When you think about the arm of the U.S. Intelligence Community belonging to the Department of the Treasury, you probably think about the Secret Service—and you’d be wrong on two counts. For one thing, the Secret Service no longer belongs to the Treasury Department; it was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. For another, the Secret Service isn’t a member of the Intelligence Community. (If you thought of Coast Guard Intelligence, you get bonus points for fast thinking, but lose a few for not knowing that the Coast Guard has also been transferred to DHS. Alexander Hamilton is rolling over in his grave.)
That said, the Treasury Department does have an intelligence apparatus. It is called the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA), and it is responsible for collecting and analyzing foreign intelligence as it relates to matters of money that affect the security of the United States. Here are a few things you might not know about it.
1. The Treasury Department has been in the intelligence game for a long time.
Next year, the OIA will celebrate its tenth anniversary, though the intelligence mission at Treasury has been going on a lot longer than that—two hundred twenty-one years longer than that, in fact. It began in 1782, when the Continental Congress charged the Superintendent of Finance with finding fraud in the Army. Inspectors under his watch were quietly deployed to gather information of such activities. Later, intelligence functions were crime-focused, and primarily based around the Coast Guard and the Internal Revenue Service—tax cheats and smugglers beware!
2. Plans to abolish the State Department never materialized, but one recommendation did.
In 1960, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report from the Brookings Institution that recommended an overhaul of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. Its central recommendation was the establishment of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which was to replace the State Department. (For what it’s worth, in 1789, the State Department replaced the Department of Foreign Affairs. History is cyclical.) Obviously, that didn’t happen, but the following year one recommendation from the report did find its way into law. In order to handle foreign economic operations, it was recommended that the Treasury Department create an Office of National Security Affairs. The “affairs” part was dropped from the name (did we really need another office called the “NSA”?) but the mission remained. Sixteen years later, the ONS became the Office of Intelligence Support. In 1981, the OIS was formally placed in the Intelligence Community. In 2004, it saw yet another reorganization and name change, and the present-day OIA was born. (Trivia: The Office of Intelligence and Analysis is young, but it’s not the youngest part of the Intelligence Community. That distinction belongs to the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, founded in 2007.)
3. The OIA mission helps steer the ship of state.
Though present economic conditions might make this hard to believe, the policies of the Treasury Department aren’t chosen at random or decided on using a dartboard. Intelligence provided by the OIA guides Treasury policy as it relates to everything from Iranian sanctions to the USA PATRIOT Act. When you want to disrupt funding to terrorist organizations or keep money out of the hands of Mexican drug cartels, you call the OIA. Intelligence product from OIA is distributed to and synthesized by government, military, and intelligence leaders.
4. Preventing leaks while spreading information has been a central mission of the new intelligence office.
To protect the men and women of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (as well as their sources and methods), various security elements of the Treasury Department were combined in 2008. Such divisions as Security Programs, Special Security, and Counterintelligence were merged into the Office of Security. But keeping information in wasn’t the only problem facing the OIA; it also needed a way to get information out. To that end, the OIA Office of Intelligence Community Integration was formed to better integrate OIA with the wider Intelligence Community.
5. The Treasury Department and Special Operations Command running missions together? Yep.
It works something like this: Commandos on the ground in Afghanistan and in war zones around the world know which local nationals are trustworthy, and know how to enlist help: with giant piles of money. They call it “enhanced threat finance lead-generation and information-sharing,” and such “investments” in new friendships derive from a joint partnership between OIA personnel and SOCOM operators.
6. The OIA helps coordinate everyone else’s financial intelligence units.
It’s impossible to say just how many people in the Intelligence Community are involved with the disruption of terrorist operations around the world. But we do know that the best way to put the squeeze on a terrorist is to cut off his monetary supply. Terrorists get money everywhere from the black market and manipulating financial systems to healthy investments in illegal narcotics. (Those poppy fields in Afghanistan weren’t planted just to reenact scenes from the Wizard of Oz.) Putting the squeeze on illicit funding falls to various threat finance intelligence elements of the Intelligence Community. The National Intelligence Manager for Threat Finance, who also happens to be the head of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, directs these operations. All together, the OIA has over one hundred financial intelligence units around the world. So if you catch your local drug lord ordering from the Dollar Menu at McDonalds, there’s a good chance he just met the business end of an OIA operation.
7. OIA personnel aren’t just desk jockeys in D.C.
Where there are soldiers, CIA officers, commandos, and G-Men, there are OIA personnel. During the Iraq War, CENTCOM and the Treasury Department ran an office called the Iraq Threat Finance Cell. Members of the OIA were deployed to figure out where insurgents and terrorists were getting their money, how much money said bad guys had on hand, and how best to dry the dollars up. Similarly, OIC spooks can be found at U.S. Embassies around the world, working with their foreign counterparts to shut down illegal financial operations. If money makes the world go round, the job falls to the OIA to figure out where that money is coming from, how dirty it is, and how best to keep the global financial system clean.
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