What Is An Intelligence Agency And Its Uses Politics Essay

Overview – An intelligence agency is a government sponsored agency devoted to the gathering of information (intelligence) to retain state or national goals and attain national security. Various means of gathering that information may include espionage, the interception of communication, code breaking and analysis, cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, and private and public sources – all designed to be analyzed for the good of the institution. Security intelligence focuses on national security, while foreign intelligence on collecting information regarding the political, economic, and military activities of foreign states as they pertain to the security of the nation. The United States has numerous sub-agencies with specific tasks, but really four major intelligence organizations that form the background of U.S. Intelligence gathering and analysis, all with acronyms describing their various roles within the Intelligence gathering community: the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Of course, now that the Department of Homeland Security is involved in helping to streamline and manage the flow of information, one might also include that agency as a new template in structure. [1]

History of Intelligence in the United States – Espionage, or spying, is as old as societies that used warfare as policy. Ancient writings originating in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and China show that deception and subversion were attributes designed to be developed. Ancient Hebrew literature tells of using spies, and the Egyptians had a documented system for learning about their enemies. Of course, the Trojan Horse idea and other aspects of Greek and Roman warfare show that intelligence gathering had an important place in the Ancient World. During the 1200’s and 1300’s the Mongols relied heavily on espionage in their conquests in Asia and Europe. The “art” of spycraft, of intelligence gathering, however, increased to a major necessity in statecraft during the Age of Elizabeth I in England. Intelligence gathering, then, has been part and parcel of warfare, and most particularly of building nation states. [2]

As the predecessor of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was formed during the early years of World War II to be an American counterpart of the British Secret Intelligence and Special Operations Branch. The OSS was established by Presidential order in June 1942 and tasked to focus on the collection and analyzation of strategic information to be shared with all branches of government. OSS operatives penetrated German lines and caused significant damage and disharmony, accomplishing significant military coups for the Allies. The OSS did this by training native German speakers for covert missions inside Nazi territory. Many of these agents were disaffected political refugees, labor activities, former Nazi POWs, and even ethnic refugees. In fact, at its height, the OSS employed almost 25,000 individuals. [3]

Many members of the OSS, working with British and French Intelligence during the War, became mindful and concerned about the information they were collecting regarding the Soviet Union once it became apparent that the Nazi regime was losing the war. Splitting the tasks of the OSS between the Department of State and the Department of War, it was not even a month after fighting ceased in the Pacific that President Truman signed an Executive Order, going into effect in October 1945. During the next few years, intelligence was split between numerous agencies, but in mid-1946, what had been the old OSS was reborn as the Office of Special Operations (OSO), and then in 1947 the National Security Act established the U.S.’s first established and permanent peacetime intelligence agency, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). [4]

Officially, the CIA is a civilian agency within the United States government responsible for providing national security intelligence in foreign affairs, leaving domestic intelligence to the FBI. The Central Intelligence Agency exists, according to law, to collect and analyze information about foreign governments, individuals, and businesses that have dealings with, or are privy to dealings with, the United States. Through a special department, the CIA is able to bundle covert operations, “black-ops,” and pressure through foreign policy initiatives per mandate through its Special Activities Department. After 2004, however, even these duties markedly changed with the CIA being tasked as the “point man” or hub of the wheel. Additional authority was also transferred to the CIA to help in the training and coordination of multiple intelligence agencies. This was an important step since most reports indicate that one of the more serious problems with the pre-9/11 world was that intelligence agencies rarely talked, much less shared valuable information. The CIA also manages the daily Presidential State of the World briefing. [5]

The complexity of new technological advances, combined with the need for the United States as a dominant players in the antics of the global resulted in President Harry Truman creating the National Security Agency (NSA) in November 1942. It is responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, which involves cryptanalysis. It is also responsible for protecting U.S. government communications and information systems from similar agencies elsewhere, which involves cryptography. As of 2008, NSA has been directed to help monitor U.S. federal agency computer networks to protect them against attacks. [6]

Domestically, the Federal Bureau of Education (FBI) holds power over domestic terrorism and espionage, and to protect and enforce the U.S. Criminal Code. The FBI was formed in 1908, growing out of the need for an agency that had the power to enforce laws between State boundaries and/or to regulate interstate commerce. As technology improved, so did crime, and the task of the FBI grew to include prostitution, bootlegging, bank robbery and even national security from the 1940s on. Most famous was the almost five decade leadership of controversial J. Edgar Hoover as the FBI’s directory from 1924 to 1972. Currently, the FBI operates with an official budget of approximately $7 billion, and is also responsible for counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, cybercrime, and informational technology security. [7]

Tumultuous issues came to a head in the mid-1970s, around the time of Watergate. Congress no longer trusted the President, and sought greater control over the Executive Branch. Indeed, when issues of past CIA actions were uncovered; assassination attempts and illegal domestic spying, Congress now had the ammunition to increase their own oversight measures against U.S. Intelligence gathering organizations. Subsequently, issues of departmental jealousy, lack of information sharing, and outright territorialism were uncovered between the three intelligence agencies. [8]

Over the next few decades, numerous issues were investigated focusing on the CIA, FBI, and even NSA. Congress commissioned reports citing various illegal activities; the Senate began to demand more oversight control. This resulted in the events originating from the Iran-Contra affair (smuggling arms scandal) causing a new set of rules regarding intelligence collection, the 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act. This Act defined the specific responsibilities in oversight and transparency when engaging in covert operations abroad. The Act further increasing a chain of command that exists on several levels, designed to not only have the authorization authority for most missions, but to act as a way to ensure that the House and Senate Intelligence committees are regularly updated, briefed, and kept informed of national security issues. Effectively, the Congressional Hearings and intense media scrutiny changed forever the public’s perception of the intelligence community, the tolerance level acceptable to Congress, and the manner in which the agencies could operate. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, too, there was no longer a single enemy in communism, but a worldwide powder keg of splinter groups and terror groups that were much more difficult to manage than the defined lines of the Cold War decades. [9]

September 11th and Aftermath – The basic mission of law enforcement and foreign/defense policy in the United States has dramatically changed since the events of 9/11 and the subsequent “War on Terrorism.” Since 9/11, policies across the United States and abroad have changed from being reactive to being intensely proactive. There, are, however, several challenges faced by law enforcement and the legal issues of defense and foreign policy regarding this new approach to terrorism,

Even with new legislation, the face of terrorism is not like finding a serial killer or bank robber; profiles are intensely difficult to find; men, women, and teens can be part of a group; terrorists can be ingrained in many aspects of society; and many groups and/or agencies can be used as terrorist fronts while seemingly being magnanimous and legal. The stakes are also a great deal higher post 9/11 – biological warfare, nuclear devices, and mass murder are higher consequences than faced in the U.S. in recent times. Additionally, human resources for law enforcement are often taxed, and the expertise often needed (Arabic, Islamic studies, etc.) have not been focused upon historically, since the Cold War focused on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Terrorists, like criminals, also have access to more technology than ever before, and more ways to hide their activities. Terrorists do not inhabit a single country or area, and are thus much harder to find and combat. Foreign policy must be cautious regarding an over exuberance yet must also be diligent when credible threats are uncovered. [10]

One of the major challenges in both the domestic and international arena is information gathering, analysis and dissemination. The lack of information sharing was, according to many, one of the root causes of the inefficiency surrounding the 9/11 attacks. There are numerous intelligence agencies in the United States, some focused on internal issues, some on foreign issues, some on domestic violence, others on domestic fraud, etc. Without the sharing of communication, it is often difficult to track issues that emerge from international means into domestic cells. The complexity and vastness of the war on terrorism has broken with much of America’s foreign policy, at least since World War II. Instead of leading the world in the concept of peace, and having only a few real enemies (the Cold War effect of America versus communism), the war is not less overt, and more global. It is an undefined war, and an undefined battleground, which is quite a swing from even the Vietnam conflict. Because the war on terror perceives enemies everywhere, and imminent attack looming, the undeclared “war” means the country is indeed, always at war. Instead of focusing on budgetary woes that will prop up the economy, we must also focus on defending our citizens at home, and abroad, another significant switch. And, to make it even more complex, nations with whom we have friendly relations are often places in which terrorists hide; making the idea of a single foreign policy dedicated towards a country or region almost impossible. Finally, the complexity of this nightmare is increased since there is really no face of the enemy – the enemy could be a multitude of nationalities, creeds, ages, and in every part of the globe or domestically. Even newly elected President Obama has an apocalyptic vision of the next attack on Americans. “The danger of terrorism was, he declared, ‘no less grave’ that that posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.” [11]

As the world become more and more complex, as technology actually makes the geographic differences in the world relatively insignificant, and as Third World countries acquire both the expertise and the ability to gain mastery over weapons of mass destruction, research must continue into ways to ensure greater internal safety and security without losing the basic tenants of the Constitution. Public safety is now under the rubric of defense policy, and can be improved by such things as better building materials and techniques to withstand explosives (different window materials, stronger building supports); technologies to enhance mass-transit security; advanced computer algorithms to search for voice patterns in calls over the cellular airwaves or internet (when legal), and more technology used to enhance human intelligence on the ground. Systems must be more integrated and appropriate for use in the modern world, and a different set of recruitment and standards enacted to ensure continued professionalism within the law enforcement and intelligence fields.

The Future of U.S. Intelligence – With the events surrounding 9/11 and the resulting chaos, miscommunication, and actual vulnerability of certain interagency communications, the U.S. Government drafted and enacted The Patriot Act into law. According to some, the act goes too far in allowing the government tools to increase its electronic surveillance, reduce individual liberties, and gather a wider swath of data than anytime previous. Using the need to track down and apprehend potential “terrorists,” the government has unprecedented power to listen in, record, and use in a Court of Law any potentially dangerous things. This, of course, sounds quite a lot like blanket. [12]

There is no question that the role of the CIA, FBI, and NSA must evolve. Their participation in a coordinated effort regarding terrorism, drug-trafficking, electronic cybercrime, and the continued efforts of other nations and groups to damage the United States is vital for the nation’s security. While this may be true, in one of the more controversial, and still debated, incidents, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, maintains that the CIA continuously misled Congress about torture, specifically waterboarding. Similarly, a number of Senators and Congressional Representatives state that CIA Director Leon Panetta admitted that since 2001, the CIA has had no choice but to slightly alter the truth when talking with Congress in order not to let on to potential enemies the true nature of their operations. [13]

The ultimate purpose of intelligence is to enhance and protect national security. This must remain a priority that, despite a widespread lack of confidence in the agencies, is essential to protect the nation from rogue states and terrorists, the proliferation of unconventional weapons, and the disposition of hostile forces. Only through the continued, and dedicated, efforts of intelligence officers and the increasing upgrades in technology, can this mission be accomplished. Granted, oversight is necessary and there have been issues of overzealousness and even fraud. However, as a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report indicates, “reform is necessary, but should not create more problems than it solves and, in doing so, weaken a critical tool of U.S. national security.” [14]