Does the US have the capability to trace any intercepted communication to its source?

I know the extent of US capabilities is unknown but is it safe to say that if they intercept an electronic communication then they can trace it to its origin?

Yes, it IS possible, Mr. Jorgen Stephenssen of 1288 Applenut street, Boston, MA, 12883, phone # 238-3311, wife: Pamela,
children: Sid (age 4) and Marty (age 8), dog: Sinbad, color of bathroom sceme: black/silver, whereabouts yesterday at 13:03–at the Northcounty Mall buying a Hokey-Pokey Elmo at KB Toys…

(boy, just think if I had got all that right, wouldn’t you just have shat your pants off?)

Anyone who knows (authoritatively) isn’t going to be able to give you a meaningful cite here without compromising their employment and national security. Anyone who says “I used to work there, and…” is acting on old information, and is also probably breaking the law, and compromising etc. etc. In short, one of the key reasons that something might be classified would be that it reveals “sources and methods”.

You can discuss freely what an interceptor with unlimited resources could accomplish based on electronic communications and the physics associated with them.

Anyone who offers much more detail than that about US capabilities is most likely talking out their ass, or parroting an unconfirmed leak (which IMHO is the same thing).

That depends on about a billion factors. Signals intelligence is an extremely huge and complex science, and like you mention most of it is secret.

What kind of electronic communication are we talking about? Voice communication over phone lines? Modem or fax communications? Internet traffic? Radio traffic? Satellite phones? There are limitless possibilities.

It is safe to assume that any radio signals in places of interest outside the US are being monitored at least some of the time. There are ways to pinpoint the source of some kinds of signals, though it takes a lot of work.

The origin of a phone call can be determined if you have access to the switch computers. Easy if you’re the FBI and you can serve a warrant to the phone company, much more difficult if you’re the CIA in an unfriendly country.

In short, there is really no clear cut answer to this question.

It took the US government 30 years to even acknowledge that it had a digital encryption method for voice communications. SIGSALY

Assuming that we do have tracing capabilities, I suspect they won’t be acknowledged for quite a long time.

Now that is big.

Well, put it this way: I’m asking this question because of the news about the increase in terrorist “chatter.” Law enforcement seems to be able to trace the origins of computer viruses, landline calls, and cell phones. I’m wondering: If they can’t decypher the message (assuming it’s
encrypted), can they at least track it to its source?

yes they can…about 99% of the time.

zz7777zz, please provide proof for your assertion. There are many types of communication that cannot be easily tracked to a physical location, and some that are theoretically impossible to track.

Define communication, define source.

Having worked as network engineer for a European ISP, I can guarantee that “the US” can’t trace most Internet communication to the source (as in, something identifying the sender’s location) without the ISP/telco being heavily involved. The IP address assignment happened in our equipment and we did not hand out that data to anyone but local authorities, and never without a court order.