What is Intelligence? And how to respond intelligently if asked

  • Published
  • By Col. James LeFavor
  • 102nd Intelligence Group commander
What does it mean to be an "Intelligence Wing," anyway? Can any/every Wing member define "Intelligence" in this context? It was fairly straightforward as a Fighter Wing...we flew fighters in an Air Superiority role in order to shoot down enemy aircraft. Nice and clear - it was a distinct mission with concrete objectives. Intelligence, however, is very much different in that even the simple task of asking for a definition becomes challenging.  Ask 10 102nd members to define "intelligence" and you will get 11 different answers. One response that I received was, "...it's like information...and computers and stuff..." Well it goes beyond just information gathering and reporting. If that were the case, one could argue that journalism is intelligence, and we know that's not true. The Intelligence Community, as a whole, even has difficulty agreeing upon a suitable definition. A simple Google search reveals a multitude of definitions. I came across one I like that is very succinct, yet covers almost all aspects: "Intelligence is secret, state activity to understand or influence foreign entities" (Dr. Michael Warner, CIA History Staff). Not a bad one-liner to keep in your hip pocket if ever asked. 

As an Intelligence Wing, we should all have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the larger discipline we call intelligence. The reason I like the above definition is that: a) it can be remembered, and b) it does a good job of rolling-up most of the intel activities from Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), to foreign military order of battle, to espionage, to counter-intelligence, to counter-drug...the whole spectrum. As we begin our mission here to process, exploit, and disseminate intelligence, it behooves us to step back and view where we are in the big picture of national security and the national intelligence strategy. 

The National Security Act of 1947 did more than just establish the Department of Defense and the Department of the Air Force. The Act defined the basic charter of America's intelligence services. The National Security Council (NSC) was established as the executive branch's principal forum for national security matters. Additionally, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was transformed into what we know as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA Director (DCIA) was given the additional responsibility of leading the entire intelligence community (such as it existed at the time) via his role as the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). The mission and role of the intelligence community grew steadily during the Cold War and the DCI continued the overall responsibility for the entire community, as well as for his own critical agency. 

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 represented a turning point for both the nation and the intelligence community. In the wake of the many intelligence shortfalls that were uncovered by the attacks, Congress conducted a joint inquiry, known by most as the September 11 Commission. The result of this was the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) in 2004. IRTPA established the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) as the Chief of the Intelligence Community (IC), with oversight of all 16 intelligence entities. The rationale was that having a single director would prevent information from getting stuck in any single agency, and allow greater collaboration across the entire enterprise. The current DNI is retired Navy four-star admiral, Dennis C. Blair. He is also the Senior Intelligence Officer in the United States and is responsible for providing information to key decision makers, including the President. So for all you intel briefers out there, realize that briefing the boss never ends.

The Intelligence Community (IC) 

An IC member is a federal government agency, service, bureau, or other organization within the executive branch that plays a role in the business of national intelligence. The DNI is the chief of the Intelligence Community. The DNI coordinates intelligence matters related to the Department of Defense (DoD) with the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI). The USD(I) provides oversight and policy guidance for all DoD intelligence activities. 

The 16 agencies that currently make up the IC are: 

1. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the (CIA) are the only members of the IC that are not part of another cabinet-level department. 

2. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) - The DIA is a major producer and manager of foreign military intelligence (DOD). 

3. National Security Agency (NSA) - The NSA is the United States' cryptologic organization, with responsibility for protecting the government's information systems and producing foreign signals intelligence information (DoD). 

4. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) - NGA collects and creates information about the Earth for navigation, national security, and humanitarian aid efforts (DoD). 

5. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) - The NRO designs and builds reconnaissance satellites (DoD). 

6. Department of State - Bureau of Intelligence and Research provides interpretative analysis of global developments to the State Department. 

7. Department of Justice - FBI - focuses on terrorist organizations, foreign intelligence services, WMD proliferators, and criminal enterprises. 

8. Department of Justice - specifically the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

9. Department of Energy - focuses on assessing worldwide nuclear terrorism threats, nuclear proliferation, and evaluation of foreign technology threats. 

10. Department of Treasury - collects and processes information that may affect United States fiscal and monetary policies. 

11. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) - responsible for fusing law enforcement and intelligence information relating to terrorist threats to the homeland. 

12. U.S. Coast Guard - now part of DHS, deals with information relating to maritime security and homeland defense. The Coast Guard's missions include port security, search and rescue, maritime safety, counter-narcotics, and illegal alien interdiction. 

13 - 16. U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, and U.S. Air Force - the four military services concentrate largely on concerns related to their specific missions. 

There are a myriad of additional intelligence centers and offices, but all stem from the "Big 16." In the course of our Distributed Ground Station and Air Operations Center missions, we have and will collaborate with each and every one of the 16. Gone are the days in the flying world where Intel was a small shop in the back of Weapons and Tactics (filled with some odd ones) that we'd occasionally toss a chicken bone to. We are a part and player in the big game called National Intelligence, America's first line of defense. 

So if an inspector, civic leader, or average citizen comes up to you and asks, "What is Intelligence anyway?" You can answer with confidence. However, before you start flinging acronyms around like Jack Bauer, please energize your OPSEC filter and assess what you are about to say. 

For further reading, refer to the DNI web site: http://www.dni.gov.