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We report a detailed study of the excess noise induced in index-guided InGaAsP laser structures by reflection feedback. The phenomena of high-frequency noise (1-5 GHz), low-frequency noise (< 100 MHz), and intensity fluctuations are shown to have a common physical origin in the unusual instability of the coupled laser-external cavity system. After a randomly occurring light intensity drop, the light output recovers in 10-15 steps, each corresponding to an external cavity roundtrip (high-frequency noise); the total recovery time corresponds to the low-frequency noise. The instability, and the subsequent noise, can be suppressed under conditions of very strong feedback such as obtained for lasers with anti-reflection-coated facets. The reflection noise characteristics are shown to be largely independent of the laser structure and structure modifications such as distributed feedback.