Mark Collins – Staying Alert: Canada Helping US Arctic Surveillance, SIGINT Efforts

Nice to find out some details of what we are doing in the LA Times, via US intelligence sources, eh?

U.S. builds up Arctic spy network as Russia and China increase presence

f22alaska.jpg
With Alaska’s Chugach Mountains as a backdrop, an F-22 taxis on the runway. F-22s [more here] are used to monitor Russian aircraft. (Michael Dinneen / For The Times)

…U.S. intelligence agencies are scrambling to study potential threats in the Arctic for the first time since the Cold War, a sign of the region’s growing strategic importance.

Over the last 14 months, most of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have assigned analysts to work full time on the Arctic. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently convened a “strategy board” to bring the analysts together to share their findings.

In addition to relying on U.S. spy satellites orbiting overhead and Navy sensors deep in the frigid waters, the analysts process raw intelligence from a recently overhauled Canadian listening post near the North Pole [emphasis added], more below] and a Norwegian surveillance ship called the Marjata, which is now being upgraded at a U.S. Navy shipyard in southern Virginia…

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, known as the NGA [website here, see “The Increasingly Important US Intelligence Agency Most Have Never Heard Of“], has spent two years drawing new maps and charts of waterways and territories in the vast region. In a statement, Director Robert Cardillo said his agency intends to “broaden and accelerate” that work, while other agencies help chart the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

“There are a lot of things we can see now that we couldn’t see 10 years ago,” said a U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the new interest in the Arctic.

Some of the transformation is visible on detailed digital maps that the NGA made public last week, while President Obama was on a three-day visit to Alaska and became the first U.S. president to visit a community above the Arctic Circle.

The maps show airstrips, oil drilling areas, ports, maritime boundaries and sea routes. The NGA plans to make public 3D maps of all of Alaska by 2016 and the entire Arctic by 2017 to help track melting sea ice and receding glaciers.

The U.S. intelligence focus is chiefly aimed at Russia’s military buildup in the far north under President Vladimir Putin. The country’s Northern Fleet is based above the Arctic Circle at Murmansk…

To help keep watch, Canada has refurbished a listening post called CFS Alert at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, about 500 miles from the North Pole. It was once part of the Distant Early Warning line, a system of radar stations that watched for incoming Russian bombers or missiles [not the station’s real purpose, official webpage here: “CFS Alert maintains signals intelligence facilities to support of Canadian military operations. Signals intelligence is conducted remotely, using the equipment and facilities located Alert.”; lots more here, detailed history].

“It was thought to be a relic of the Cold War,” said Rob Huebert, a professor in Arctic affairs at the University of Calgary [and a CGAI Fellow]. “Now it is a critical element of an intelligence system that monitors a part of the world that few have access to.”

About 100 intelligence officers stationed at CFS Alert, which stands for Canadian Forces Station, try to intercept Russian aircraft and submarine communications and other signals intelligence. Canada shares the take with U.S. intelligence agencies.

Norway also cooperates closely with U.S. intelligence agencies.

The Marjata, an advanced spy ship specifically built to collect electronic intelligence [more here], has been getting new equipment and systems since April at U.S. Naval Weapons Station Yorktown in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Camp Peary, the CIA’s training base for clandestine operatives, is adjacent to the facility.

The Marjata, which is operated by the Norwegian Intelligence Service, is scheduled to leave in November, U.S. officials said. It will patrol the Barents Sea, on the Atlantic side of the Arctic, to eavesdrop on Russian military activities…

Related:

Arctic Tensions Not Really About the Region but Relations With Russia

Russia Submits Revised Arctic Seabed Claim to UN Body

Putin’s Plans for the Bear in the Water

Work Actually Starts on RCN’s First Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship

POTUS’ US Coast Guard Icebreakers Never Never Land (and Canada’s)

Chinese Navy, US Northern Waters and “Innocent Passage”

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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