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Intelligence Officers


The concept of intelligence gathering comes from ancient times. In a military treatise titled Ping-fa (The Art of War), written in about 400 B.C., the Chinese military philosopher Sun-Tzu mentions the use of secret agents and the importance of good intelligence. Knowledge of an enemy's strengths and weaknesses has always been important to a country's leaders, and so intelligence systems have been used for centuries. 

Intelligence gathering has played a major role in contemporary military history. Both the British and the Americans used intelligence operatives during the Revolutionary War in an attempt to gain strategic advantage. The fledgling Continental Congress sent secret agents abroad in 1775, and Benedict Arnold will always be remembered as a spy who switched his allegiance from the colonists to the mother country. Some historians have suggested that World War I resulted from poor intelligence, since none of the countries involved had intended to go to war. With the rapid developments in technology that occurred in the early 20th century, especially in electronics and aeronautics, intelligence operations expanded in the decades after World War I. Operations escalated during World War II, when the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (1929–1945) was in operation. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), established in 1947, developed out of this office. At that time, the U.S. government believed that espionage was necessary to combat the aggression of the Soviet Union. The CIA continued to expand its activities during the Cold War, when countries were, in essence, engaged in conflict, using intelligence agencies rather than armies.

Some CIA incidents have caused international embarrassment, such as when a Soviet missile shot down a U.S. spy plane that was flying over and photographing Soviet territory in 1960. A scandal involving illegal wiretaps of thousands of Americans who had opposed the Vietnam War caused the CIA to reduce its activities in the late 1970s, although it geared up again during the administration of President Ronald Reagan. In 2006, the administration of George W. Bush had to defend itself against charges that it directed the National Security Agency, another intelligence-gathering organization, to illegally eavesdrop on Americans who were suspected of being linked to terrorism. In 2013, the Obama administration was criticized for collecting phone records of millions of Americans.

With the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War, the role of the CIA and intelligence officers changed. Emphasis is now placed on analyzing the constantly changing political and geographic situations in Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia, the Middle East, and other parts of the world. Intelligence officers are in demand to provide updated information and insight into how the political and economic circumstances of the world will affect the United States.

Today, the director of central intelligence advises the president and other policymakers and coordinates the activities of the entire national intelligence community. This community includes the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), agencies from the military, the Department of State, the Department of Energy, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security.

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