The Black Vault has successfully obtained a less redacted version of a once-classified document detailing the Korean Communications Intelligence (COMINT) effort of 1971. Despite previous releases, this latest unsealing comes after The Black Vault’s effective Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request, which has resulted in the lifting of some, but not all, redactions.
The document, originally reviewed for declassification as per Executive Order 13526, documents a critical time in COMINT history. As stated in the FOIA release letter, “Some portions deleted from the document were found to be currently and properly classified… The information denied meets the criteria for classification… and remains classified SECRET”. This highlights the delicate balance between transparency and the need to protect certain operational details, even after five decades.
In this less redacted state, the document reveals the early stages of the COMINT effort, which began amid the Korean conflict as North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel in June 1950. It showcases the evolution of intelligence gathering from an ad-hoc operation into a sophisticated peace-time effort. The document sheds light on the linguistic and cryptanalytic challenges faced by U.S. intelligence in interpreting North Korean communications, a task made difficult by the lack of Korean linguists and the complexity of military terminology. Additionally, the document hints at the broader geopolitical implications of intelligence work during the Cold War era, including the intersection of technology, language, and strategy.
While some information remains under wraps, the declassified sections provide valuable insights into the methods and obstacles of historical signal intelligence.
A Bit on the Korean COMINT Effort, 1971 [7 Pages, 3.3MB]