Free «History of U.S. Intelligence» Essay Sample

Before the 1880s, intelligence services were merely a tool employed exclusively to support military operations either in deployment of troops or providing information on other countries and their involvement or participation in a particular conflict. However, in 1882, permanent intelligence organisations were created within the Department of Navy to collect intelligence on foreign navies (Devine 2005).

Intelligence During the World Wars

Since the start of the World War II, presidents, congressmen and military commanders were considerably puzzled on the uncertain scope and performance of the US intelligence. Periodically and specifically at times of crisis, the executives and Congress undertook certain measures to reorganize it in order to contribute towards its further development (Maurice 1996). This historical context helps in explaining why previous efforts to encourage reforms did not bring any change.

World War II

After the World War II, the United States acquired global responsibilities, but the government had no clear ideas on how to discharge them. Roosevelt’s tactics had to be changed, while Truman was acquainted with a better defence set up for a quick reorganization. Each section of Truman’s administration appeared to have a different idea on the lessons of the war and had its own ways to implement the intelligence system. Many of these ideals were direct opposites of one another, and only few officials had an insight of US new capabilities. The creation of The National Security Act in 1947 was done to enhance three significant decisions for the post-war intelligence (Best 2005).

One of the events that President Truman hated was a repeat of the Pearl Harbour incident. This is because the Japanese attacks of 1947 could have been avoided, if some of the information had been made available and was used appropriately. The new intelligence system also had Director of Central Intelligence based in Washington, while possessing the capacity and power to channel information to military decision makers and senior civilians to synthesize the national intelligence for the government. This DCI position was to be nominally independent in making policies; thus, it guaranteed quality of the intelligence that reached the top. This official was answerable to the cabinet secretary in order to avoid departmental interferes with different intelligence information provided.

Making of the Intelligence Community

As the Cold War began to emerge around 1948, the US government commissioned the establishment of the American Intelligence Community. Several commissions were formed to establish the effectiveness of the Agencies. The Dulles Report about the national intelligence in Korea and forceful leadership of Smith assisted vastly in shaping the nation’s disparate intelligence system into something recognized as the Intelligence Community. The key to effective intelligence system lies in performing of the CIA its statutory role in coordinating operations and analysis.

The Collection Revolution 1954 - 1960

The Intelligence Community explored new technology as a means of collecting data for the White House in such a time that the Cold War was near its peak. In 1953, when the Republicans recaptured the Congress and White House, the concept of data collection became vital. Therefore, the Hoover Commission was mandated to analyze the executives in order to investigate the intelligence activities of the Federal government. This task force was mandated to make necessary recommendations with the purpose of improving the situation.

The task force also made a report on the absence of better equipment for surveillance and management of the CIA. The urge for a closer oversight prompted for an influential task force to distinguish a private citizen and appointees of the president.

Intelligence in the 1950s

Acting in accordance with the instructions and recommendations of a senior official, President Truman established the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1952. This was after recognizing the need for a single entity responsible for signalling intelligence missions in the United States. It assumed the responsibilities of the former Armed Forces Security Agencies. It was also placed right at the centre of the Department of Defence for the purpose of the effective coordination.

In 1958, the National Security Council announced a detailed NSA mission as authorized under this Department of Defence. Meanwhile, the CIA had made significant strides, such as the analytical efforts in the Korean War, which were crucial to the foreign policies and national defence. Earlier in 1954, President Eisenhower approved a concept of highflying reconnaissance aircrafts above the Soviet air to facilitate procurement programs in secret.

The 1960s marked the apex of crucial technological advancement in terms of expanding the Intelligence Community. The first unsure effort of the DCI was to exert some control over it, but due to the public concern, it began with a notable failure of the CIA at the Pigs Bay. The reputation of the agency suffered significantly after the invasion of Cuba.

Intelligence Community in 1980

After President Ronald Reagan was elected, he contributed vastly towards the development of the United States intelligence. Intelligence was a major campaign issue as the Intelligence Community had neglected the military might of the Soviets. He improved the promises he had made by upgrading intelligence capabilities, technical systems and strengthening counterintelligence.

Post Millennium Reforms

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the best method to counter terrorism activities was realized. This was a strategy to increase the knowledge of the location of terrorists. Prior to this, the foreign terrorists had never been given such a high priority for over forty years. The Cold War had only dominated the CIA and other agencies of the Intelligence Community.

Before the September 11th attacks, none of the Intelligence Community members in the United States had received a formal training program or gone through a well-developed procedure to assist the intelligence officers in identifying dangerous terrorists. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the principal threat to the United States security changed. This made the intelligence department relax, while changing or modifying it, and as a result, the skills of that time were overtaken by events.  Evidence shows that the United States Intelligence Community showed the inability to adapt to the rise of terrorism activities that took place after the Cold War.

Changes and Adaptation

The US intelligence agencies’ failure to face the terrorist threats after the Cold War was not evident. Moreover, some foreign policy leaders and members of the national intelligence argued that the dangers of the post-Cold War international arena were exceptionally unobvious for the intelligence agency to predict and assess the terrorist threat appropriately. The dangers that al-Qaeda posed may have appeared evident in hindsight, but this emergent threat was unexpected before September 11, 2001. According to Samuel Berger, President Bill Clinton’s adviser, history is written from a rear mirror, although it unfolds through a foggy windscreen (Lowenthal 1992).

In spite of the decline in the intelligence budgetary allocation to combat terrorism, direct spending on counterterrorism went up by approximately 400%. The FBI, CIA and some other intelligence agencies introduced a number of counter terrorism activities. Among these was the creation of a special multiagency intelligence unit in January 1996 to track the activities of Osama Bin laden and his Al-Qaeda network. There was also a dramatic increase in the number of foreign FBI offices with a higher focus on countries that are crucial in fighting terrorism.

Key Questions on U.S Intelligence Adaptation

To determine whether the intelligence agencies of the United States succeeded or failed to adapt to the changing intelligence environment, there are three key questions that ought to be answered.

1. Whether the policy makers and the Intelligence Community officials recognize the gravity of the al-Qaeda threats posed before September 11.

2. Whether the agencies understood the connection between the threats posed by the terrorists and their imperative organizational changes.

3. The degree to which the organizational achievements were made appropriate in terms of their further implementation.

To answer these questions, it is necessary to analyze how flaws were realized after the September 11th attacks. Intelligence personnel and policy makers identified crucial organization problems, although they did not succeed to fix them. Therefore, the answer to the three questions can only be positive, but only to a small degree. Despite the fact that the abovementioned threats were recognized by a number of intelligence officials, they were unable to attain the necessary intelligence several years before the Pentagon and World Trade Centre attacks.


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