The United States Intelligence Community: A Deep Dive

1.0 Introduction

The United States Intelligence Community (IC) is comprised of 18 independent organizations meant to support the national security interests and foreign policy of the United States (US). Currently under the leadership of Avril Haines, members of the IC routinely engage in global intelligence operations and conflict zones. Working separately and collectively, these agencies are the leading providers of intelligence for the US and its allies.

2.0 History and Symbols

2.1 Timeline of the US Intelligence Community

Early Intelligence Efforts (1775-1861):

During the American Revolutionary War, intelligence efforts were decentralized, with individuals like Nathan Hale and the Culper Ring gathering information for the Continental Army. However, it was not until the Civil War that the federal government established the Bureau of Military Information. [source]

World Wars and OSS (1917-1947):

World War I marked the establishment of the first permanent peacetime intelligence agency, the MI-8 Military Intelligence Division. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was created during World War II, serving as the precursor to the CIA. The National Security Act of 1947 formally established the CIA and the National Security Council.

Cold War Era (1947-1991):

The Cold War saw a significant expansion of the IC The CIA engaged in covert operations, and the National Security Agency (NSA) was established to focus on SIGINT. Other agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) were created to enhance military intelligence capabilities.

Post-Cold War and Counterterrorism (1991-2001):

With the end of the Cold War, the IC underwent restructuring. The Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) position was established to oversee the entire intelligence community. The threat landscape shifted towards non-state actors, and counterterrorism efforts became a priority.

9/11 and Intelligence Reform (2001-2004):

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, highlighted intelligence failures. In response, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to improve coordination among the various intelligence agencies.

Modern Challenges (2005-Present):

Since 2004, the IC has continued to play a central role in foreign policy and military operations. Additionally, emerging technological methods, such as cyber threats and terrorism, are a new front for agencies to protect. In response to these threats, the IC has introduced new agencies to its repertoire. This includes intelligence branches in the Space Force, DEA, and Department of Homeland Security.

Marine assigned to Marine Corps Intelligence Schools, Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center, attends class at Naval Base Dam Neck, Virginia Beach, Va. USMC photo by Cpl. Laura Mercado, 2017.

2.2 Symbols

The seal of the IC is heavily symbolic, reflecting the core values and missions of its agencies…

  1. Bald Eagle: The bald eagle is the national bird of the US. It represents the freedom, strength, and vigilance of the US. Additionally, the bald eagle symbolizes the IC’s watchful eye in the face of threats.
  2. Shield: The shield is divided into 13 sections to represent the original 13 colonies of the US. This element underscores the historical roots of the US and calls upon its resilience in the face of adversary.
  3. Olive Branch and Arrows: The eagle is depicted holding an olive branch and a bundle of arrows. This dual symbolism represents the US commitment to both peace and preparedness for war.
  4. Stars: A constellation of stars represents the unity of the intelligence agencies working together to protect the nation.
  5. Collaboratus Virtus Fides: The seal possesses three words in Latin, which translates to:
  • Collaboratus: Similar to the verb “collaborare,” which means “to work together” or “to collaborate.”
  • Virtus: This is a Latin noun that typically translates to “virtue,” “excellence,” or “courage.”
  • Fides: This is a Latin noun that translates to “faith,” “trust,” or “confidence.”

3.0 Organization

3.1 Place within broader government, terrorist or other structures

The IC operates within a framework meant to emphasize collaboration and coordination. The DNI serves as the principal advisor to the President and the National Security Council on intelligence matters. With the persistent threat of transnational terrorism and cyber warfare, the role of the DNI in the US government demonstrates the importance of a well-informed IC.

3.2 Financing

The financial allocations within the IC are distributed among its agencies through two distinct divisions: the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and the Military Intelligence Program (MIP). While these budgetary allocations do not encompass the entirety of the IC’s expenditures, they play a pivotal role in sustaining critical intelligence functions.

National Intelligence Program (NIP):

  • The NIP budget is meant for strategic intelligence planning and policymaking.
  • Agencies funded through the NIP include the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and others.
  • The NIP is instrumental in supporting overarching intelligence initiatives, policy formulation, and the coordination of efforts among key intelligence entities.

Military Intelligence Program (MIP):

  • The MIP budget is dedicated to funding intelligence activities that are geared towards defence operations at the operational level.
  • Specifically, the MIP supports the Department of Defense (DoD) and its various branches of the U.S. military.
  • Intelligence efforts funded through the MIP contribute to the operational effectiveness of the military, encompassing all branches and ensuring a comprehensive approach to national defence.

While the NIP and MIP budgets provide substantial financial backing to key intelligence functions, they do not cover the entire spectrum of expenditures within the IC. Other sources of funding may exist to support specific projects, initiatives, or operational requirements, reflecting the complex and multifaceted nature of intelligence operations.

The 2023 IC budget allocated nearly $100 billion for NIP and MIP programs. Congress permitted the NIP $71.7 billion while the DoD gave the MIP $27.9 billion. Intelligence agencies divide these funds among themselves, but they do not release this information to the public. [source] [source]
In 2024, the requested NIP budget is $72.4 billion and the MIP budget is $29.3 billion. Historically, the IC budget has received more money allocated than requested. Thus, this will likely put the overall budget well over $100 billion. [source]

USAF geospatial imagery analyst with the 234th Intelligence Squadron, California National Guard tracks the route of a MQ-9 Reaper at Camp Pendleton, California, June 9, 2021. Image provided by the California National Guard.

3.3 Key Figures

Avril Haines: Director of National Intelligence Agency (2021-Present)

Haines is the first woman to lead the US intelligence community. Under the Obama administration, Haines was the former Assistant to the President, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor, and led the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. Haines has over two decades of experience in the federal government. [source]

Avril Haines Official Portrait

Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier: Director of Defense Intelligence Agency (2020-Present)

Berrier is the acting 22nd director of the DIA and career intelligence officer in the US Army. Before joining the IDA, Berrier was the principal military intelligence and counterintelligence advisor to the US Army secretary and chief of staff. Berrier served in assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Korea. His awards included the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, and Distinguished Service Medal. [source]

Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier Official Portrait

William J. Burns: Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (2021-Present)

Burns is the current CIA Director and has served under six Presidents over his four decades of public service. He is a career diplomat and the former US Ambassador to Jordan and Russia. In June 2023, President Biden promoted Burns was promoted to his Cabinet. [source]

William “Bill” Burns Official Portrait

4.0 Members of the Intelligence Community

Members of the IC can be divided into three distinct groups: Military services, departments, and national agencies. Each actor in the IC has its own distinct role. However, it is not uncommon for these agencies to overlap or work in collaboration with one another.

4.1 Military Services

4.1.1 Air Force

The USAF contributes to the IC with various means of surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. USAF IC operations include reconnaissance aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and satellites. These means are generally equipped with advanced sensors and surveillance systems to monitor theatres of operation. Finally, the USAF is also involved in cyber intelligence, including protecting critical military networks and conducting cyber activities. [source]

4.1.2 Army

The US Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) is the intelligence branch of the US Army. It is also referred to as the Military Intelligence Corps. INSCOM conducts all-source intelligence and security operations meant to deliver linguistic support and intelligence-related skills, logistics, and acquisition in support of the greater IC and units such as Delta Force

Approximately 28,000 military personnel and 3,800 civilian personnel are assigned to the Military Intelligence Corps. Other key components to Army intelligence include:

  • Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence (G-2)
  • US Army Military Intelligence Readiness Command (MIRC),
  • Army Reserve’s intelligence command

Army Intelligence Center of Excellence (USAICoE) [source]

4.1.3 Coast Guard

The US Coast Guard Intelligence (CG-2) is crucial for maritime operations, safety, and environmental protection. The CG-2 focuses on maritime domain awareness (MDA) as it involves collecting and analyzing information to counter transnational threats. Additionally, the CG-2 monitors and responds to environmental threats and disasters at sea, utilizing all-source collection methods and the support from law enforcement. [source]

4.1.4 Marine Corps

The US Marine Corps (USMC) operates its intelligence activities under the Marine Corps Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enterprise (MCISRE). USMC intelligence activities support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) by employing all-source intelligence collection methods. Additionally, USMC trains tactical reconnaissance units as part of the MCISRE. These units specialize in direct observation, surveillance, and reconnaissance to support operations. [source]

4.1.5 Navy

The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) services are critical for Naval operations. Similar to the CG-2, MDA is vital in identifying potential threats towards surface fleets, aviation, and submarines. Using all-source intelligence collection methods, the ONI builds a comprehensive understanding of the maritime environment and potential threats. [source]

4.1.6 Space Force

The US Space Force (USSF) is the newest branch of the DoD, officially established on December 20th, 2019. USSF intelligence involves monitoring and analyzing activities in space, identifying potential threats to US assets and supporting defensive/offensive space operations. Additionally, intelligence operatives manage a variety of satellite systems critical for reconnaissance, surveillance, and communication. [source]

4.2 Departments

4.2.1 Department of State

The Department of State has its own intelligence and research branch known as the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). It is responsible for providing timely and objective intelligence analysis to support US foreign policy. The INR plays a crucial role in supporting diplomatic efforts by providing intelligence and analysis that informs diplomatic engagements. As a member of the IC, the INR works closely with other elements of the community to have a broad range of sources and perspectives. [source]

4.2.2 Department of Defense

Within the DoD there are multiple intelligence organizations and agencies that contribute to its overall intelligence capabilities. Included in this are the military service agencies discussed prior (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Space Force, and Coast Guard) as well as other vital agencies like DIA and NSA. These include Unified Combatant Commands (COCOMs), Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)’s Intelligence Support Activity, Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), etc. The DoD sees that its agencies collaborate with federal, state, and local agencies in the intelligence community to secure open communications. [source]

4.2.3 Department of Justice

Similar to the DoD, the DoJ also oversees a vital connection with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Elements of the DoJ include the FBI, DEA, and other national security groups. Information sharing and legal oversight is the main priority for the DoJ and the broader intelligence community. [source]

4.2.4 Department of Homeland Security

The DHS focuses on the protection of the US from various threats. Offices and operations in the DHS include:

  • Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A)
  • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
  • US Secret Service
  • Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
  • Office of Operations Coordination (OPS)

With a range of threats from terrorism, cyber threats, and natural disasters, the DHS focuses on information sharing and collaboration. [source]

4.2.5 Department of Treasury

The Department of the Treasure has its own Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA) that contributes to the larger intelligence gathered in the IC. The OIA is the principal intelligence and analytical component of the Department of the Treasury. It focuses on analyzing financial and economic threats, including terrorist financing, money laundering, and illicit finance. Finally, the OIA supports the development and implementation of economic sanctions. [source]

4.2.6 Department of Energy – Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence

The DOE’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI) is responsible for providing intelligence and counterintelligence meant to protect the technology, nuclear assets, and energy infrastructure of the US. Nuclear security and safeguarding nuclear weapons are the main priorities of the OICI. Additionally, the OICI conducts counterintelligence activities to detect espionage and unauthorized disclosure of classified information. [source]
There are clearances designated for individuals employed by DOE, particularly those engaged in handling highly sensitive energy information or advanced technology. This encompasses individuals with access to classified data such as nuclear weapon schematics or details related to nuclear missiles. Those holding a Q Clearance have undergone thorough background investigations.

4.3 National Agencies

4.3.1 Central Intelligence Agency

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is the principal foreign intelligence agency of the IC. The CIA is tasked with collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information. The CIA operates globally to support national security and inform policy decisions. CIA officers conduct covert operations, counterintelligence, and strategic analysis, which plays an instrumental role in US foreign policy. [source

The CIA motto comes from the Bible verse John 8:32 which states: “And Ye Shall Know The Truth And The Truth Shall Make You Free.” The verse is engraved on the walls of the original CIA headquarters in Langley, McLean, VA.

4.3.2 Defense Intelligence Agency

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is the primary intelligence organization for the Department of Defense. DIA officers provide military intelligence to warfighters, policymakers, and the defence community. It focuses on assessing foreign military capabilities, providing timely intelligence to support military operations, and contributing to national security strategy. [source] The motto of the DIA is “Committed to Excellence in Defense of the Nation.” The DIA headquarters are located on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. DC.

4.3.3 National Security Agency/Central Security Service

The National Security Agency (NSA) is responsible for signals intelligence and information assurance. NSA/CSS plays a crucial role in intercepting and analyzing foreign communications, securing U.S. government communications, and conducting cyber operations to protect national security interests. It operates at the intersection of intelligence and cybersecurity. [source]

4.3.4 Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) serves as the primary federal law enforcement agency in the United States. While not exclusively an intelligence agency, the FBI has a significant intelligence role, particularly in counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigations. It works to protect and defend against threats to national security. [source]

The motto of the FBI is “Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity.” As for the headquarters, the FBI’s main office is located in Washington, DC.

4.3.5 National Geospatial Intelligence Agency

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is the leading government agency in geospatial intelligence (GEOINT). Intelligence collected by the NGA is used to respond to natural disasters, locating targets, and making national policy decisions. The NGA is headquartered in Springfield, Virginia, with approximately 14,500 employees in 120 locations (100 in the US and 20 international). The NGA also serves as the head of the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) and works alongside the internationally acclaimed Allied System for Geospatial Intelligence (ASG).

The motto for the NGA is “Know the Earth, Show the Way…from Seabed to Space.” [source]

4.3.6 National Reconnaissance Office

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is responsible for the design, construction, and operation of reconnaissance satellites. It plays a vital role in providing intelligence and surveillance data from space to support national security objectives in the IC. The NRO’s activities contribute to monitoring global developments and enhancing situational awareness. NRO’s motto “Supra et Ultra,” meaning Above and Beyond and the main office is located in Chantilly, VA. [source]

4.3.7 Drug Enforcement Administration

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) focuses on enforcing the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States. While primarily a law enforcement agency, the DEA also engages in intelligence activities related to drug trafficking and organized crime. Its intelligence efforts contribute to disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations. The DEA motto is “Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity” with its headquarters being located in Arlington, VA. [source]

5.0 Operations and Intelligence

5.1 September 11th Terrorist Attacks

On the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists from the extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, causing them to collapse. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and the fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to regain control from the hijackers. [source]

9/11 revealed significant intelligence failures and shortcomings in communication and coordination among various U.S. intelligence agencies. These failures include:

  • Information Silos: Intelligence agencies operated in separate “silos,” often failing to share crucial information with each other. This lack of information-sharing hindered the ability to connect the dots and identify the broader threat.
  • Lack of Coordination: There was a lack of effective coordination between different intelligence and law enforcement agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and NSA. This hindered their ability to collaborate and respond to emerging threats.

Analytical Challenges: Despite receiving intelligence indicating a potential terrorist threat, analysts faced challenges in synthesizing and interpreting the available information to predict the specific nature and timing of the attacks. [source]

5.2 Invasion of Iraq

The 2003 invasion of Iraq significantly altered the course of the US intelligence community, primarily in relation to pre-war assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities. Intelligence agencies, including the CIA, played a pivotal role in justifying the invasion based on the belief that Iraq possessed WMDs. However, post-invasion, no evidence of active WMD programs was found, leading to widespread criticism and a credibility crisis for the intelligence community.

Investigations, such as the Robb-Silberman Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiry, highlighted shortcomings in intelligence collection, analysis, and communication. The failures brought reforms to enhance the vetting of intelligence assessments and improve coordination between agencies. The invasion of Iraq had eroded public trust in the IC, with lasting effects on perceptions of the community’s role in national security decision-making. [source] [source]

5.3 COVID-19 Pandemic

In a publication with the CIA, Dr Chloe Wilson states: “Just as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 forced the Intelligence Community to recognize the critical need for integration, the COVID-19 pandemic is another catastrophic event that should prompt self-reflection within the IC.” [source]

Despite past warnings, the IC and public health surveillance systems failed to provide timely, actionable intelligence. In the early weeks of 2020, traditional intelligence merely echoed public information, and leaders, including then-President Trump, were dismissive of early warnings. [source] [source]

 COVID-19 unveiled many challenges the to the IC, including:

  • Biological Threat Awareness: COVID-19 unequivocally emphasized the critical need to monitor and understand biological threats. In response, the intelligence community has heightened its focus on global health security, biosecurity, and potential pandemics.
  • Infodemic Response: The rampant spread of misinformation during the pandemic underscored the importance of monitoring and countering disinformation.
  • Collaboration on Global Health Security: The intelligence community needed to increase collaboration with its partners to gather and share information related to the pandemic and vaccine development.

Pandemic Preparedness: The IC played a pivotal role in assessing the nation’s preparedness for pandemics. [source]

6.0 The Future

With an annual budget nearing $100 billion in 2023, the IC is positioned for a future defined by advancements and emerging threats. In an ever-evolving geopolitical landscape, the IC will need to remain agile, responding to cyber threats and disinformation campaigns. The IC will need to continue maintaining its intercommunication networks with domestic and foreign intelligence actors to address these challenges. With this, the IC’s commitment to innovation and collaboration will ensure its prominence in safeguarding national security in the near future.

7.0 Conclusion

The IC is a major player in US national security. Its strength comes through the vast number of resources its agencies have. Funding of the IC has reached an all-time high across each military branch, department, and government agencies. The addition of intelligence branches in agencies such as the DEA and USSF has made it possible for the IC to have a greater outreach with specialized capabilities. However, despite these assets, challenges can persist, as seen during 9/11 and COVID-19. Scrutiny regarding transparency and accountability underscores the need for the IC to have a measured approach for surveillance programs.

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