Explore the Journey of the Intelligence Community: Our History, Agencies, and Collective Mission

Explore the Journey of the Intelligence Community: Our History, Agencies, and Collective Mission


By Melanee “Kate” Thomas,

ODNI Office of Strategic Communications


Behind the scenes, safeguarding national security, works a team with an extensive history of operating in secrecy and known for their unwavering dedication to protecting the nation and its people—the United States Intelligence Community (I.C.).


Comprising 18 elements, the I.C. is an intricate network of agencies and organizations with an overarching collective mission to advance U.S. national security. From the first covert operations during the Revolutionary War, including the Culper Ring, to the current vast network of satellites, cyber experts, and cutting-edge scientific endeavors, the work of the I.C. has been crucial to domestic and global security throughout American history.


As the U.S. faced new and ever-evolving challenges, the need for an entity to collect intelligence and offer insights vital to national security expanded, evolving into the complex network of integrated entities it is today


Throughout its history, the I.C. has adapted to the realities of the time and pioneered groundbreaking solutions that enable the U.S. president, policymakers, and the military to rely on critical intelligence that informs their decision-making, foresight, and situational awareness in national security matters.


In this article, we will explore the individual mission and contributions of each member of the I.C., gaining insights into how they strive to stay a step ahead of the nation’s evolving security needs.



Naval Intelligence Enterprise (NIE)

The I.C.’s oldest member, the Naval Intelligence Enterprise (NIE), formally recognized as the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), can trace its origins back to the revolutionary era.


Established in 1882, NIE is the foremost authority on maritime intelligence, the oldest serving organization in the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the overarching umbrella organization that oversees naval intelligence worldwide under the direction of the Director of Naval Intelligence.


ONI utilizes its strategic presence at sea and ashore to conduct a comprehensive analysis of adversary naval forces and weaponry and provide invaluable insights for the U.S. Navy to safeguard America’s security in the maritime domain.


Did you know the Office of Naval Intelligence maintains the National Acoustic Intelligence Laboratory that characterizes the acoustic signatures of foreign naval systems?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.oni.navy.mil/



Naval Intelligence Enterprise (NIE)

Army Intelligence - Established in 1885, the U.S. Army is home to the nation’s largest group of intelligence professionals, supporting different intelligence agencies, including the Army’s Service Intelligence Center. Army Intelligence ensures that intelligence and security are seamlessly connected to protect the global intelligence enterprise.


Did you know that Army Intelligence has an active presence in more than 180 locations across more than 45 countries to provide critical intelligence to warfighters and senior decision-makers?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.dami.army.pentagon.mil



Federal Bureau of Investigation

Federal Bureau of Investigation - Established in 1908


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) uses intelligence to drive decision-making in its mission to protect the American people. The Bureau’s Intelligence Branch (I.B.) supports intelligence operations across field offices and headquarters divisions by managing intelligence strategies, resources, policies, and programs. The I.B. also engages with FBI partners in intelligence, law enforcement, private sector, and academic communities.


Did you know the #FBI often shares intelligence with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies? Its Office of Partner Engagement works with the law enforcement community to build strategic partnerships, enhance capabilities, and support critical information sharing.


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.fbi.gov/about/leadership-and-structure/intelligence-branch



Coast Guard Intelligence

Coast Guard Intelligence - Established in 1915


The security of America’s seas, ports, and waterways is crucial to U.S. national security. For more than 200 years, Coast Guardsmen and women have relied on intelligence to get the job done. U.S. Coast Guard intelligence is the nation’s eyes and ears on the coasts, warning of terror attacks, natural disasters, and other maritime challenges.


Did you know Coast Guard intelligence is pushing the boundaries of processing data at speed and scale by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Intelligence-CG-2/



Marine Corps Intelligence

Marine Corps Intelligence - Established in 1939


The U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enterprise (MCISRE) is essential to the national security mission, specializing in providing tactical and operational intelligence for battlefield support.


Their USMC’s new restructuring plan, Force Design 2030, aims to transform the Marine Corps into a more agile, efficient, and technologically advanced force ready to tackle tomorrow’s evolving threats.


Did you know that using small boats and unmanned aerial systems, maritime radars, and ground sensors enables Marines to collect valuable intelligence from the most forward edges of the battlespace?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.intelligence.marines.mil/



In 1942, the U.S. established the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and tasked it with foreign intelligence and specialized operations.


As World War II concluded, the OSS dissolved, giving rise to the emergence of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) as a direct descendant and the initial civilian component within the I.C. This era also witnessed the formation of the CIA, intended to fill the post-war void left by the OSS. And as the military restructured, the Air Force Intelligence soon followed


Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research - Established in 1945


As a bureau in the U.S. Department of State and a member of the Intelligence Community, the INR is the only U.S. intelligence organization whose primary responsibility is to provide intelligence that informs diplomacy and supports U.S. diplomats.


Did you know the INR is the oldest civilian intelligence element in the U.S. government?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.state.gov/.../bureau-of-intelligence-and.../



Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - Established in 1947


The CIA collects human intelligence, produces objective all-source analysis, and conducts covert action as directed by the president to advance U.S. national security interests and stop threats before they materialize.


Did you know the CIA is also home to the World Factbook?


This comprehensive resource provides basic intelligence on the history, people, government, economy, energy, geography, environment, communications, transportation, military, terrorism, and transnational issues for 266 world entities at the click of a mouse!


Access the World Factbook here: https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.cia.gov/



Air Force Intelligence

Air Force Intelligence - Established in 1948


The United States Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enterprise (USAF ISR) is America’s leading provider of finished intelligence derived from airborne, space, and cyberspace sensors.


Did you know that Sixteenth Air Force, the branch’s premier information warfare command, provides cutting-edge capabilities to the nation’s warfighting commands with signals intelligence, geospatial intelligence, measurement and signature intelligence, and all-source analysis and targeting intelligence products?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.16af.af.mil/



During the 1950s and 1960s, the Cold War prompted an expansion in both scale and responsibilities for U.S. intelligence agencies. Originating as a unit to decrypt coded communications during World War II, the National Security Agency (NSA) was formally established in 1952 to address these challenges. As the Cold War progressed, U.S. interest in foreign communications escalated as the demand for communications decryption grew


Approximately a decade later, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) emerged in response to the necessity of integrating military intelligence.


Soon after, the U.S. founded the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) amid ongoing transformations within the I.C. and military. NRO manages the existing USAF reconnaissance satellite program and facilitates coordination between the Air Force and CIA for reconnaissance missions.


National Security Agency

National Security Agency - Established in 1952


The NSA plays a crucial role in national security by generating foreign intelligence insight and applying cybersecurity expertise to deliver foreign signals intelligence to policymakers and military forces, ensuring our country’s defense, saving lives, and advancing U.S. interests globally.


Did you know that through its Cybersecurity Collaboration Center, the NSA partners with allies, private industry, academia, and researchers to strengthen awareness of and advance the state of cybersecurity?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.nsa.gov/



Defense Intelligence Agency

Defense Intelligence Agency - Established in 1961


For over 60 years, the DIA has fulfilled a unique role at the Department of Defense (DoD) and the IC intersection, providing all-source military intelligence to prevent and decisively win wars. With more than 16,000 officers across the globe, the DIA fills in the gap between the DoD and the I.C. to provide foreign intelligence to combat and non-combat military missions.


Did you know the DIA produces unclassified threat reports and produces a podcast?


From Top Gun to top intelligence officials, learn more about DIA’s global impact by listening to the “DIA Connections” podcast: https://www.dia.mil/News-Features/Podcasts/

Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.dia.mil/



National Reconnaissance Office

National Reconnaissance Office - Established in 1961


The NRO plays a vital role in safeguarding U.S. national security interests by developing, acquiring, launching, and operating the nation’s spy satellites.


As a member of the I.C. and DoD, NRO is at the forefront of producing space-based global situational awareness for key decision-makers, including the U.S. president, Congress, national intelligence director, defense secretary, and the warfighter


Did you know that for half of NRO’s existence, even the agency’s name was classified?

Until 1992, the NRO operated as a highly classified agency within the DoD.

Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.nro.gov/



During the 1970s, the U.S. established the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to address the escalating issues around illegal drugs nationwide. In parallel and responding to the late 1970s energy crisis, the U.S. also established the Department of Energy (DOE).


Drug Enforcement Administration Intelligence

Drug Enforcement Administration Intelligence - Established in 1973


The DEA and the Intelligence Community partner to identify and disrupt transnational criminal organizations that threaten U.S. public health and national security.


Through collecting, analyzing, and disseminating drug-related intelligence, the DEA supports efforts to lessen the impact of drugs in the U.S. as their intelligence officers are adept at analyzing information, conducting organization and pattern analysis, and partnering with other I.C. components to accomplish their mission.


Did you know the DEA has the most extensive U.S. law enforcement presence abroad?


DEA has 93 foreign offices in 69 countries and over 33 years of operational experience in the international arena.

Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.dea.gov/law-enforcement/intelligence



The Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence

The Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence - Established in 1977


From its vast scientific research and intellectual property related to weapons, climate change, sensors, and advanced computation, the DOE leverages its unmatched scientific and technological expertise to protect and advance vital national security information and capabilities.


DOE’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence provides the U.S. government with critical insights to respond to foreign intelligence, terrorist, and cyber threats as it tackles our time’s vital scientific and technological challenges.

Did you know the DOE has 17 state-of-the-art national labs that execute long-term government scientific and technological missions and develop unique scientific capabilities?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.energy.gov/intelligence/office-intelligence-and-counterintelligence



With the demand for enhanced integration growing, the U.S. established the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in 1996 to combine imagery and mapping components from the DoD and the I.C.


National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency - Established in 1996


The NGA is the I.C.’s go-to expert on everything about the Earth. As the nation’s primary source of geospatial intelligence, NGA’s mission covers everything from disaster relief to warfighting efforts.


Did you know the NGA uses cutting-edge technology to map the Earth from seabed to space?


NGA describes, assesses, and maps everything from the Moon’s craters to the ocean floor to the depths of the Earth’s core.


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.nga.mil



The tragic events of 9/11 in 2001 prompted a thorough reevaluation of the I.C.’s structure, leading to significant internal and external reforms primarily focusing on enhancing communication among intelligence entities.


In late 2002, Congress enacted the Homeland Security Act, consolidating 22 security organizations and establishing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Concurrently, the U.S. established the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to assume leadership over the then 14 I.C. members, focusing on integrating all intelligence efforts and preventing vital intelligence from being overlooked.


During this period, the U.S. also established the Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. While the utilization of intelligence predated its formal inception, this office gained independent status due to the heightened need for intelligence, particularly in tracking and disrupting the financial flows of terrorists.


Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis

Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis - Established in 2003


The U.S. established the DHS in the aftermath of 9/11 to integrate all U.S. security organizations. From terrorism to borders to cyber, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) serves as a bridge that connects vital information and equips DHS and all partners with intelligence that keeps the homeland safe, secure, and resilient.


Did you know DHS I&A is the only member of the I.C. charged by law to deliver intelligence to state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.dhs.gov/office-intelligence-and-analysis



U.S. Treasury Office of Intelligence and Analysis

U.S. Treasury Office of Intelligence and Analysis - Established in 2004


The U.S. Department of the Treasury (DOT) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA) is the only intelligence element embedded in a nation’s treasury department or finance ministry worldwide! OIA delivers expert intelligence analysis to support the U.S. president, secretary of the treasury, private sector, and its allies.


Did you know OIA is more than analysis?


In addition to impacting policy, the OIA manages Treasury’s security, counterintelligence mission, and secure communications


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://home.treasury.gov/.../terrorism-and-financial.../oia



Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Office of the Director of National Intelligence - Established in 2005


ODNI leads intelligence integration across all 18 elements of the Intelligence Community by providing strategic insights, driving capabilities, and investing in the future through academic outreach and advanced research programs.


As part of its mission, ODNI oversees the U.S. Intelligence Community, advises the U.S. president on national security intelligence matters, and manages the National Intelligence Program.


Did you know ODNI houses five mission centers that cover a wide range of areas, from cyber security to biological warfare?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.odni.gov/



Last but certainly not least, the most recent addition to the I.C. since 2019 is the U.S. Space Force (USSF), recognizing that space has emerged as a vital frontier crucial to U.S. security and ability to outpace adversaries in the ever-evolving innovation landscape.


U.S. Space Force Intelligence

U.S. Space Force Intelligence - Established in 2019


The USSF organizes, trains, and equips its Guardians to conduct global space operations while offering decision-makers essential information to achieve national objectives.


Guardians employ ground-based and space-based systems to monitor ballistic missile launches worldwide and provide vital information on the location of satellites, space debris, and other potential space threats through their global network of space surveillance sensors.


Through the USSF, the U.S. maintains its space superiority and crucial capability to protect U.S. space assets from hostile attacks


Did you know that the USSF Pituffik Space Base in Greenland is the most northern U.S. military installation?


Learn more about this I.C. member: https://www.spaceforce.mil




At its core, the I.C. story is not just a tale of organizational evolution; it is a testament to the dedication of countless individuals operating behind the scenes, including the tireless analysts who decipher cryptic messages and the technologists who harness innovation for insights—all are integral threads in this complex puzzle.