Intelligence, Military and Strategic

views updated


INTELLIGENCE, MILITARY AND STRATEGIC. Military and strategic intelligence includes the collecting, processing, analyzing, evaluating, integrating, and interpreting openly or covertly acquired information about foreign countries and areas, regions of actual or potential military operations, and hostile or potentially hostile forces. Military intelligence has to be related to and significant to military operations and planning; strategic intelligence is used in formulating policy on national and international levels. The intelligence community in the United States consists of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); the National Security Agency (NSA); the Defense Intelligence Agency; the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the National Reconnaissance Office; the intelligence agencies of the army, navy, and air force; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).The Department of the Treasury and the Department of Energy have limited intelligence capabilities and missions as well. Almost exclusive reliance on data collected by human sources (HUMINT) was superseded in importance in the last decades of the twentieth century by signals intelligence (SIGINT), communications intelligence (COMINT), electronics intelligence (ELINT), telemetry intelligence (TELINT), and photography (PHOTINT).

Although intelligence was used in all military conflicts in which the United States was engaged as early as the Revolutionary War, the first sustained intelligence organizations were the Office of Naval Intelligence, created in 1882, and the Military Information Division (MID), established by the U.S. Army in 1885.In 1888, service attachés were appointed to U.S. missions abroad to collect information on foreign armed forces. Nevertheless, during World War I, American forces had to rely mostly on military intelligence supplied by the British and the French.

The advent of communications technology such as the telegraph in the late 1830s, the telephone in the 1870s, and the radio in the 1920s shifted intelligence collection to COMINT and to code-breaking. A Cipher Bureau was created within MID in 1917 that became the nucleus of the American Black Chamber, or MI-8, which was created in 1918 and headed by Herbert O. Yardley. It worked for the army and state departments to break the diplomatic codes of several nations. During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) coordinated most of the intelligence work; integration with data compiled by other services through the Joint Intelligence Committee, however, was not satisfactory. The National Security Act of 1947 created a centralized structure with the establishment of the National Security Council (NSC) and the CIA. The NSA is responsible mostly for COMINT, cryptology, and decoding. The work of the FBI, responsible for internal security, bears on military and strategic intelligence particularly in its dealings with foreign intelligence services, and dissident or terrorist movements operating within the United States.

Since World War I, and increasingly after World War II, technology has played a significant role in collecting data. SIGINT helped establish troop movements and naval operations during World War II. Relying on wireless communications, it did not, however, detect Japanese forces (who kept strict radio silence) advancing on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

In the 1960s, PHOTINT collected by overflights of U-2 spy planes, led to the detection of military activities and missile deployment in and by the Soviet Union and other nations, and confirmed the construction of missile launching sites on Cuba. Satellites later become a major source of PHOTINT, fulfilling the same functions better without endangering pilots or invading other nations' air space. With the advent of the Internet and mobile telephony, COMINT has become an increasingly important source for intelligence.

The volume of data to be handled by intelligence services increased enormously since the 1960s, threatening to overwhelm analysis. Raw intelligence, however acquired, must be collated, scrutinized, and processed; technically procured data may require translation, decryption, interpretation, and computer analysis. The National Intelligence Estimate is the highest form of finished national intelligence. It usually reflects the consensus of the intelligence community and often attempts to predict a potential adversary's course.

During most of the Cold War, intelligence focused on the Soviet Union. Since the 1990s it has shifted to international arms and drug trafficking, to transnational crime and concentrated on so-called "rogue state" (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea among them).After the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, international terrorism has received increased attention by the intelligence community.

Failures and Oversight

Intelligence estimates, however, have hardly been fool-proof. In 1962, the American intelligence community failed to predict the movement of Soviet missiles into Cuba. The CIA's large-scale involvement in Vietnam resulted in a major dispute in 1967 between the army command in Vietnam and CIA analysts about the number of enemy troops. Coupled with the CIA's pessimism about long-term prospects for military success, it undermined the army's claim to be winning the war. CIA appraisals did not alert government officials to the fall of the shah of Iran in 1979 or to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.In the 1980s, CIA Director William Casey was suspected of slanting CIA estimates for political reasons, especially with regard to the Soviet Union and Nicaragua. Given Casey's belief and that of President Ronald Reagan that the Soviet Union was bent on subjugating the world, it is not surprising that the CIA or the intelligence community rarely argued that Soviet capabilities were much lower than projected.

Oversight of U.S. intelligence began with the establishment of a permanent Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976 and the creation the following year of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. These committees were established following the investigations of previous congressional committees into intelligence community abuses including domestic spying and illegal and unethical programs, such as kidnappings and assassinations of foreign leaders. Both committees reviewed budgets, programs, and covert activities. The Iran-Contra investigations of 1986 and 1987, which revealed an elaborate Reagan administration plan to sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon and the diversion of funds from these transactions to support the Contras in Nicaragua, shattered whatever progress the intelligence community had made toward regaining the trust of Congress. The Reagan administration promised a new era of cooperation with Congress, and the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton attempted to maintain cooperative relations. The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s also led to questions in Congress about the enormous cost of the U.S. intelligence effort. (Criticism that increased after revelations that optimal cooperation between the CIA and FBI might have prevented the attacks of 11 September 2001.)

Persian Gulf War

The administration of George H. W. Bush enjoyed over-whelming congressional support for the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and U.S. intelligence activities during that conflict. The Gulf War was the first major military conflict following the end of the Cold War, and U.S. intelligence, both strategic and tactical, played an important role. The primary focus of intelligence operations, particularly during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, was to provide the theater and component commanders with an accurate picture of Iraqi capabilities and intentions. Extensive use was made of both strategic and tactical intelligence, with U.S. commanders having access to a vast array of impressive intelligence capabilities. These officers, nevertheless, were often frustrated and dissatisfied with the intelligence support they received. Operation Desert Storm tended to blur the distinction between tactical and strategic intelligence, and commanders often found the intelligence furnished to them too broad. Frequently, tactical units were sent finished estimates rather than detailed, tailored intelligence needed to plan operations. The overwhelming military victory against Iraq during Operation Desert Storm was attributable, nevertheless, in no small part to accurate intelligence provided both to national policymakers and command theater-level decision makers. The same can be said about the Kosovo Conflict in 1999, where American intelligence provided the vast majority of military information for the operations of NATO forces.

Because of the failure of the intelligence services to predict and prevent the attacks of 11 September 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush, on 6 June 2002, proposed a permanent cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.


Andrew, Christopher M. For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.

Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri. Cloak and Dollar: A History of American Secret Intelligence. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002.

May, Ernest R., ed. Knowing One's Enemies: Intelligence Assessment before the Two World Wars. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Watson, Bruce W., Susan M. Watson, and Gerald W. Hopple, eds. United States Intelligence: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1990.



About this article

Intelligence, Military and Strategic

Updated About content Print Article


Intelligence, Military and Strategic