How Intelligent Is Our Intelligence Community, Really?

The Conservative Treehouse began a series on "The Fourth Branch of Government, the Intelligence Community."  That series, along with Tucker Carlson's revelation that the NSA possibly spied on him and at the very least illegally unmasked him, has brought the Intelligence Community center stage.  I usually do not think too much about the various security and intelligence functions of the government, other than to marvel that they have managed to prevent a second 9/11.  In doing a bit of research, however, I have come to realize that the security function of our country is a tangled web of bureaucracy.  Is that really what it takes to protect U.S. citizens, or is this a turf-building and protection operation?  

The foundation of any security operation has to be the knowledge that is gathered and analyzed.  In the case of the federal government, that foundation is provided by the Intelligence Community, or I.C., which is "responsible for collecting, analyzing, and delivering foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to America's leaders so they can make sound decisions to protect our country."  The I.C. is a coalition of 18 entities with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) integrating the intelligence gathered; however, the members do not report to the ODNI.  The ODNI is a relatively new entity, created in 2005 at the recommendation of the 9/11 commission.  The commission reported that before the 2001 disaster, there were clues about an impending attack, but no one person had a full picture because information was siloed.  In typical bureaucratic fashion, the response was to create another level of infrastructure and expand government operations.

Below is a list of the 17 other members of the I.C. and their primary mission.  Mission statements portrayed on the I.C. website have been paraphrased for a clearer understanding. 

Intelligence Entity


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

The CIA gathers and analyzes national security intelligence for senior U.S. policymakers and conducts covert action as directed by the president.

National Security Agency (NSA)

The NSA is part of the Defense Department and is the nation's cryptologic organization.  It protects U.S. information systems and produces foreign signals intelligence information.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

The FBI is responsible for understanding threats to our national security and for penetrating national and transnational networks that want to harm the U.S. The FBI's National Security Branch (NSB) provides intelligence to that end.  It also collects intelligence from high-value terror suspects to prevent attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis

The Office of Intelligence and Analysis within DHS collects intelligence to identify and assess current and future threats to the U.S. 

State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research within the Department of State provides the secretary with analyses of global developments and insights from all-source intelligence. 

Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence

DOE's Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence provides scientific and technical expertise to the government to respond to foreign intelligence, terrorist and cyber threats to energy resources, and to address a range of other national security issues.

Treasury's Office of Intelligence and Analysis

The Treasury's Office of Intelligence and Analysis is responsible for the receipt, analysis, collation, and dissemination of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to safeguard the financial system against illicit use. 

Drug Enforcement Administration Office of National Security Intelligence

DEA's Office of National Security Intelligence seeks to enhance U.S. efforts to reduce the supply of drugs, protect national security, and combat global terrorism.

National Geospatial Intelligence (NGA)

The NGA provides intelligence linked to geographical locations for military purposes and humanitarian missions, such as tracking floods and fires, and in peacekeeping efforts.

National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

The NRO is part of the DoD.  It designs, builds, and operates the nation's reconnaissance satellites that warn of potential trouble spots around the world.  The NRO also helps to plan military operations and monitor the environment.

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

The DIA, which is part of the DoD, is a combat support agency that produces foreign military intelligence for warfighters, defense policymakers, and the IC.

Air Force Intelligence Agency

Air Force Intelligence Agency conducts intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for combat commanders and the nation.

Office of Naval Intelligence

ONI collects, analyzes, and produces maritime intelligence and disseminates that intelligence to strategic, operational, and tactical decision-makers. 

Army Intelligence and Security Command

U.S. Army Intelligence is responsible for the overall coordination of military, imagery, signals, human, measurement and signature intelligence, and counterintelligence and security countermeasures.

U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence Operations

The Division has responsibility for geospatial, advanced geospatial, signals, human intelligence, and counterintelligence. 

Coast Guard Intelligence

Coast Guard Intelligence provides intelligence about the maritime domain; potential threats; and adversaries' capabilities, limitations, and intentions.

Space Force (USSF)

USSF operates within the Department of the Air Force but is relatively new.  No information was found on their intelligence function, other than it is listed as a part of the ODNI coalition.

This is the point where my eyes glaze over and roll into the back of my head.  According to the I.C. website, oversight of the I.C. is provided by the president and ten other entities, including the National Security Council, President's Intelligence Advisory Board, Intelligence Oversight Board, OMB, Privacy and Civil Rights Oversight Board, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, FISA Court, and Inspectors General.  In other words, they are responsible to no one, which is the exact point of the CTH series. 

There appears to be an abundance of duplication and overlap.  With the exception of the National Reconnaissance Office, the members seem to do the same thing — collect and analyze intelligence for various end-users.  Is it really necessary to have a Defense Intelligence Agency as well as a separate division within each of the military branches?  Why do some Cabinet departments have their own intelligence-gathering units but not others?  Does the State Department not trust the work produced by the CIA and FBI?  Maybe the Department of Commerce doesn't need an intelligence-gathering arm for its work but why does the Treasury require its own operation?  There is a whole Cabinet-level agency called the Department of Homeland Security.  Wouldn't you expect to find the intelligence-gathering work being done within the walls of DHS?  Well, they do have an Office of Intelligence and Analysis, but how is that at all different from the work the Treasury Department's Office of Information and Analysis is doing?  Maybe they just don't have as much time to pay attention to intelligence since DHS also has to take care of natural disasters that require a FEMA response and supervise the Coast Guard, which, by the way, has its own department for intelligence.

Let's face it: there is a finite amount of information available at any given time.  It may be a massive amount, but it is still finite.  It seems quite likely that the various entities are listening in on the same conversations and gathering the same information.  By duplicating responsibilities and creating a complicated flow of information and reporting, there are more opportunities for miscommunication, more turf-protecting, and more wasted time and money.  Wouldn't it be much more efficient to have one big organization gathering all that information and then sending it out to those who need to know?  I understand that there has to be a division between domestic and foreign intelligence, although that line seems to be a little fuzzy and appears to be violated on a regular basis.  The point is, there has to be a better way to protect the homeland and its citizens — one that offsets costs with benefits.

Image via Pixabay.

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