The FBI has always used intelligence to solve complex cases and dismantle criminal organizations. Today, intelligence helps us understand threats to the United States, whether they are from gangs, spies, organized crime, hackers, or terrorists, so that we can protect our communities and our national security. Intelligence informs our decision-making so that we allocate scarce resources where they will do the most good, focus on the cases with the potential to neutralize the greatest threats, and recruit sources who have answers to our most pressing questions. When we share this intelligence with our Intelligence Community and law enforcement partners, we share its benefits with them as well, enhancing the effectiveness of our homeland and national security efforts. We bolster the ability of everyone with a role in protecting the American people, from the patrol officer to the President, to make informed decisions.
The FBI’s intelligence efforts are led by the Directorate of Intelligence at Headquarters and managed by the Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs) in every field office, but the entire FBI has a role in supporting the intelligence mission.
Understanding Threats and Vulnerabilities
Traditionally, the FBI has derived intelligence primarily from cases. As a national security organization, we now use intelligence to develop a comprehensive understanding of the threats we face. Analysts examine intelligence gleaned through cases and combine it with publicly available information about an area’s infrastructure, economy, and other statistics. When informed by regular outreach to the community, the field office can develop a thorough understanding of its territory and the threats and vulnerabilities within.
This understanding helps managers guide the office’s activities, and also informs national efforts. It improves our ability to proactively identify threats and manage current investigative activities strategically, putting resources where they can do the most good. It helps us identify new opportunities for intelligence collection and criminal prosecution. It also enables us to provide businesses, operators of critical infrastructure, and individuals in the community with the information they need to protect themselves.
The FBI intelligence cycle begins with “requirements”—questions that investigators, analysts, and policy makers need to answer to protect the nation. Requirements can be issued by the Intelligence Community, state and local law enforcement partners, or by the FBI itself. Each FBI investigative program has a set of national requirements, and each field office has a set of local requirements to meet. Here are some examples of the types of requirements the FBI handles every day:
- The Criminal Investigative Division at Headquarters wants to know if there are signs of a particular gang in certain regions.
- The Intelligence Community wants to know how money flows to a particular international terrorist organization.
- A field office wants to know if other offices have seen a particular mortgage scam and how they detected it.
- A police department wants to know if there are any threats related to an upcoming sporting event.
- A special agent working on cyber crimes is working with local companies to help them defend against hackers. She wants to know who has a good contact at a particular technology firm that might be a future target.
These various requirements for collection are consolidated and prioritized by analysts on the Field Intelligence Group (FIG) through a careful balancing of factors including national and regional priorities, the level of threat represented by the subject in each case, and specific concerns such as requests from local law enforcement, or the impact of a particular case on the community.
Planning and Direction
The FBI often can address an intelligence requirement through analysis of information it has lawfully obtained through its investigations. When the FBI does not have the information necessary to address a requirement, a particular squad may be directed to collect the information. These assignments are given to the squad that has greatest likelihood to have the sources, liaison contacts, or general expertise to collect the needed intelligence.
The FBI collects intelligence to further case investigations, to follow threat leads, to help respond to requests from the law enforcement and Intelligence Communities, or to improve our understanding of a particular issue. These activities must have a proper purpose, and may not be initiated based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment, including speech and affiliation with a particular religion.
The FBI’s special agents, surveillance specialists, language specialists, and intelligence and financial analysts are all intelligence collectors. Forensics experts at the FBI Laboratory, computer scientists at Regional Computer Forensics Laboratories, and fingerprint examiners working on scene in Iraq and Afghanistan all contribute to the FBI’s intelligence collection capabilities as well.
Intelligence is collected through activities such as interviews, physical surveillances, wiretaps, searches, and undercover operations. Which techniques can be used in a particular situation depends on the type of investigation, available information justifying the investigation, and specific authorizations. This is determined by the Constitution, federal laws and regulations, Attorney General Guidelines, and internal FBI policy.
A general rule is that investigators must use the least intrusive investigative techniques possible to accomplish a proper purpose. The FBI has a century of history as a law enforcement agency that operates within the framework of the Fourth Amendment and traditionally looks at information for its ability to stand up to cross-examination in court. This background brings a high level of discipline to the FBI’s intelligence efforts.
In addition to the intelligence collection done in operational squads, each field office has one or more squads of special agents who are focused exclusively on collection of intelligence to meet priority requirements. These specially trained agents do not work on cases for prosecution, but apply their expertise to recruiting human sources or conducting liaison with law enforcement partners and the private sector. Although they do not take cases to trial, these agents must follow the same restrictions and guidelines as other agents.
FBI intelligence products serve a wide audience including national level policy and decision-makers, intelligence agencies, warfighters, state, local, and tribal law enforcement, and the FBI itself. FBI intelligence products include:
- Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs) are the primary means for sharing “raw” intelligence. The FBI issues thousands of IIRs per year and field offices track and are evaluated for the quality of their IIRs, how quickly those IIRs are completed and sent out, and how well they respond to priority intelligence requirements.
- Intelligence Bulletins share information on significant criminal or national security developments or trends of interest to the intelligence or law enforcement communities. Intelligence Bulletins may be classified, but are prepared at the lowest possible classification level to ensure the broadest dissemination.
- Situational Intelligence Reports (SIRs) are produced by FIGs to apply intelligence previously shared at the national level to the local area to assist state and municipal law enforcement.
- Assessments are “finished” intelligence products containing evaluated all-source information that address intelligence requirements or identify threats and trends.
- Intelligence Briefings are an integral part of intelligence analysis tradecraft. Effective briefing requires proper planning, organizing, and delivery skills. Intelligence briefs are presented at every level of the FBI from case analysis summaries at squad meetings to preparing for the Director’s daily intelligence brief.
Unlike most domestic intelligence agencies around the world, the FBI can exercise law enforcement authority to act on the intelligence we collect. This gives the FBI several unique capabilities. The FBI can shift easily between the use of intelligence tools such as surveillance or recruiting sources and law enforcement tools of arrest and prosecution. We can determine hour by hour if we should continue to monitor the subject of an investigation to collect additional intelligence, or if that subject presents an imminent threat to the community and should be arrested to prevent someone from being harmed.
Because national security and criminal threats are often intertwined, the ability to integrate intelligence and investigations makes the FBI uniquely situated to address our nation’s threats and vulnerabilities.
Safeguarding Civil Liberties
It is the FBI’s responsibility to protect Americans not only from crime and terrorism, but also from incursions into their constitutional rights. It is therefore ingrained in FBI personnel that we must carry out all activities with full adherence to the Constitution and the principles of personal liberty and privacy.
This is reinforced by internal procedures and safeguards, as well as oversight by the Department of Justice and Congress.