Chile is the first nation in Latin America and the Caribbean to establish a regional office to manage communications security (COMSEC) systems. “The United States and Chile have longstanding bonds of friendship, and through these gestures and concrete actions, our union is strengthened, allowing us to plan for the future and continue to work,” Chilean Army Brigadier General Rodrigo Díaz Amechazurra, Joint Planning director for the Armed Forces of Chile Joint Chiefs of Staff (EMCO, per its Spanish acronym), said during the official ceremony inaugurating the COMSEC Chile office.
The event held in Santiago on November 7th, 2017, counted with Chilean authorities and representatives from U.S. government agencies, chief among them U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). “This office will allow us to reach worldwide standard and, in addition to EMCO, will also be of service to the Chilean Army, Navy, and Air Force,” Brig. Gen. Díaz said. “We are very grateful for the trust that SOUTHCOM has in our nation.”
“COMSEC is a discipline which protects and maintains the security of sensitive U.S. information and prevents its unauthorized interception by individuals or institutions,” Joaquin Campos, COMSEC program manager for SOUTHCOM, told Diálogo. The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) established COMSEC as a mechanism to protect communications from being intercepted by unauthorized persons or institutions. Modern encryption communication dates back to the world wars, when governments used it as a tool to protect, maintain, and oversee information networks. The United States communicates with partner nations through a COMSEC system, under the framework of bilateral agreements SOUTHCOM’s Communications Systems Directorate administers.
“The Chileans have now become partners with us in COMSEC and they are able to do it on their own. They now became a full partner in the COMSEC and in the operability world,” said Michael Droz, deputy director of Operations at SOUTHCOM. “Chile has been an important partner for the U.S. in the region for a long time. They are very stable, they have very big capability, and this is the way for us to act and be interoperable between our two countries.”
COMSEC promotes interoperability
“The Chilean Armed Forces are associated with great technological advances that led our forces to enjoy a distinguished position within the Latin American context. But such advances also meant serious security commitments,” said Chilean Air Force Colonel Ernesto Salazar Muñoz, head of Information Technology and Communications Department at EMCO, as he explained the advances the system represents for Chile. “We are proud to have this responsibility, and we want to meet it as required.”
The U.S. and Chilean governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2004 to promote their mutual security interests. The agreement included promoting interoperability of communications systems, command and tactical control of both nations’ armed forces. The COMSEC account is the result of seven years of coordination and teamwork between EMCO, the Armed Forces of Chile, SOUTHCOM, NSA, and the Security Cooperation Office at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago.
“After 13 years, the COMSEC office has finally materialized,” Col. Salazar said. “This was made possible thanks to the management of the Command, Control, and Interoperability Board (CCIB),EMCO, the Joint Planning Directorate, and especially the Strategic Command and Control Directorate, and SOUTHCOM.” CCIB brings together representatives of the Chilean and U.S. Armed Forces to promote interoperability between the two countries.
“The interoperability we have with the United States is very much ongoing. We share a lot with SOUTHCOM and the U.S. military. We had the opportunity to partake not only in exercises but other military operations, and we always require access codes in order to be interoperable with the U.S. military forces,” said Chilean Army Colonel Alejandro Solar Cardemil, head of Strategic Planning at EMCO. Col. Solar added that interoperability is essential for Chile to allow for access to shared information as quickly as possible, and because it demonstrates a “vote of confidence” from the United States.
COMSEC is an important accomplishment for the Armed Forces of Chile, as it promotes interoperability and secure communications during combined joint military exercises. “We’ll have the capacity to receive instructions through our communications equipment, which will facilitate operations during the exercise [for example, the Panamax exercise],” Col. Salazar said. For Col. Solar, “The work we do with the U.S. military is an ongoing fermenting effort that we consolidated a long time ago.”
The COMSEC office will offer communications security between the U.S. Department of Defense and the Ministry of National Defense of Chile. “[As a result] It’s going to make the relationship even closer,” Droz said. “Being able to communicate encrypted in a manner that our adversaries won’t be able to listen to. It is more operable to have all of us on the same communication to be able to exchange ideas, operations, tactics, techniques, and procedures.”
For Brig. Gen. Díaz, Chile and the United States have a very promising future in communications. “The future of cooperative relations between our two countries’ armed forces is extraordinarily bright. We’re building trust. There’s friendship and a future,” Brig. Gen. Díaz concluded.