Today the United States Intelligence Community (IC) is made up of 16 separate United States government intelligence agencies and a 17th administrative office, which work separately and together to conduct various intelligence activities to support the national security – as well as foreign policy – of the United States. The IC, which includes intelligence agencies and military intelligence as well as analysis offices within federal executive departments, is overseen by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

In total there nearly 1,300 government organizations and nearly 2,000 private companies spread over 10,000 locations in the United States that are devoted to the task of counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence. The IC as a whole consists of some 854,000 individuals holding top-secret clearance. According to research from a 2008 study by ODNI, at that time, private contractors made up 29% of the workforce of the U.S. IC.

A key role of the IC is to ensure the security of the U.S. and its citizens, including supporting the Department of Homeland Security. This includes the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), which is a member of the IC and is the only IC element statutorily charged with delivering intelligence to state, local, tribal, territorial and private sector partners, and with developing intelligence from those partners for DHS and the IC.

However, as noted in a February 1, 2019 report, “The U.S. Intelligence Community: Homeland Security – Issues in the 116th Congress,” authored by Michael E. DeVine, analyst in Intelligence and National Security, the role of the IC and Homeland Security is a complex one.

As DeVine notes, intelligence support of Homeland Security is the primary mission of the entire IC, and since 9/11, changes to the IC organization have enabled more integrated and effective support. In fact, the 9/11 terrorist attacks cast a spotlight on how the barriers between intelligence and law enforcement prevented efficient, effective coordination against threats to the nation.

Those barriers had been created to protect civil liberties, but over time became too rigid. There had also been some distrust between agencies.

In its final report, the Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States – otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission – was able to identify how those barriers actually contributed to a degrading of national security. As a result, Congress and the executive branch enacted new legislation and created new policies and regulations designed to enhance the sharing of information across the government and the IC.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 passed in the U.S. Senate by one vote, creating the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as well as the new cabinet-level position of Secretary of Homeland Security. It was the largest federal government reorganization since the Department of Defense was created via the National Security Act of 1947. The 2002 Act also gave DHS responsibility for integrating law enforcement and intelligence that related to terrorist threats to the United States.

DHS Elements

As a cabinet department of the U.S. federal government with responsibilities in public security, DHS is comparable to the interior or home ministries of other nations. Its stated mission involves anti-terrorism, border security, immigration and customs, cybersecurity and disaster prevention and management. In fiscal year 2017 it was allocated a net discretionary budget of $40.6 billion.

It has more than 240,000 employees, making DHS the third largest Cabinet department after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Provisions in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004 further established the national Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which served as the coordinator at the federal level for terrorism management and assessment. It created the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to provide strategic management across the 17 organizational elements of the IC including the 16 government intelligence agencies.

Many Elements Working Together

This doesn’t mean all of the agencies are devoted to the task of national security, and much of the nation’s homeland security activity also remains outside of DHS. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are not part of DHS, while other executive departments including the Department of Defense and the United States Department of Health and Human Services still play a role in homeland security but are not overseen by DHS.

At the federal, state, and local levels there are new initiatives to improve collaboration across the federal government. This includes the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) and, more recently, the DHS National Network of Fusion Centers (NNFC).

Within the IC this includes the FBI Intelligence Branch (FBI/IB), and DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), as well as the Coast Guard Intelligence (CG-2) enterprise. OIA, as an example, combines information collected by DHS components as part of its operational activities – such as those conducted at border entry including airports and seaports – and works with foreign intelligence as well as with law enforcement at the federal, state, local, territorial and tribal sources. OIA also has called upon private sector data about critical infrastructure and strategic resources to assess a wide range of threats to the homeland that can include foreign and domestic threats including terrorism. It also monitors for other activities including human trafficking and threats to public health.

CG-2 is the key intelligence component of the United States Coast Guard, and it oversees an intelligence enterprise of roughly 1,500 personnel, active duty and civilian, assigned across the United States and the world. Today the CG-2 serves as the primary interface between the Coast Guard and the national IC for policy, program, budget, planning, and oversight matters.

The FBI/IB actually consists of four component organizations that are tasked with homeland security. These include the Directorate of Intelligence, which is charged with overseeing all FBI intelligence functions and includes intelligence elements at the FBI headquarters and field divisions. The Office of Partner Engagement is the component that develops and maintains intelligence sharing relationships across the entire IC, as well as with state, local, tribal, territorial and international partners.

The Office of the Private Sector is charged to conduct outreach to businesses that may be impacted by threats to vulnerable sectors of the economy such as critical infrastructure, the supply chain and financial institutions. The Bureau Intelligence Council is an internal FBI forum for senior-level dialogue on integrated assessments of domestic threats.

The intelligence organizations of the FBI and DHS are the only IC elements that are solely dedicated to the intelligence support of homeland security, but all IC elements – to some varying degrees – do now have some of the responsibility for the overarching mission of homeland security.

An example cited by DeVine was that in addition to NCTC, the Office of the DNI (ODNI) includes the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC). It was established in 2015 and is responsible at the federal level for providing all-source analysis of intelligence relating to cyber threats to the United States.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed the way that the IC operated but also what was perceived as the greatest threat. Since 9/11 the focus of intelligence support of homeland security evolved from state-centric to increasingly focusing on non-state actors, often individuals acting alone or as part of a group not associated with any state.

The threats have changed, but so have the ways the IC functions: More of a true community instead of a collection of competing agencies.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.