subs and seismographs detect the vibrations cause by atomic tests. In fact, in 1949, US intelligence analysts got their very first firm evidence that the USSR had developed the atom bomb from a trace from a seismograph. The Lockheed Skunk Works spy planes are some of my favorite COMINTS. Skunk Works designs you've probably heard of include the U-2, theSR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 Nighthawk, and the F-22 Raptor. But you probably have not yet heard about the F-35 Lightning II. That's because this baby is still under construction and will probably be so for another 30+ years! The US government has committed $382 billion for 2,443 aircraft, at an average of $156 million each. Crazy, right?