Previously, the only way to pass intelligence at Bagram between the U.S. and partner nations was to hand it over as hard copy. These two first nodes in what would eventually become a larger network, known as CENTER ICE, would end the paper shuffling, ultimately saving the lives of troops in combat.
The NSA was to set up one of the two initial systems at Bagram for its own use, and the other for its counterpart from Norway, the Norwegian Intelligence Service, or NIS. The Norwegians were perfect guinea pigs. A “gregarious, friendly bunch” who threw good barbecue parties, they had “almost no collection capability” to eavesdrop independently and were thus “heavily dependent on the U.S.,” an NSA staffer at Bagram later wrote on an internal agency news site, SIDtoday. (The article and the other intelligence documents in this story were provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.) One of the new terminals failed when the NSA attempted to turn it on, but after the provision of some “necessary spares,” both were operational.
Spies from the two nations were about to get a dramatic example of how powerful the digitization of intelligence-sharing could be. One morning a few weeks after CENTER ICE went live, the Norwegians sent an urgent email using the new system: “Our guys think they are being shadowed… Are you seeing anything?”