EPG's Interagency Telephony Laboratory (ITL)

By Kelly MasonJanuary 20, 2022

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Tucked away in one of the many canyons of the Huachuca Mountains, located in Southeastern Arizona, is the Interagency Telephony Laboratory (ITL) where the U.S. Army Electronic Proving Ground (EPG) is conducting rigorous testing in support of national security.

For over a decade, the National Telecommunications Security Working Group (NTSWG) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have partnered with the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) and EPG to ensure that a wide variety of cutting-edge telecommunications equipment meet technical security requirements and are available to the Army, Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), and other federal government agencies.

“This long-standing relationship between EPG and the IC has been productive, successful, and mutually beneficial,” said Craig Reifsteck, from the Office of Security and Counterintelligence and co-chair of the NTSWG.

Bob Dunaway, from the U.S. State Department and also co-chair of the NTSWG, shared his thoughts. “The working group has collaborated closely with the ITL to ensure we are able to address new and emerging telecommunications technologies. This partnership has been very beneficial ensuring our telecommunications endpoints in our nation’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF) are thoroughly tested and secure. The ITL engineers and technicians are highly skilled and proficient, and we are grateful for work they perform for the working group in support of our nation’s national security.”

EPG engineers work tirelessly to apply over 60 years of combined Electromagnetic Environmental Effects experience to test equipment throughout its development. At the ITL, they are responsible for conducting Telecommunications Security Group 5 (TSG 5) certification testing for telecommunications equipment that will be used by Army, DoD, and other U.S. government agencies.

“We are extremely busy at the ITL,” said ITL Test Officer George Chavez. “We currently have 21 test projects in the queue, and we are anticipating and planning for more this year. The workload keeps growing.”

The ITL is the only lab in the nation authorized to conduct TSG 5 certification testing and directly supports the NTSWG and the Committee on National Security Systems.

“We’ve tested telecommunications equipment that is used in the White House and throughout every branch of government that requires TSG 5 certified equipment,” Chavez said.

“The NTSWG continuously works with the ITL to develop test methodologies and instrumentation for implementation and use on new and emerging technologies,” Dunaway said. “Our goal is to ensure the ITL can expand their testing from the normal telephone-type test of on-hook audio to a broader range of RF testing. As an example, the ITL test methods now include voice and video packet traces, which assist us in determining whether voice/video is present when the hardware disconnect is engaged.”

Telecommunication devices are thoroughly tested and vetted when undergoing evaluation in ITL’s exclusive Radio Frequency Shielded Acoustic Chamber, which is the only one of its kind within ATEC. The test environment is difficult to replicate outside of this lab and all tested equipment are highly scrutinized before obtaining TSG 5 certification. This certification ensures that the equipment passes strict requirements before being deployed to the SCIF or Special Access Program Facility secure areas.

“This one-of-a-kind test capability at the ITL is critical to national security and directly impacts our government’s ability to communicate securely. The team is extremely proud of the work we do for the NTSWG because we know we are making a difference,” Chavez said. “That’s what keeps us focused and motivated. This is not just a job for us, it’s our passion.”