Our kingly essay writing service - your peace of mind!

History of U.S. Intelligence

← Third Culture Kids Soul →

Provision of maximum security is always a key demand for people from their government. The U.S. Government has always endeavored to ensure that its provides credible security to all citizens as well as the visitors to the U.S. Being a super power, the country has many enemies. This makes protection of the country’s borders quite a sensitive issue. As a result, the government has over time employed intelligence services in order to gather critical information regarding the security state of the country. The various changes in security matters have often called for reforms in the intelligence. This paper explores the various reforms that the U.S. intelligence has undergone over time.

Key words:  Intelligence



The intelligence services in the United States have a very rich history, often undergoing reforms in order to meet the demands of the society. General George Washington is reported is reported to have enlisted the services of secret intelligence service officers during the Revolutionary war. In 1775 for instance, George Washington deployed an intelligence service officer in Boston; the officers reported comprehensively on the military activities of the British forces, especially their movement. The result of this intelligence report and similar reports by a number of intelligence agents that had been recruited was the U.S. victory at York Town and the corresponding ability of the continental army to evade the British soldiers during the winters at Valley Forge (Lowenthal, 19992). The Continental Congress also recognized the importance of intelligence services in championing the colonial’s cause and in late 1775 formed the Committee of Secret Correspondence. The committee was given the mandate to collect foreign intelligence from people in England, Ireland and other European countries to aid in prosecution of the war (Richard & Cumming, 2005). In this research paper, different historical sources are explored in order to establish the major reforms that the U.S. intelligence underwent especially after the World War II, the Congress investigations in the 1970s and also the 9/11 attack and the war in Iraq.

George Washington’s interest in Intelligence

George Washington’s desire for intelligence services was imminent and ascended to the presidency. As a president, he appealed to the Congress to allocate funds for establishing intelligence services. This was in his very first state of the Union address in January 1790. The appeal was successful; in July, the Congress established the Contingent Fund for Foreign Intercourse, also to be known as the Secret Service Fund and authorized $ 40,000 for this course. As a result of great support and need for intelligence services in the country, it took only three since its inauguration for budgetary allocation towards intelligence services to shoot to 12 % of the government’s budget at the time. In later years, the House of Representatives necessitated that the information on the use of the amount be revealed; President Polk refused to comply with this request in 1846 citing sensitivity of the information involved. This was to be a precedent that other presidents were to follow.

American Civil War

Intelligence services were to gain more prevalence during the American civil war. Different historians do agree that both the Union and Confederate leadership had high esteem for information gathered through intelligence and always competed to oust each other in gathering this information. The Confederate side established the Signal and Secret Service Bureau whose primary charter was obtaining the northern newspapers. On the other hand, the Union’s Navy, State and war departments each maintained an intelligence service. Each side secretly maintained its intelligence service and tried to protect the gathered information from getting into the hands of the other group as was the case when Union codebreakers decoded Confederate messages and learnt that the plates for Confederate currency were being manufactured in New York.

Giving support to military operations was the main purpose of intelligence services before 1880s. This was however to be given a totally new face especially during the President Roosevelt’s tenure. He highly rated intelligence information and employed the information in order to achieve different targets. Unlike most of his successors who had used intelligence services for military gains, he used the services in order to gather foreign intelligence. It is reported that the president employed intelligence service in inciting a revolution in Panama with the aim of annexing the Panama Canal. This was replicated in 1907, when he relied on the intelligence information that indicated military build-up of the Japanese as his justification of the worldwide cruise of the “Great White Fleet” (Roger & Robert, 2002). Despite these events, intelligence in the early 20th century remained purposefully for domestic intelligence capabilities. In 1908, the security of the members of the congress was questioned following immense reports which indicated that the Secret Service was spying on these members. As a counter measure, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation was created. This was later changed to the famous Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Bureau grew rapidly and its roles also increased significantly to include collection of crucial foreign intelligence in 1916. Intelligence services intensified during the World War II, the Congressional Investigations of the 1970s and even most significantly following the September, 11 terrorism attack and the War in Iraq begun  in March 2003 (Lowenthal, 1992).

World War II

            The events that transpired during the World War I served to increase the interests of United States in the European affairs. As a result, more foreign intelligence had to be obtained using a variety of means. In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt sent William J. Donovan, an aficionado of intelligence to Europe. He was able to provide a comprehensive report on intelligence upon his return in 1941. As a result of the report, Donovan was appointed coordinator of information and as such was to form a non- military intelligence organization, an idea he had generated. Donovan was expected to gather information from different intelligence bodies and together with his team provide the analysis of the information. Vulnerability of the strength of the intelligence teams was laid open by the Japanese’s unprecedented attack on Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941. Poor coordination of the intelligence teams was blamed on the lack of information regarding the attack. With eventual entrance into the World War II, the U.S. had to strengthen its intelligence. This led to the formation of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in June 1942. This team was charged with the provision of all important clandestine information on Alexis Powers. Rivalry from other intelligence teams remained major obstacles to the operations of the OSS (Roger & Robert, 2005).

            In addition to the OSS, the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) was also created in 1942. It carried out a number of intelligence operations around the globe, including signal interception and photo reconnaissance. It provided vital intelligence analysis not only to U.S. but extended its services to allied forces to ensure that they emerged victorious. The end of World War II saw the disbanding of OSS and the formation of National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate the civilian and military national security policy for the president and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to coordinate national security intelligence.

The Congressional Investigations of the 1970

The congress took a lot of interest in the activities of the intelligence community especially in the last half of the 1970’s decade. New reforms in intelligence were instituted and mechanisms were also put in place to check the implementation of those reforms. In 1974, the congress passed an amendment to the Foreign Assistance act that required the president report to relevant committees on any intelligence operation any covert CIA operation in a foreign country. This was aimed at streamlining the CIA following media revelations on its covert operations in Angola (Roger & Robert, 2005).

            In 1978, the Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 1978. The Act gave new directions on how foreign intelligence surveillance would be conducted. It created special courts that would authorize surveillance of electronic communication for intelligence services. This was aimed at combating unwarranted searches that were previously being perpetrated by intelligence officers who claimed presidential authority. These reforms were as a fact aimed at protecting the rights of the people since intelligence officers were enormously violating the constitutional rights of the people.

September 11, 2001 and the War in Iraq initiated in March 2003

            Good intelligence was identified as the best instrument in combating terrorism activities as well as defeating resurgence in Iraq. In order to achieve these and other goals, various reforms were suggested. Among the important recommendations that were implemented are: the establishment of the position of the Director of National Intelligence, (DNI), the creation of the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) and National Counter Proliferation Center (NCPC), the creation of intelligence-oriented National Security Service in the FBI and the breaking down of many walls preventing corporation and information sharing among the intelligence community’s 15 federal agencies. These reforms in the intelligence have resulted in a better Intelligence Community that is expected to achieve a lot for the country (Jack, 2005).



            Intelligence services have existed in the United States for a long time. The need for these services increases as time goes. At independence, domestic intelligence was the main concern of the government. Global changes have necessitated investment in foreign intelligence in order to protect the people from any foreign attack while at the same time ensuring that domestic problems are effectively addressed. Unlike in the past, all aspects of the economy in the world today greatly rely on the ability to provide accurate intelligence information. Investors rely on intelligence information before making the decision on where to invest and so do tourists. It is only by having credible intelligence service national security can be enhanced.

Dramatic changes occurred in the organization of U.S. intelligence during World War II. U.S.’s involvement in this war called immense gathering of intelligence, this led to expansion of the intelligence community (IC) and increased sophistication in intelligence operations. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was created and played a crucial role in coordinating the various intelligence groups that constituted the intelligence community.

Congress investigations of the 1970s of the intelligence community were well intended. They ensured that intelligence budget was manageable. The reforms also ensured that intelligence operations are carried out within the law and hence no violation of the constitution. The reforms have continued and in the wake of 9/11 attack and the war in Iraq, focus has been on improving intelligence operations in order to combat terrorism activities.

Related essays
  1. Soul
  2. Harmonizing Class Differences by Intersecting Gender, Sexuality and Race
  3. Third Culture Kids
  4. Bilingualism
Live Chat