Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT)

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Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT)

Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) is the term for forms of information gathered by analysis of signals (SIGINT), imagery (IMINT), or data acquired through human contact (HUMINT). In the United States, MASINT operations are directed by the Central Measurement and Signatures Office, usually designated as Central MASINT Office or CMO, which is an office of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Under the heading of MASINT are the following subcategories: acoustic intelligence (ACINT), infrared intelligence (IRINT), laser intelligence (LASINT), nuclear intelligence (NUCINT), optical intelligence (OPINT), and unintentional radiation intelligence (RINT).

Components of MASINT. ACINT, as its name implies, involves the collection and analysis of data derived from sound waves. Most notable among these are the acoustic markings or "signatures" of military vessels and the weapons they carry, which can be detected by sonar (SOund NAvigation and Ranging) devices underwater. There is some overlap with LASINT, which can be used for audio monitoring. A laser is an extremely narrow, powerful, and focused beam of light. In the LASINT context, a laser beam directed at a closed room can be used to detect the vibrations produced by sound waves.

The term OPINT encompasses all intelligence derived across the spectrum of visible light, as well as light that has been made visible. It is contrasted with IMINT, which is concerned specifically with electronically generated images. Some of the visible material that falls under the purview of OPINT may have been obtained by special equipment that captures light from the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and thus once again there may be some overlap, in this case with IRINT.

Infrared waves (lower in frequency than the red, or lowest-frequency, end of the visible spectrum) may also provide a means for radio communication. For instance, in the 1960s, West Germany developed a device that sent and received audible messages, using the infrared range as a medium of transmission. (By contrast, ordinary radio and television transmission occurs at frequencies much lower than that of infrared light.)

Unintentional radiation intelligence (RINT) also involves monitoring of the electromagnetic spectrum, although in this case, for non-information-bearing elements of intelligence. For example, highly radioactive material of the type that might be used in a sophisticated nuclear device, may emit gamma rays, which occupy the highest energy level in the electromagnetic spectrum. Once more, there may be overlap with nuclear intelligence or NUCINT, which is defined as information derived from the collection and analysis of radiation from radioactive sources.

The U.S. Central MASINT Office. The office responsible for MASINT is the Defense Intelligence Agency's CMO. By 1986, the U.S. intelligence community had come to recognize the need for a MASINT office, and in that year formed the Intelligence Community Staff MASINT Committee to oversee all relevant activities. As part of the 1992 reorganization of the intelligence community, the secretary of defense and the director of the CIA gave the director of DIA responsibility over national and defense MASINT. A year later, DIA established CMO, which reports to the director of DIA.

CMO consists of four divisions, designated as CMO1, 2, 3, and 4. The first of these is responsible for developing national and defense policy, including long-term plans, and for establishing the interface between MASINT and other intelligence-gathering disciplines. CMO-2 is responsible for resource management, or the management of MASINT assets nationally and worldwide. CMO3 oversees MASINT collection operations, and is responsible for time-sensitive and short-turnaround jobs. CMO4, the Advanced Concepts Division, manages research, development, testing, and evaluation.



Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community, third edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.

Scanlon, Charles Francis. In Defense of the Nation: DIA at Forty Years. Washington, D.C.: Defense Intelligence Agency, 2002.


Evaluation Report on Measurement and Signature Intelligence. <> (January 17, 2003).


Nuclear Detection Devices

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Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT)

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