Intelligence and the Presidency

There are sixteen official agencies which collect and analyze intelligence data for the federal government of the United States of America. Most Americans are unaware of all but a few of them, and even knowledgeable people often fail to understand what each agency does, and the significance of the Presidency on how they operate. The President who takes office in 2009 will redirect intelligence priorities and allocate resources to suit his preferences, a fact which has significant value to the character and effectiveness of U.S. intelligence.

A complete examination of the intelligence community would take far more time and space than is appropriate for a weblog entry, so for this article we must examine the world of intelligence only as brief overview. Intelligence is used by the government to observe trends, threats, and opportunities. These may be military, political, economic, social, religious, or geographical in type. Intelligence operations are planned for any nation seen as hostile to the United States or a likely opponent in some foreseeable potential conflict, but the majority of operations and the most resources are applied to the nation seen as the greatest threat to American security.

The most obvious point of focus in how a president regards intelligence, may be seen in his preference for either human agents (HUMINT), technological surveillance (SIGINT), or military goals (MILINT). For example, President Carter distrusted human intelligence, and preferred to rely more heavily on satellite surveillance. As a result, he was caught by surprise when Iran’s government collapsed. President Reagan supported the development of new satellites for intelligence, but also the renewed development of agents in place. President Clinton followed President Carter’s preference for SIGINT, while Presidents G.H.W. and George W. Bush have focused primarily on militarily actionable intelligence, in terms of policy. If Senator McCain is elected president this November, he is likely to maintain the emphasis on MILINT primacy, while an Obama victory would likely result in a sharp decrease in support for field officers.

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