Welcome to Part 4 of my 6-part series, The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers. Last week, we talked about the happy employees at the Department of Homeland Security and how they can’t wait to welcome you home by asking why the fuck you left the country in the first place.
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Missed Part 1? Read it here.
Missed Part 2? Read it here.
Missed Part 3? Read it here.
The Intelligence Community:
Smart People Looking at Computers
Federal Bureau of Investigation
At an Intelligence Community (IC) meeting, the FBI representative is the one in the corner without a chair and who is happy just to be invited, not realizing he wasn’t invited but his boss caught wind of the meeting by chance at the last second and sent whoever wasn’t out getting coffee.
That’s because the FBI didn’t used to do intelligence. Up until the 2004 IC reorganization, the FBI was a law enforcement agency. In just a few years, it had to adjust from catching bad guys and building a case to put them in jail to watching bad guys just to see what they were up to. It’s a very hard habit to break.
One of the tools FBI put in place to help it gather intelligence is the Joint Terrorism Task Force, or JTTF. These centers bring together local, state, and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies so they can share information. If anyone can explain to me how these differ from Fusion Centers, I’m all ears. I’d ask the DNI but I don’t want to hear about those goddamn Imagineers again. Fuck you, Mickey Mouse.
Defense Intelligence Agency
DIA is the CIA for the military. It conducts operations to collect human intelligence related to combat, including the military intentions and capabilities of foreign governments and non-state actors, like Gerard Depardieu, who lost the support of his government years ago.
DIA’s Wikipedia page lists a bunch of people who spied on behalf of DIA but were then found out and executed. I’m not sure if DIA realizes it can go on Wikipedia and edit all that out. It might make it easier to recruit assets, because this is not a track record to instill confidence.
National Security Agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and National Reconnaissance Office
NSA, NGA, and NRO are the geeks but we totally respect them because they can do some really cool shit.
Thanks to Edward Snowden, you already know what NSA does. And so does everyone else in the world, including all the targets we really need intelligence on. When Snowden revealed the NSA spies on people, everyone was shocked that a spy agency would spy on people. But wonders never cease.
Depending on your perspective, NSA either listens in on every phone call you make and reads every email you ever sent and knows what you really think about your sister’s new boyfriend, or it has legitimately built certain capabilities that allow it to access sensitive personal information only when deemed appropriate and after a rigorous legal scrub that is not prone to human error or abuse. My guess is the reality is somewhere in between, but that doesn’t spin well in the media, so let’s keep arguing about it. But can we at least agree that, objectively speaking and politics aside, Citizenfour was kind of boring?
NGA are the map and imagery people. They can tell you the make and measurements of an airplane you can’t spot in a photograph even after they point it out to you. The group has moved around on the IC organizational chart and changed names a few times, but NGA are the guys who spotted a nuclear missile in a Rorschach picture, giving us an idea about Soviet psychology and motivation in Cuba back in 1962.
NRO manages a complex system of satellites and overhead sensors that are constantly circling above us and may be shooting our brains with waves for all we know. We don’t mind about that so much, but if a satellite goes nutty and fucks up our cell phone reception, we completely lose it.
NRO was created in 1961, but it was super secret. Pissed off about the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the U.S. realized it should get its shit together in this space race or some Russian dude would write The Right Stuff and then what would happen to Ed Harris’s career? NRO’s web site helpfully informs us that, “The existence of the organization is no longer classified today.” Which I guess is the reason I can read about it on a public NGA web site.
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