Intelligence: June 6, 2004


The United States spends over $30 billion a year on collecting intelligence on current and potential enemies. Its long been known that the many different intelligence organizations often worked at cross purposes, did not cooperate very well, and often did not get vital information to the people who needed it. 

The sad part of all this is that its an old problem, going back to World War II. The problem was supposed to have been solved by the establishment of the CIA in 1947. The CIA is, after all, the Central Intelligence Agency and it was created to collect and analyze all the intelligence and then deliver that analysis to the president and other people in government who needed it.

Didnt work out that way. The main reason is that the CIA is a monopoly, and monopolies have no incentive to be competitive, hustle and pay attention to their "customers.". The many users of intelligence quickly noted this, and fell back on their own intelligence operations. Everyone regularly complained about the problems with getting anything useful out of the CIA on a timely basis, and little changed. 

As a result, the United States now has over a dozen major intelligence organizations, all of them still incompletely integrated with all the others. The cry for more cooperation in the intelligence community, in order to support the war on terror, in not having much effect.

The current line up of intelligence organizations includes;

The Big Four (CIA, NSA, NGA, NRO) mainly work for the White House. They get most of the money, and most of the criticism for not providing useful support for anyone outside the White House.

- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The main customer is the White House, but is also supposed to keep the Department of Defense, and everyone else who works for the president, supplied with accurate and up-to-date analysis of whats going on in the world. But when the CIA analysts present information that does not conform to what people in the White House want to see, there is pressure to modify the conclusions. This causes problems with all the other intelligence agencies.

- National Security Agency (NSA). One of the most underestimated of the intelligence agencies. The NSA collects and sorts out signals intelligence (messages sent regularly by radio, telephone, Internet and so on) information. More importantly, NSA develops ciphers (methods to encode secret American messages) and decipher the secret codes of other nations. The United States has always been very good at breaking codes, but doing that is only useful if the other guy doesnt know you have broken his codes. Thus all the secrecy at NSA. 

- National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). A relatively new organization, which takes all those satellite and aerial photos and makes sense of them. NGA exists largely because of all the neat new computer tools for working on digital photos and creating useful maps and videos.

- National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Builds and maintains spy satellites. NRO gets the biggest chunk of money spent on intelligence, mainly because spy satellites are so expensive. As a result of this, too much emphasis has been placed on information (and its often misinformation) gained from these satellites. 

The Military-Intelligence-Complex. The military is the most in need of timely and detailed intelligence. They rarely get it, or get it in time, from the Big Four. So, over four decades, the military has built up its own formidable intelligence empire.

- Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Is something of a Department of Defense CIA. DIA collects and sorts out intelligence information from the various services and tries to eliminate duplication of effort. DIA is also big enough to go head-to-head with the CIA in disputes over resources (getting use of spy satellites) and access to the White House on intelligence matters.

- Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps Intelligence Organizations. Each service collects information it needs for its own operations. The DIA is used to pry stuff from the Big Four (who will often hold on to material the armed forces could use because its too sensitive. Thats another way of saying they dont trust the troops to keep a secret, even if keeping the information from the troops gets some of the troops killed in combat.)

- Coast Guard Intelligence. The Coast Guard becomes part of the navy in wartime, but in peacetime its part of the Department of Homeland Security and is mainly interested in information about whats going on along American coasts. 

- Department of Energy. Because the Department of Energy got control over all matters nuclear, it has developed a large intelligence operation that concentrates on what other countries are doing with nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Because of the military importance of all this, the Department of Energy intelligence is seen as part of the military establishment.

The Orphans

These are intelligence operations that are either disorganized, under equipped or simply not doing any serious intelligence work. 

- Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The new kid on the block, is supposed to take care of intelligence on terrorism. But so far, DHS is way behind the Big Four and has to beg a lot.

- Department of State. Has always had an intelligence operation, but it was never well organized. Seemed to collect interesting gossip, and considered detailed data too geekish for diplomats. 

- Department of Treasury. Collects information that has an impact on American fiscal and monetary policy. Most of this stuff is rather easily obtained from large American financial organizations. 

- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Not really an intelligence organization, and never meant to be one. The FBI is a police and investigative organization. It deals in collecting information, but for the purpose of prosecuting and convicting criminals, not for providing information on anything on a continual basis (which is what intelligence agencies do.) The FBI is trying to get permission, and money, to become a major player in the intelligence area.




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