The Intelligence Community (IC) is comprised of specifically designed agencies that work within the realm of the national security of the United States by either collaboratively or independently collecting the information related to the state’s defense and international policy. It plays a decisive role for key governmental bodies and decision-makers, including the President, when assisting with the information on foreign countries, terrorism, cyber terrorism, and other issues that might be impactful on the national security of the country. Therefore, foreign policy decision-making is particularly dependent on the quality of work of the IC members. As a large and complex body of hierarchically dependent agencies, the IC functions according to a set of guidelines that are particularly aligned with the requirements of the secrecy culture.
Presidents of the USA have long been using the services of the IC members to support their political decisions. However, with the development of the governance approaches and social aspects of life, the services provided by the IC also developed. Over the years of the existence of the United States, the structure, key operations, mission, and tools characteristic of the IC have changed. At present, the intelligence agencies are expected to address particular issues related to national security, including the rising relevance of globalization, immigration, cyber security, and other aspects pertaining to the security of the US.
This exploratory paper is aimed at identifying the most significant changes that occurred to the IC, how the IC mission influences the support of the President and overviews the potential changes to the IC that might improve its performance in the future. Since the years of the IC, development have indicated the ability of this body to evolve and strive for improvement in terms of structural and operational manifestations, it is argued that further improvement recommendations will allow for addressing the problems and ensuring the IC’s continuous support of the President’s decision-making.
Overview of the Major Changes the IC has Undergone
The benchmarks in the history of changes made to the structure and operations of the IC coincide with the shifts in American history. At the roots of its development, the IC was inherently related to warfare issues and based its mission on the necessity to preserve security during wartime. In 1882, Lt. Theodore Bailey Myers Mason initiated creating a special intelligence body for the U.S. Navy “to gather technological and shipbuilding intelligence” to allow for improving the wooden ships according to the standards and breakthroughs identified globally (The Intelligence Community [IC], n. d., para. 11). As a result, an agency called the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) was launched to be responsible for innovative solutions in the field of military shipbuilding.
Other than the wartime efforts, IC has not had a consistent and noticeable positive effect on foreign policy decision-making. Indeed, as stated by Stevenson (2013), during the nineteenth century, the US used spies and other intelligence agency services; however, “the effort was small and sporadic, except for wartime increases” (p. 233). Despite the insufficient development in peacetime IC operations, the history of IC evolved during the wars.
World War I and World War II have contributed significantly to the scope of operations, tools, and structural components of the IC. During the first half of the twentieth century, the IC structure changed toward the diversification efforts to allocate specifically created agencies for narrow security-related sectors. In such a manner, the Coast Guard Intelligence was created in 1915 (IC, n. d.). During the World Wars, international relations regulation and the gathering of information about enemies became of pivotal relevance, which triggered the reforming of key IC agencies.
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was structurally changed due to the replacement of the OSS respective branch with the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). This body was now aimed at coordinating analytical work of all-source information and outsourcing analytics to ensure relevant law enforcement and foreign policy actions (IC, n. d.). Thus, during the war, not only the services for military purposes were improved and developed, but also the civilian intelligence efforts were intensified.
During World War I and World War II, the operations under the OSS ruling were primarily secret and were not regulated or objectively overseen by Congress or any other independent body. The IC operated under its own secret code of conduct, pursuing security purposes, which was not safe due to the lack of guarantees that the actions made by the IC would not disrupt the national interests and create an American “Gestapo” (Stevenson, 2013, p. 233).
Indeed, before 1947, the analytic, spying, and information disclosure activities of the IC were inadequately coordinated, which should have been changed for the benefit of American national security. Therefore, in 1947, OSS was substituted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which is the most reliable IC agency that “coordinates American intelligence activities and collects, analyzes, and shares intelligence pertaining to national security” (IC, n. d., para. 14). During the Cold War, secret operations improved for overseas efforts.
The following changes have occurred since the time after the Cold War and have been related to the integration of technologies into the work of the IC. Between 1970 and 1990, the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, and the Marine Corps Intelligence were created (IC, n. d.). Moreover, technical issues have been prioritized in both military and civilian intelligence work. As it has been stated, the history of the IC reflects US history. This is vividly demonstrated by such events as Pearl Harbor and 9/11, which predetermined major shifts in operations and structure of the IC.
As Pearl Harbor demonstrated the insufficient information exchange pattern and led to CIA creation, 9/11 indicated the irrelevance of coordination between the IC bodies and triggered the restructuring of the agencies. Therefore, the overseeing position of the Director of National Intelligence was issued to ensure that all agencies work within the same framework, and their actions are coordinated by the respective bodies, as well as the limits of their responsibilities are imposed by the President (Stevenson, 2013).
Impact on the IC Mission’s Ability to Support the POTUS
The IC entails 17 agencies that work independently and collaboratively to preserve national security (Office of the Director of National Intelligence [DNI], 2019). The mission of the IC indicates the task “to collect, analyze, and deliver foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to America’s leaders so they can make sound decisions to protect our country” (IC, n. d., para 1). The primary customers served by the IS include the President of the United States (POTUS), law-enforcement agencies, policy-makers, and the army.
Given the scope of responsibilities concentrated in the POTUS’ hands, the primary task of the IC is to support the President in foreign policy decision-making. Indeed, the President is placed at the head of the national security hierarchy and makes ultimate decisions, which is why “only the president can override the secrecy classifications imposed by subordinates” (Stevenson, 2013, p. 232). Thus, due to the shift in the distribution of power outside the IC, the objectivity and proper information dissemination is ensured by the head of the state.
The President obtains foreign policy-related intelligence and counterintelligence information to align the policy-making accordingly with the priority set on the national interests of the state. The President is the most important customer of the IC who issues guidance for “national intelligence and intelligence related to national security” (DNI, 2019, p. 7). Therefore, since so many issues related to foreign policy and national security depend on the accuracy, timely sharing, proper disclosure of national intelligence-related information, several factors serve their purpose to promote the IC’s support of the POTUS.
The interaction between the President and the IC is characterized by the ambiguity that derives from the two-fold relation of the President to the IC. On the one hand, the President is the customer of the IC agencies who is expected to obtain the services provided by the organizations. On the other hand, the POTUS is an influential entity that is in charge of the operations, procedures, key positions, and structure of the IC, which implies a much broader scope of influence that a mere customer would have. Such an ambiguous state of affairs disrupts the effectiveness of the IC’s support of the POTUS and leads to inadequate policy-making when it comes to retrieving intelligence-related data.
As claimed by Stevenson (2013), the difference between the two parties’ perspectives obstructs the effective functioning of the intelligence sphere. Indeed, “for policy makers, what they want most from intelligence professionals is accuracy, clarity, timeliness, and a willingness to revise their judgments” (Stevenson, 2013, p. 249). In other words, the President often expects more from the IC than it is possible to obtain, which demonstrates the gap in responsibility-expectation distribution. On the contrary, for the professionals involved in the intelligence operations, the lack of clear guidelines and purpose articulation ultimately limits their influence opportunities.
The IC professionals “can assess the consequences of different actions but are culturally barred from making recommendations” (Stevenson, 2013, p. 249). Moreover, as it is often observed, the President and Congress blame the IC for inadequate functioning, non-timely information dissemination, or irrelevance of analytic efforts. Such a tendency causes the IC to strive for objectivity and “to avoid being blamed for judgments made under acknowledged uncertainty that turn out to be wrong” (Stevenson, 2013, p. 249). Thus, the complexity of hierarchical and structural implications disrupts the clarity of the IC’s support of the POTUS’ decision-making.
The culturally-imposed differences in the perception of the accountability related to the IC also complicate the process of the foreign policy-making support provision for the US President. Notably, the President and Congress allocate significant funding to the IC to ensure that these agencies work properly and are capable of preventing national crises and deliver necessary intelligence information on demand.
However, as discussed in the scholarly literature, policy-makers have “unrealistic expectations” from the IC’s side and want the intelligence professionals to play a warning role rather than the role of “supporters of administration policy” (Stevenson, 2013, p. 249). On the other hand, in times of crises of national security failures, the implications provided by the IC are often disregarded or merely ignored, which significantly disrupts the consistency and relevance of the IC’s contribution to the national security field. Therefore, further changes and alterations in the cultural, structural, and interaction-related domains are recommended.
Recommendations as per Additional Changes
Taking into consideration the explored characteristics of the ability of the IC to support the policy-making of the POTUS in relation to foreign policy and national security, one might notice the dysfunctional interaction between the two agencies. Moreover, as stated by Marcoci et al. (2019), the burden of increased responsibility and standardization imposed by the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) contributed to the controlling efforts aimed at the IC. Since IRTPA demanded “the adoption of analytic tradecraft standards to improve the quality of reasoning and argumentation in intelligence products,” positive outcomes have been expected (p. 2).
Indeed, the standardization of analytic efforts is a reasonable recommendation to ensure the objectivity and reliability of findings that comprise the foundation for administrative decision-making. Thus, it is recommended to maintain a high level of benchmarks for analytic quality.
Another important recommendation is also related to analytic efforts quality. As the findings obtained in the result of the study conducted by Marcoci et al. (2019) demonstrate, the collaborative work and teams’ inclusion in the verification of data accuracy is the basis of high-quality and effective IC work. Therefore, the IC agencies should be encouraged to share responsibilities and implement interdependent operations not only within the agencies but also between them. Finally, hierarchical adjustments are necessary to clarify the responsibilities of the agencies and the scope of expectations the intelligence professionals are capable and eligible to meet. This goal might be achieved by means of enacting a document that would systematize the distribution of roles, allowing the IC to make recommendations and adequately support policy-makers decisions.
In summation, as the overview of the major changes in the history of the IC demonstrated, this governmental body has undergone many shifts and improvements in structure, mission, tasks, and tool utilization. Overall, the mission of the IC has always been aimed at the provision of support to the policy-makers to ensure national security. However, the operations and the structure of the body has shifted from general military agencies toward narrow and diverse intelligence agencies in charge of intelligence-related analytic work within different spheres of the state’s functioning and foreign policy.
It has been identified that despite the diverse and seemingly unbiased structure of the IC, there are dysfunctional manifestations related to the disruption between the President’s expectations and the services provided by the IC. The reasons for the diminished ability of the IC to support the POTUS were found in culturally-imposed perception differences and the expectations ambiguity related to the President’s customer and head roles. Therefore, the recommendations include maintaining and improving the standardization efforts applicable to analytics in the IC, the implementation of collaborative interagency work, and the clarification of role distribution through allocating the ability to make recommendations to the IC agencies.
The Intelligence Community. (n. d.). Mission. Web.
Marcoci, A., Burgman, M., Kruger, A., Silver, E., McBride, M., Thorn, F. S., Fraser, H., Wintle, B. C., Fidler. F., & Vercammen, A. (2019). Better together: Reliable application of the post-9/11 and post-Iraq US intelligence tradecraft standards requires collective analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1–9.
Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (2019). National Intelligence strategy of the United States of America . Web.
Stevenson, C. A. (2013). America’s foreign policy toolkit: Key institutions and processes. CQ Press.