Commerce Department Intelligence and Security Responsibilities, United States

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Commerce Department Intelligence and Security Responsibilities, United States


In addition to promoting trade and industry, the United States Department of Commerce (DOC), through it various bureaus, conducts the census, maintains standards of weights and measures, and monitors the oceans and atmosphere. The department has a number of intelligence and security functions, ranging from protecting computers against hackers to overseeing exports of suspicious transfers to hostile nations.

Founded in 1903 as the Department of Commerce and Labor, the Department of Commerce emerged in its present form after the Department of Labor separated from it in 1913. The modern Commerce Department includes, among other offices, the bureaus described briefly below.

The Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) is responsible for compiling, analyzing, and producing reports based on economic and demographic data. Similar in mission is the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), which is dedicated to collecting statistical information with the aim of producing an accurate picture of the U.S. economy. Closely related to ESA and BEA is one of the most well known sections of Commerce, the Bureau of the Census. In addition to the decennial (once every decade) census, the Census Bureau conducts demographic and economic censuses, and produces more than 200 annual surveys, many for other government agencies.

At the center of the traditional Commerce Department mission are three bureaus. The International Trade Association (ITA) promotes U.S. exports of manufactured goods, nonagricultural commodities, and services. Assisting minorities and the economically disadvantaged are the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) and the Economic Development Administration (EDA). The first of these promotes minority-owned business, while the EDA helps economically distressed communities by providing grants, assisting in job retention, and stimulating industrial and commercial growth within these communities.

Science, technology, and national security. Commerce bureaus with a special scientific focus include the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, covered elsewhere) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is concerned with environmental assessment and prediction, protection of public safety, weather forecasting, and the protection of marine resources.

In the area of technology are three other bureaus: the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), and the Technology Administration (TA). NTIA acts as the principal advisor to the president on matters of telecommunications policy with regard to economic and technological advancement, as well as regulation. It is one of several government agencies concerned with the operation of the Internet. Like the Census Bureau, PTO is another office of the Commerce Department whose functions are well known; not only does it serve as a registry for new inventions and processes, it acts to protect this information, and to promote innovation. As for TA, it is concerned with promoting the economic competitiveness of U.S. technology companies.

The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is concerned with issues of national security, including efforts to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the same timeand in a function more commonly associated with the Commerce Department in the popular imaginationBIS also seeks to further the growth of U.S. exports.

Other intelligence and security matters. Most of the abovenamed bureaus fall under one of a half-dozen Commerce undersecretaries. In addition, other offices are directed by officials, among them the General Counsel, who report directly to the Secretary of Commerce. Furthermore, a presidential directive in 1998 placed the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO; see entry) under the Commerce Secretary's direction without establishing an obvious chain of command.

Among the Commerce offices involved in intelligence functions are the Office of Executive Support (OES, formerly the Office of Intelligence Liaison), which reports to the General Counsel; the Office of Export Enforcement (OEE), which reports to the undersecretary for international trade; and the Office of Foreign Accountability (OFA), whose leadership comes from the assistant secretary for export administration.

OES, as its old name (changed in 1996) made clearer, serves as a liaison between the Commerce Secretary and the intelligence community, especially where technology transfer issues are concerned. OEE oversees the export of sensitive technology, and continually monitors trade data with an eye toward national security. As for OFA, during the Cold War, its task was to promote advantages for U.S. companies competing against Soviet and Chinese exports. Since the early 1990s, however, it has been more concerned with the proliferation of nuclear and ballistic missile technology, as well as with chemical and biological weapons.

Under the administration of President William J. Clinton, the Commerce Department became an area of security concern. These issues first emerged when Ron Brown, Clinton's first Secretary of Commerce, was reported to be packing overseas trade missions with high-volume donors to the Democratic Party. Later, Clinton replaced Brown (who died in a 1996 plane crash) with William Daley, but more problems emerged with revelations that Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade Missions John Huang had obtained a high-level security clearance while maintaining close contact with the Chinese government. In February 1998, Daley announced plans to tighten security and limit access to classified information within the department.



Bowers, Helen. From Lighthouses to Laserbeams: A History of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, 1995.


White, Ben. "Commerce Secretary Unveils New Security Policy." Washington Post (February 11, 1998): A19.


Department of Commerce. <> (January 28, 2003).


Clinton Administration (19931997), United States National Security Policy
Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO), United States
NIST (United States National Institute of Standards and Technology)
Port Security
Satellite Technology Exports to the People's Republic of China (PRC)

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Commerce Department Intelligence and Security Responsibilities, United States

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