Military Intelligence

Military intelligence (abbreviated MI, int. Commonwealth, or intel. U.S.), is a military discipline that focuses on the gathering, analysis, protection, and dissemination of information about the enemy, terrain, and weather in an area of operations or area of interest. Intelligence activities are conducted at all levels from tactical to strategic, during peacetime and in war.

Most militaries maintain a military intelligence corps with specialized intelligence units for collecting information in specific ways. Militaries also typically have intelligence staff personnel at each echelon down to battalion level. Intelligence officers and enlisted soldiers assigned to military intelligence may be selected for their analytical abilities or scores on intelligence tests. They usually receive formal training in these disciplines.

The intelligence process

The process of intelligence has four phases: collection, analysis, processing and dissemination. In the United Kingdom these are known as Direction, Collection, Processing and Dissemination.


Many of the most important facts are well known, or may be gathered from public sources. For example, the population, ethnic make-up and main industries of a region are extremely important to military commanders, and this information is usually public. The tonnage and basic weaponry of most capital ships and aircraft are also public, and their speeds and ranges can often be reasonably estimated by experts, often just from photographs. Ordinary facts like the lunar phase on particular days, or the ballistic range of common military weapons are also very valuable to planning, and are habitually collected in an intelligence library.

A great deal of useful intelligence can be gathered from photointerpretation of detailed high-altitude pictures of a country. Photointerpreters generally maintain catalogs of munitions factories, military bases and crate designs, in order to interpret munition shipments and inventories.

Most intelligence services maintain or support groups whose only purpose is to keep maps. Since maps also have valuable civilian uses, these agencies are often publicly associated or identified as other parts of the government. Some historic counter-intelligence services, especially in Russia and China, have intentionally banned or placed disinformation in public maps; good intelligence can identify this disinformation.

It is commonplace for the intelligence service of large countries to read every published journal of the nations in which it is interested, and the main newspapers and journals of every nation. This is a basic source of intellligence.

It is also common for diplomatic and journalistic personnel to have a secondary goal of collecting military intelligence. For western democracies, it is extremely rare for journalists to be paid by an official intelligence service, but they may still patriotically pass on tidbits of information they gather as they carry on their legitimate business. Also, much public information in a nation may be unavailable from outside the country. This is why most intelligence services attach members to foreign service offices.

Some industrialized nations also eavesdrop continuously on the entire radio spectrum, interpreting it in real time. This includes not only broadcasts of national and local radio and television, but also local military traffic, radar emissions, and even microwaved telephone and telegraph traffic, including satellite traffic. The U.S. in particular is known to maintain satellites able to intercept cell-phone and pager traffic. Analysis of bulk traffic is normally performed by complex computer programs that parse natural language and phone numbers looking for threatening conversations and correspondents. In some extraordinary cases, undersea or land-based cables have been tapped, as well.

More exotic secret information, such as encryption keys, diplomatic message traffic, policy and orders of battle are usually restricted to analysts on a [[need-to-know]] basis, in order to protect the sources and methods from foreign traffic analysis.


Analysis consists of assessment of an adversary's capabilities and vulnerabilities. In a real sense these are threats and opportunities. Analysts generally look for the least defended or most fragile resource that is necessary for important military capabilities. These are then flagged as critical vulnerabilities. For example, in modern mechanized warfare, the logistic train for a military unit's fuel supply is often the most vulnerable part of a nation's order of battle.

Human intelligence, gathered by spies, is usually carefully tested against unrelated sources. It is notoriously prone to inaccuracy: In some cases, sources will just make up imaginative stories for pay, or they may try to settle grudges by identifying personal enemies as enemies of the state that is paying for the intelligence. However, human intelligence is often the only form that provides information about an opponent's intentions and rationales, and it is therefore often uniquely valuable to successful negotiation of diplomatic solutions.

In some intelligence organizations, analysis follows a procedure, screening general media and sources to locate items or groups of interest, and then systematically assessing their location, capabilities, inputs and environment for vulnerabilities, using a continuously-updated list of typical vulnerabilities.


Critical vulnerabilities are then indexed in a way that makes them easily available to advisors and line intelligence personnel who package this information for policy-makers and war-fighters. Vulnerabilities are usually indexed by the nation and military unit, with a list of possible attack methods.

Critical threats are usually maintained in a prioritized file, with important enemy capabilities analyzed on a schedule set by an estimate of the enemy's preparation time. For example, nuclear threats between the USSR and the US were analyzed in real time by continuously on-duty staffs. In contrast, analysis of tank or army deployments are usually triggered by accumulations of fuel and munitions, which are monitored on slower, every-few-days cycles. In some cases, automated analysis is performed in real time on automated data traffic.

Packaging threats and vulnerabilities for decision makers is a crucial part of military intelligence. A good intelligence officer will stay very close to the policy-maker or war fighter, to anticipate their information requirements, and tailor the information needed. A good intelligence officer will ask a fairly large number of questions in order to help anticipate needs, perhaps even to the point of annoying the principal. For an important policy-maker, the intelligence officer will have a staff to which research projects can be assigned.

Developing a plan of attack is not the responsibility of intelligence, though it helps an analyst to know the capabilities of common types of military units. Generally, policy-makers are presented with a list of threats, and opportunities. They approve some basic action, and then professional military personnel plan the detailed act and carry it out. Once hostilities begin, target selection often moves into the upper end of the military chain of command. Once ready stocks of weapons and fuel are depleted, logistic concerns are often exported to civilian policy-makers.

Strategic intelligence

Strategic intelligence is concerned with broad issues such as economics, political assessments, military capabilities and intentions of foreign nations (and, increasingly, non-state actors). Such intelligence may be scientific, technical, tactical, or diplomatic, but these changes are analyzed in combination with known facts about the area in question, such as geography, demographics, and industrial capacities.

United States

The United States Armed Forces has various styles of referring to its intelligence functions. The numbering system was borrowed from the French General Staff around the period of World War I. In French usage, the Deuxième Bureau (second office) performed the intelligence function.

Joint intelligence staffs work for the J-2, while multinational intelligence is under a C-2. Each may have a G-2 (military/ground intelligence) /N-2 (naval intelligence) /A-2 (air intelligence) staff subordinated to it.

The lead agency for joint United States military intelligence operations as well as strategic defense-related intelligence is the Defense Intelligence Agency. DIA unifies the Department of Defense in regard to intelligence analysis and collection.

United States Army

Within the U.S. military, the term military intelligence is specific to the intelligence components of the U.S. Army, not the other services or the armed forces as a whole. There is no standard nomenclature within all the services; they use a variety of different names to refer to intelligence sections. Disciplines include HUMINT, GEOINT, MASINT, OSINT, STRATINT, SIGINT, and TECHINT.


Intelligence personnel belong to the Military Intelligence Corps. Most units at the battalion level and higher are assigned an intelligence officer, referred to as the S2. Units at the division level and higher refer to the post as the G2, while at joint command levels and higher, where multiple service branches are unified under one command, the same duty position is designated the J2. In most battalions, the position of S2 is usually held by a captain, with a lieutenant as a deputy and a sergeant first class as a staff NCO. Larger military units such as a division or separate brigade have military intelligence warrant officers assigned as technical experts in the various intelligence disciplines. In units where the specific mission of the unit itself is an intelligence mission, a wide variety and range of other intelligence occupational specialties will be found.

Personnel selected for intelligence occupational specialties are primarily screened for intelligence and psychological stability. They must also qualify for a security clearance, which may be at the Secret or Top Secret level based on the needs of their occupational specialty. Periodically, intelligence personnel must also undergo a security clearance review process covering the time span from their last successful personnel security investigation. If an individual loses their security clearance, they are removed from intelligence duties.


The U.S. Army Intelligence Museum is located at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. It features the history of Army intelligence from the Revolutionary war to present.

United States Navy and Marine Corps

The United States Navy refers to intelligence officers on a Flag Officer's staff as the N2. At this level, the N2 is usually a senior officer, such as a Captain or Commander. When the senior-most officer is a Captain or lower, the intelligence officer is called an INTELOFF or INTEL and is usually a Lieutenant Commander or Lieutenant with senior enlisted personnel on hand, such as Master Chief Petty Officers or below.

The U.S. Navy also maintains its own intelligence section, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). ONI is the oldest continuously operating intelligence service in the nation. While its mission has taken many different forms over its evolution, the main purpose has not changed from its inception. ONI’s primary mission remains to keep the fleet, national leaders and decision makers informed with critical war fighting information to assure a winning margin over any navy that would challenge this country’s interests. Located in the Federal Center in Suitland, Maryland, the National Maritime Intelligence Center, or NMIC, is the home and nerve center of ONI. The NMIC also supports the Coast Guard Intelligence Coordination Center (USCG ICC), the Navy Information Warfare Activity (NIWA), and a component of the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA). The United States Marine Corps's intelligence structure largely follows the same rules as the Army; however, while at sea naval terminology is used.

The Navy trains USN and USMC military intelligence officers at the Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center at Naval Air Station, Dam Neck.

United States Air Force

Within the USAF, the standard office symbol for intelligence sections within units is IN. The Air Force's intelligence operations are most commonly referred to as ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance). Air intelligence components of combined (multinational) or joint (multi-service) commands refer to air intelligence section heads as A-2. Additionally, the Air Force refers to its intelligence assets as ''air intelligence.'' These assets include satellites, U-2s, E3 AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System), unmanned UAVs like the Predator, Darkstar, and Global Hawk, and RC-135s and many derivatives of the RC-135 (often focusing on a very specific discipline, like ELINT or MASINT).

The Air Force's intelligence operations are designed to contribute primarily to air superiority, special operations, mobility, ground support, force protection, Search And Rescue (SAR), Battle Damage Assessment (BDA), and Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW), such as disaster relief.

The Air Force's intelligence fields focus on intelligence applications, SIGINT, ELINT, IMINT, Communications Security (COMSEC), HUMINT, OSINT, and cryptologic linguists. The Air Force trains intelligence officers and enlisted intelligence operators at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. The other services also send personnel to Goodfellow for specific training.

United States Coast Guard

The information in this section came from a U.S. Coast Guard web site. Since the Coast Guard is an agency of the United States Government, its works are in the public domain.

Coast Guard Intelligence (CGI)

Coast Guard Intelligence came into existence in 1915 by the assignment of a "Chief Intelligence Officer" in Headquarters. Article 304 in the first set of Coast Guard Regulations provided for the establishment of a Chief Intelligence Officer who was to be attached to the Office of Assistant Commandant. The Chief Intelligence Officer's duties were spelled out in Article 614 of those same Regulations: "securing of information which is essential to the Coast Guard in carrying out its duties; for the dissemination of this information to responsible officers, operating units of the Coast Guard, the Treasury Department and other collaborating agencies; and the maintenance of adequate files and records of law enforcement activities."

The office was relatively unknown until the enactment of the Prohibition Act when CGI grew to a cadre of 45 investigators. CGI was extremely successful during prohibition and an Intelligence Division was established at Headquarters in 1930, followed by district intelligence offices in 1933.

During World War II, CGI was concerned with internal and domestic intelligence and counterintelligence. It was charged with conducting all necessary investigation of Coast Guard personnel, and all applicants for positions therein, as well as investigations of applicants for merchant marine documentation. Further, Coast Guard Intelligence was charged with conducting investigations in connection with the Coast Guard's regulatory functions, except Marine Inspection Regulations.

In 1948, CGI became the primary investigative arm of the service. This mandate for an "investigative service" required that special agents conduct criminal, counterintelligence and personnel security investigations within the Coast Guard's area of responsibility. The majority of these investigations involved those criminal offenses which are in violation of the UCMJ.

In 1996, in compliance with the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, the Coast Guard reorganized all criminal investigative and protective-services functions into the Coast Guard Investigative Service, or CGIS. The centralization of CGIS meant reorganization from the top down. Special agents now worked for a regional Special Agent-in-Charge (SAC). The SACs were located in seven regional offices in Boston, Portsmouth, VA, Miami, Cleveland, New Orleans, Alameda, CA, and Seattle. The SACs, in turn, reported to the director of CGIS at Headquarters who reported to the Chief of Operations and the vice commandant. At this time, CGIS was comprised of 282 special agents and support personnel.


"Coast Guard Intelligence Looking For a Few Good Men and Women." Commandant's Bulletin (Jun 10 1983), p. 34.

"Coast Guard Investigative Service." Coast Guard (Dec 1996), pp. 24-25.

The Coast Guard at War: Volume XII: Intelligence. Washington, DC: Historical Section, Public Information Division, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, January 1, 1949.

United Kingdom

Intelligence requirements for the British Army are provided by the Intelligence Corps, the Royal Air Force being supported by an intelligence Branch. Whilst the Royal Navy does not have a dedicated Intelligence Branch officers from each of the professional branches are employed in intelligence roles, an Operational Intelligence branch does exist in the Royal Naval Reserve. Personnel are frequently employed in a joint environment, with staffs being formed from all three services.

Strategic level intelligence is provided to the Ministry of Defence and other government departments by the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS).

Training for all three services is carried out at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.

The abbreviation MI is used in the popular names of the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) reflecting a historical name in the 1920s when they were an element of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Whilst the designation has not been used since the 1920s they remain common in the media and popular perception.

:For a list of the numbers used in First World War British Military Intelligence, see MI numbers.

See also

External links


  • N.J.E. Austin and N.B. Rankov, Exploratio: Military and Political Intelligence in the Roman World From the Second Punic War to the Battle of Adrianople. London: Routledge, 1995.
  • Julius Caesar, The Civil War. Translated by Jane F. Mitchell. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
  • Cassius Dio, Dio's Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1916.
  • Francis Dvornik, Origins of Intelligence Services. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1974.
  • J.F.C. Fuller, A Military History of the Western World, Vol. 1: From the Earliest Times to the Battle of Lepanto. New York: Da Capo Press, 1987.
  • Richard A. Gabriel and Karen S. Metz, From Summer to Rome; The Military Capabilities of Ancient Armies. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.
  • John Keegan, Intelligence in War. New York: Knopf, 2003.
  • Charles H. Harris & Louis R. Sadler. The Border and the Revolution: Clandestine Activities of the Mexican Revolution 1910-1920. HighLonesome Books, 1988.
  • Henry Landau, The Enemy Within: The Inside Story of German Sabotage in America. G.P. Putnam Sons, 1937.
  • Sidney F. Mashbir. I Was An American Spy. Vantage, 1953.
  • Nathan Miller. Spying for America: The Hidden History of U.S. Intelligence. Dell Publishing, 1989.
  • Ian Sayer & Douglas Botting. America's Secret Army, The Untold Story of the Counter Intelligence Corps. Franklin Watts Publishers, 1989.
  • Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmerman Telegram. Ballantine Books, 1958.
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