There are dozens of ways in which intelligence services go about their business - but ultimately they are single-minded in their determination to succeed. With terrorism being the main problem today (though Russia has recently started to flex its muscles once more, and Iran is a year-or-so from having an atomic bomb) it’s highly important that intelligence agencies adapt to meet the challenges of today. Post World War Two - the Cold War dominated how the services worked, today it’s the bombs built by Osama bin-Laden’s lunatics that have caused such an upheaval in the intelligence world. This is evident in the way MI5, for example, has placed far more emphasis (and most of its budget) on counterterrorism. In days goneby, it was counterespionage and tracking KGB spies that pre-occupied the minds of MI5’s controllers. It’s also been reflected by the massive upheaval and reorganisation of US intelligence.
Nevertheless, the security services have cleverly used the primary elements of intelligence gathering to counter al-Qaida and its many franchises across the globe.
Types of Intelligence and Service
The oldest form of intelligence gathering is via agents, informants and from persons either working for the “opposition”, or with access to a target of interest. This collection is known as human source intelligence - HUMINT. Acquiring information from persons near to a special project, for example, is often the most reliable way to ensure accuracy - though not always... just ask the CIA whose Iraqi agent - code-named ‘Curveball’ - provided a few boxes of incorrect material on Saddam’s WMD. Nonetheless, getting close to a desired target (project etc.) does mean at the very least - the information is from a human source - and is hasn’t gone through several ‘layers’ to reach the analyst. It may be raw - but it’s first-hand and officials like that. Once acquired, it will be routed through to analysts, perhaps via other agencies, and turned into the ‘product’. Once in this form, it can be used to make decisions at a government level.
Sometimes the type of intelligence desired by an agency, often from a foreign country, is not available from OPEN SOURCE. This means that it is inevitable spying operations are actioned to “infiltrate and obtain”. How this is achieved can be read in detail in various Eye Spy tradecraft features [link].
In the United States, the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) are that nation’s best collectors of HUMINT. Though it should be noted, the DIA frequently focus on targets related to national defence issues, perhaps the build-up of armed forces on a border, the creation of a new fighter in China, or the movement of heavy plant equipment to a defence site in North Korea. A recent example that prompted much fury in the DIA, was the launching of several Chinese warships outfitted with technology that could only have come from America. Somehow, China’s spies stole US technology. More puzzling was the speed in which this technology was remastered and deployed in the vessels. All of these situations would interest the DIA. And with this in mind, we have listed a few ‘defence contract companies’ that might just have ties to the defence intelligence world. We won’t name them - you will just have to guess who they are and what role they play!
On the other hand, the CIA operates in all theatres gathering intelligence on every conceivable issue! It’s an agency for “all occasions” - but the CIA has a chequered history and one worth studying in depth. With a new DCI recently appointed, the ‘Company’ as it is sometimes called, is keen to rid itself of the ‘dirty baggage’ oft associated with previous operations. Occasionally, both the DIA and CIA send operatives to gather information on the same topic - it’s led to ‘double takes’ - whereby the CIA finds itself competing against the DIA to acquire exactly the same sort of intelligence. This is rare - but ‘overlapping’ investigations still occur. However, to stop this happening, US intelligence has reorganised - and it’s no longer unusual for several agencies to assign officers to form part of a special unit - assembled for a specific task. The CIA may request the assistance of officers from a Navy Seal unit to help gather intelligence in inhospitable areas such as Afghanistan. These are dubbed Task Forces. But for the record, the CIA has its own military special activities group, and likewise, the Pentagon various special intelligence units. Many of these are signified by a simple number or letter - it’s another layer of security to protect the identify of the ‘intelligence service elements’ and another reason why a complete listing is impossible. Eye Spy readers know all about Able Danger - a tiny unit charged with data mining on Osama bin-Laden and his security circle. The CIA-defence linked unit has ceased to exist, though it did admirable work. Another unit within a security branch has since been tasked to find bin-Laden.
Military intelligence versus civilian intelligence - this is sometimes regarded as a blurry area, both are equally important - though fundamentally different. Yet there is often a cross-over whereby information derived from military operations is required and used by agencies such as MI6 and others. Indeed, tactical air intelligence is one of the most important components of defence. During the Cold War, air intelligence was absolutely vital in that it was essential to learn of an adversary’s movements and intentions. Today, with a number of ‘rogue nations’ looking at building nuclear weapons, it’s no small wonder that there has been a gradual “coming together” of the civilian and military intelligence scene. MI6 can’t overfly Tehran to study its nuclear facilities, it relies heavily on its access to US spy satellites. Similarly, if a point of interest appears on an image, and they can’t readily identify it, photo analysts may request assistance from MI6.
Let’s take two of six primary applications that air intelligence utilises using hardware and operating procedures:
1. Information gathered in peacetime which could affect the tactical air war during a sudden, pre-emptive attack from an enemy.
2. Information and intelligence about enemy or neutral forces which might affect the global, or strategic evolution of an air war.
Once collected, the intelligence is analysed and forwarded for action. But without this type of “grand intelligence”, governments would be weaker in organisation and defence. And for this reason alone, our listing contains selected defence and security links. However, we originally chose to incorporate defence organisations because they are often charged with counterintelligence, counterterrorism or other tasks that can be intelligence orientated - simply because no separate force has been established in a respective country. Not all countries have defined lines whereby the military and civilian intelligence services are kept separate - and many military units have intelligence roles that are often played out by civil organisations in the UK and America. So too air forces and naval agencies.
Gathering intelligence therefore is a multi-organisational and departmental effort - not just the domain of a distinct single organ. A prime example of how a defence force can be seen in the configuration of an intelligence agency can be found in Israel. Few people are not familiar with the Mossad, nor Shin Beth - Israel’s domestic security agency. Yet it is the Aman - Israel’s military intelligence system within the Defence Force that is concerned with gathering electronic intelligence - SIGINT. Shin Beth also has a hand in intercepting signals and eavesdropping in the Middle East, but it is Aman which is the dominating force - perhaps because of Israel’s precarious position in the Middle East and its military’s most important role. Similarly, there are other research centres linked to the intelligence system separate from the Mossad and other services that provide the government with viewpoints independent to the military. It’s a complex structure that is forever evolving and typifies why further research must be conducted if one is to understand each and every country’s unique method of intelligence gathering, analyses and performance.
SIGINT (signals intelligence) is also the lifeblood of many smaller countries. Unable to launch intelligence operations themselves, it’s always possible to gather information from the airwaves or create programmes to make communications more secure. However, it’s larger nations that have the capability to launch spy satellites and the resources to maintain global tracking networks. These are more likely to be the power-brokers in this field. One agency stands alone as the greatest collector of SIGNIT - America’s National Security Agency. Inside SIGINT exist other intelligence elements: communications intelligence, electronic intelligence (acquired from radar, microwaves etc.) and foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (collected from spy satellites - though intercepted might be a better phrase to describe this work!). And of course, these very same spy satellites often come with some quite powerful cameras to snap photographs as they orbit the Earth. Known as IMINT (imagery intelligence), which involves ground-based, aerial, and space-based systems, these systems provide a plethora of useful information. Most of the NSA’s SIGINT, is gathered under the auspices of a global network known as ECHELON - of which Britain’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) plays a pivotal role.
Though Britain and America are great allies, the structure of each respective intelligence agency and the rules under which they operate and are regulated, are quite different. This FBI is often described as America’s equivalent of the UK’s MI5 - a national domestic intelligence and security agency. Others still believe it is a federal police force. However, in recent times the FBI has placed much emphasis on intelligence gathering and is determined to stop the creation of a domestic intelligence service run on the lines on MI5. But there are still fundamental differences. MI5 officers have no power of arrest and are not allowed to carry firearms. Instead, the Security Service (its proper title), works closely with Scotland Yard and its Anti-Terrorism Command. Scotland Yard really does not exist as an agency - it is the Metropolitan Police. Within the ‘Met’ there exists numerous special commands and intelligence units. Well worth studying. When MI5 goes ‘operational’, it is usually the ATC and/or other regional police forces which carry out raids etc.
The ‘funny buggers’ - a description afforded to MI5 by some police officers - blaze an unseen trail across the UK. However, MI5 officers will accompany the police on high-priority operations, and it’s surveillance, counterterrorism and counterintelligence wings are legendary.
Listing agencies and their threads to other services and government departments is a monumental task - it’s often likened to a rudderless ship - impossible to plot a course because tomorrow is a new day. National everyday events also impact the intelligence world, thus many of the links found in this section will lead you to government offices and respective legislation. And where countries have no ‘intelligence agencies’, gathering information on specialist related fields is often the task of units within the armed forces or police. Don’t be too surprised to find a few in this listing - they are there for a reason. Similarly, many countries are reluctant to reveal intelligence or security structures - China, for example. Readers should also be aware that this feature does not reveal the intimate structure and departmental framework of the intelligence services, nor does it include special units that are often called upon to assist respective agencies. For example, MI5 has a dedicated surveillance wing known as A4. Both MI5 and MI6 may seek the assistance of officers from the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS). When operational, this group is known as the ‘Increment’ - a particularly tough outfit you would not want to cross. And of course, other unofficial services or units do exist - like the men and women who plied their trade for ‘14 Int’ - a British Army military surveillance outfit that helped the intelligence services gather information in Northern Ireland and beyond. 14 Intelligence Company only recently became the Strategic Reconnaissance Regiment - SRR - complete with badge and official recognition. SRR is known to have assisted in various operations in the UK, Iraq and Afghanistan - they are unique “street and field” intelligence gatherers. They are also trained military service personnel.
Whilst every attempt has been made to confirm the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in this listing, Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine cannot be held responsible for inadvertent errors such as broken links, new defined offices, recent name changes or legislative structure changes within respective departments and agencies. However, further research can be conducted by following the links provided, and via reference material and published literature. There are some splendid books available in the market place that provide a good deal of general information on the intelligence services. Equally as informative, those books and manuals that focus on specific services and their duties. I would also urge readers to analyse and study the content of the CIA’s excellent ‘World Fact Book’. This provides background material on most countries. And of course - Eye Spy.
Where possible, we will update our listings. Eye Spy would also like reader participation on this project - drop us a line if you come across a new outfit or change in reorganisation! This section of Eye Spy’s new web site is under ‘rolling construction’ please be patient and come back often.
Enjoy the material - Mark Birdsall - Editor
Eye Spy Magazine Home