Today’s topic is the mind-bending subject of the organizational structure of the US Intelligence Community.
I can hear you now. BOR-ing.
Well, maybe not. As we said in one of our first posts, we set out to write Weapons of Mass Deception as authentic fiction. But the cold hard truth is that a lot of what happens in intel is not sexy, James Bond-type spy stuff, it’s nose-to-the-grindstone, connect-the-dots data management.
Enough about me, let’s let JR make it sparkle:
When people hear the word “intelligence,” they often conjure up an image of a CIA agent breaking into some ultra-secure facility in a foreign nation, photographing top secret documents with a tiny camera, and then sneaking out again to head off to play baccarat. Well, forget Hollywood, intelligence is nothing like that.
In the real world, intelligence is a boring, arduous labor of love to get to what we refer to in the business as “proximate reality.” The raw material of our work is information in any form: communications, pictures, satellites, field agent reports, even local newspapers, anything that might be useful. But information is just a mess of useless data points until an analyst has assessed it. That’s really what intelligence is: data (hopefully more fact than opinion) processed into an assessment or, “finished intelligence.”
That assessment—the analyst’s version of proximate reality—goes to policy makers who use it to make (hopefully) good decisions. Keep in mind, even the best intel is a guess, and history is replete with events where intelligence was just plain wrong.
Our story is full of all kinds of intelligence operations, and they are central to our plot. Some are very accurately portrayed. Others, well, we decided to pull a page from Hollywood to spice it up. We write fiction, remember?
Still, having a layman’s knowledge of how the US Intelligence Community is organized is a good idea. Lots of people hear “intelligence” and think CIA. Big misconception. The CIA, especially the clandestine services part, is just one entity within a much larger whole. And it takes much more than case officers (the people who operate inside that clandestine part of CIA) to drive the entire community forward each day.
Why Even Have An Intelligence Community?
The U.S. Intelligence Community exists to support the needs of the President of the United States. The majority of their funding comes from Congressionally-appropriated Title 50 funds, which refers to National Security and strategic-level intelligence operations. Other funding also exists to support intelligence, from the Title 10, or “man, train, and equip” functions for the Department of Defense. Funding from this program is used to support U.S. military forces deployed around the world.
Mark Lowenthal, a noted authority on the US intelligence community, lays out the reasons for its existence:
- Avoid strategic surprise
- Provide long-term expertise
- Support the policy process
- Maintain secrecy of information, needs, and intelligence methods
Then 9-11 Happened
The terrorist attacks on America on September 11th, 2001 were a watershed moment for the U.S. Intelligence Community. Not since Pearl Harbor had the U.S. been caught so totally unprepared for such a threat.
In December of 2004, as part of the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, or IRTPA. That act initiated the most far-reaching changes to the U.S. Intelligence Community since it was founded in 1947 with the National Security Act.
The IRTPA established the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), supplanting the dual role the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency had held since 1947 as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Director of Central Intelligence (i.e. all the other intelligence functions). The intelligence “community” as we know it today was formalized into 17 organizations, as shown in this chart:
DNI is responsible for sequencing the efforts of the broader community. Unlike his predecessor, DNI does not have direct authority over the agencies on the chart. That said, he has something better—money. In Washington DC, the real power is the power of the budget, and DNI has that lever.
Organized beneath the DNI are “program managers” for specific intelligence disciplines.
- Central Intelligence Agency – in charge of all clandestine human intelligence (HUMINT)
- National Security Agency (NSA) – responsible for all signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations and analysis
- National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) – responsible for all geospatial intelligence (imagery analysis, mostly)
- Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – responsible for all-source intelligence analysis in support of the military, as well as measurements and signature intelligence (MASINT)
- FBI’s National Security Branch – responsible for all domestic counterintelligence and counterterrorism efforts.
- National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – these guys are a little nebulous. They do not actually do “intelligence operations,” but they collect information from space-based assets. High tech, science-y stuff.
Beneath the Program Managers, which are really entire agencies, are the Departmental Programs. An easy way to understand this group is to picture an intelligence capability embedded inside an existing department, such as State, Energy, Treasury, or Homeland Security. Side note: the Drug Enforcement Agency is part of the Department of Justice.
Finally, all the military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, even Coast Guard) have intelligence capabilities to serve their own specific operational needs.
My Career as an Intel Officer
During my career, I had three assignments that directly supported the “needs of the navy,” to wit, I had two afloat assignments (one aboard an aircraft carrier and another on a large amphibious assault ship), as well as one shore tour at the Pentagon. I also had multiple “joint” duty assignments where I worked for the Department of Defense as part of a multi-service effort. Those assignments included a tour at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, and two tours with the Defense Intelligence Agency (one as a clandestine services case officer, and one as U.S. Naval Attaché in Helsinki, Finland).
My career let me hop-scotch around the org chart above as well as meet a lot of different intel community types that can go back into our story.
Back to Weapons of Mass Deception
While we could write an entire book about the U.S. Intelligence Community, we decided to write a novel instead.
The premise of WMD is the well-publicized failure of intelligence regarding the existence of WMDs in Iraq. But we wanted to go deeper into the intel community than just a WMD headline.
One of our characters is Don Riley, a CIA analyst on loan to the National Counterproliferation Center, or NCPC, which happens to be one of the few organizations the Director of National Intelligence has personal responsibility to run. Don just cannot believe that Iraq did not have WMDs, and will not let it go. Don is not like Jack Ryan of Tom Clancy fame, running around shooting up the bad guys. Instead, Don is an overweight, borderline diabetic with a great mind and no girlfriend to distract him from thinking about rogue nuclear weapons.
There you have it: the US Intelligence Community basics in one easy lesson. Class dismissed.
And we promise, no org charts in the novel!
David Bruns is the creator of the sci-fi series The Dream Guild Chronicles, and one half of the Two Navy Guys and a Novel blog series about co-writing the military thriller, Weapons of Mass Deception. Check out his website for a free sample of his work.