The United States intelligence community plays a key role of equal importance and organizational validity to the United States military in the formulation and conduct of American foreign policy.
The intelligence community provides elected leaders and policy makers with the information they need to make optimal policy decisions based on an adversarys intent, goals, commitments, aims and objectives as well as create foreign policy that will aid national interest and the long-term goals of the United States.
The hidden piece of U.S. foreign policy is the information that the U.S. intelligence community gathers, surveys, studies and investigates, which in turn, processes and analyzes in order to disseminate to those who make the decisions concerning U.S. foreign policy and what its goals should be given the interests and intentions of other nations and threats from sub-state or non-state actors.
Evolving intelligence community
The new shape of the intelligence community that began in 2004 with the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act provides a top-level management and accountability approach to managing the nations intelligence in concert with the U.S. military as a branch of government that can garner large amounts of applicable intelligence data and disperse this information more efficiently to the leadership.
The new structure of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence serving as the focal point for all U.S. intelligence matters and reporting directly to the president concerning what intelligence is relevant to national defense, plays a vital role in the defense posture of the United States and the structure, organization and mission and overall function of the military.
The Defense Department has a large amount of manpower, applicable technology, perfected methods and detailed training in the practice of intelligence and intelligence tradecraft.
Imperfect sharing system
In years past, the director of Central Intelligence served as the manager of U.S. intelligence activities and as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. This pull for organizational loyalty created barriers within the intelligence community concerning information sharing and what information needed to be seen by the president and key policy officials who support the president.
New world after 9/11
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, shed light on this shortfall and the rather ineffectiveness of the multiple agencies that comprise the U.S. intelligence community and its ability to process information that could be analyzed for its significance to threats against the United States.
The foreign policy of the United States can only be as good as the quality of the information that policymakers receive. It must be timely, applicable, accurate and unbiased. The U.S. intelligence community wields great power when one considers the number of agencies and departments it entails. Some 16 separate groups, offices and departments encompass U.S. intelligence, and they are responsible for gathering, processing, analyzing and disseminating intelligence information.
Collectively, the U.S. intelligence community is a large bureaucracy even in light of the massive personnel and funding allocated to the Defense Department. The bureaucratic problem for leaders has always been to make sense of the vast array of data they put forth based on what specific needs arise from each respective branch of government.
The intelligence community also falls prey to the same pitfalls that the individual services do within the Defense Department. They all want more funding every year to accomplish their missions, and they all want more personnel and a broader scope by which to accomplish said function. Hence the power plays in Congress by the leaders of these organizations to garner more funding and dispel any notion of personnel cuts being effective or a major change in operational capacity.
Congress and the executive branch of government are at a disadvantage if they limit the ability of any of these agencies to conduct effective intelligence gathering by legitimate tradecraft. They all need and rely on the data they provide and also rely in large measure on their abilities to conduct covert action when conventional military operations are not feasible or may not be strictly legal.
Intelligence information is often incomplete and subjective to the person or group interpreting the information and what it is telling them, if it is telling them anything at all. Hence the two-fold problem of intelligence information in American foreign policy.
The intelligence cycle is a delicate balance of manpower, resources and the proper direction. If intelligence resources are not directed in the areas of the most pertinent and pressing needs for intelligence information, they are a waste of money and not of any aid to the president and senior leadership.
The problem they are most likely to encounter with intelligence information is that the conclusions that are often drawn and the probabilities that are assessed are based on incomplete information.
A hidden weapon in U.S. foreign policy that does not get much publicity and often goes unreported is covert action. Convert action is the use of individuals and methods to carry out a particular function or mission in another country when military use or intervention may be prohibited by Congress and not permissible given the lack of relations with a country or the sensitivity of the operation.
Covert action gives the president the opportunity to have his policy implemented without major risk to uniformed service members and can also diminish the risk of violating law or statute and the chance to have objectives accomplished without large-scale fanfare or publicity.
This was the original intent of what became known as the Iran/Contra Affair; while the operation did deteriorate into trading arms for hostages, the purpose of the covert action was to circumvent congressional statute while accomplishing several broader foreign policy goals throughout the Middle East.
The unfavorable press coverage and subsequent congressional hearings brought to light the inner workings of covert action and the different avenues by which the White House can accomplish the United States foreign policy through the use of intelligence and covert action.
The use and importance of accurate and relevant intelligence information in American foreign policy can hardly be overstated, and its utility to national security will always be second to none.
While it is not an exact science, the logical analysis of disparate data and information that is unclear provides the United States with a distinct advantage in an international system that is anarchic in nature and seemingly unpredictable.
The corollary to effective management of intelligence information is the use of covert action to accomplish foreign policy goals when this information tends to reveal a threat to the United States or alternative avenues by which to accomplish foreign policy.
The role of intelligence in American foreign policy is a role of importance and one that is also incredibly useful and advantageous, especially with the emergence of transnational terrorism.
Douglas Harden is a graduate of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia and currently enrolled in the Master of Arts Program in International Affairs at the University of North Georgia. He was recently inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. He is a resident of Kathleen.