Intelligence Branch

FBI Intelligence Analyst

Our Intelligence Branch is front and center making sure the FBI produces the intelligence necessary to protect the nation. It is the strategic leader of the FBI’s Intelligence Program, driving collaboration to achieve the full integration of intelligence and operations and proactively engaging with the Bureau’s partners across the intelligence and law enforcement communities. By overseeing intelligence policy and guidance, the Intelligence Branch ensures the FBI’s intelligence production remains objective and strikes the correct balance between strategic and tactical work. 

Inside the Intelligence Branch

In August 2014, Director James Comey established the FBI’s Intelligence Branch to lead the integration of intelligence and operations across the organization. The Intelligence Branch is responsible for all intelligence strategy, resources, policies, and functions.

The ongoing efforts of the Intelligence Branch represent the continued evolution of the FBI’s Intelligence Program and the Bureau’s essential ability to fulfill both its national security and law enforcement responsibilities. As the threat environment continues to evolve, so must the FBI in order to keep pace with the United States’ adversaries.

The Intelligence Branch includes the Directorate of Intelligence.

Directorate of Intelligence

The Directorate of Intelligence is the FBI’s dedicated national intelligence workforce, with clear authority and responsibility for all Bureau intelligence functions. The directorate’s mission is to provide strategic support, direction, and oversight to the FBI’s Intelligence Program. It carries out this function through embedded intelligence elements at FBI Headquarters and in each field division.


Intelligence Branch Executive Assistant Director - Joshua D. Skule
Directorate of Intelligence Assistant Director - John S. Adams

Intelligence Primer

Intelligence Defined

Simply defined, intelligence is information that has been analyzed and refined so that it is useful to policymakers in making decisions—specifically, decisions about potential threats to national security.

The FBI and the other organizations that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community use the term “intelligence” in three different ways:

  • Intelligence is a product that consists of information that has been refined to meet the needs of policymakers;
  • Intelligence is also a process through which that information is identified, collected, and analyzed; and,
  • Intelligence refers to both the individual organizations that shape raw data into a finished intelligence product for the benefit of decision makers and the larger community of these organizations.

Intelligence Cycle

The intelligence cycle is one of active collaboration and consists of six steps: requirements, planning and direction, collection, processing and exploitation, analysis and production, and dissemination. The cycle is circular in nature and the movement between the steps is fluid.The intelligence cycle is the process of developing unrefined data into polished intelligence for the use of policymakers. The cycle consists of six steps, described below. The graphic shows the circular nature of this process, although movement between the steps is fluid. Intelligence uncovered at one step may require going back to an earlier step before moving forward.

Requirements are identified information needs—what must be known to safeguard the nation. Intelligence requirements are established by the Director of National Intelligence according to guidance received from the president and the national and homeland security advisors. Requirements are developed based on critical information necessary to protect the United States from national security and criminal threats. The attorney general and the Director of the FBI participate in the formulation of national intelligence requirements.

Planning and Direction is management of the entire effort, from identifying the need for information to delivering an intelligence product to a consumer. It involves implementation plans to satisfy requirements levied on the FBI, as well as identifying specific collection requirements based on FBI needs. Planning and direction also is responsive to the end of the cycle, because current and finished intelligence, which supports decision-making, generates new requirements. The executive assistant director for the National Security Branch leads intelligence planning and direction for the FBI.

Collection is the gathering of raw information based on requirements. Activities such as interviews, technical and physical surveillances, human source operation, searches, and liaison relationships result in the collection of intelligence.

Processing and Exploitation involves converting the vast amount of information collected into a form usable by analysts. This is done through a variety of methods including decryption, language translations, and data reduction. Processing includes the entering of raw data into databases where it can be exploited for use in the analysis process.

Analysis and Production is the conversion of raw information into intelligence. It includes integrating, evaluating, and analyzing available data, and preparing intelligence products. The information’s reliability, validity, and relevance is evaluated and weighed. The information is logically integrated, put in context, and used to produce intelligence. This includes both “raw” and finished intelligence. Raw intelligence is often referred to as “the dots”—individual pieces of information disseminated individually. Finished intelligence reports “connect the dots” by putting information in context and drawing conclusions about its implications.

Dissemination—the last step—is the distribution of raw or finished intelligence to the consumers whose needs initiated the intelligence requirements. The FBI disseminates information in three standard formats: Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs), FBI Intelligence Bulletins, and FBI Intelligence Assessments. FBI intelligence products are provided daily to the attorney general, the president, and to customers throughout the FBI and in other agencies. These FBI intelligence customers make decisions—operational, strategic, and policy—based on the information. These decisions may lead to the levying of more requirements, thus continuing the FBI intelligence cycle.

Intelligence Collection Disciplines

Various kinds of intelligence—military, political, economic, social, environmental, health, and cultural—provide important information for policy decisions. Many people view intelligence as gathered through secret or covert means. While some intelligence is indeed collected through clandestine operations and known only at the highest levels of government, other intelligence consists of information that is widely available. There are five main ways of collecting intelligence that are often collectively referred to as intelligence collection disciplines, or INTs.

  • Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is the collection of information from human sources. The collection may be done openly, as when FBI agents interview witnesses or suspects, or it may be done through clandestine or covert means (espionage). Within the United States, HUMINT collection is the FBI’s responsibility. Beyond U.S. borders, HUMINT is generally collected by the CIA, but also by other U.S. components abroad. Although HUMINT is an important collection discipline for the FBI, we also collect intelligence through other methods, including SIGINT, MASINT, and OSINT.
  • Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) refers to electronic transmissions that can be collected by ships, planes, ground sites, or satellites. Communications Intelligence (COMINT) is a type of SIGINT and refers to the interception of communications between two parties. U.S. SIGINT satellites are designed and built by the National Reconnaissance Office, although conducting U.S. signals intelligence activities is primarily the responsibility of the National Security Agency (NSA).
  • Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) is sometimes also referred to as photo intelligence (PHOTINT). One of the earliest forms of IMINT took place during the Civil War, when soldiers were sent up in balloons to gather intelligence about their surroundings. IMINT was practiced to a greater extent in World Wars I and II when both sides took photographs from airplanes. Today, the National Reconnaissance Office designs, builds, and operates imagery satellites, while the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is largely responsible for processing and using the imagery.
  • Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT) is a relatively little-known collection discipline that concerns weapons capabilities and industrial activities. MASINT includes the advanced processing and use of data gathered from overhead and airborne IMINT and SIGINT collection systems. Telemetry Intelligence (TELINT) is sometimes used to indicate data relayed by weapons during tests, while electronic intelligence (ELINT) can indicate electronic emissions picked up from modern weapons and tracking systems. Both TELINT and ELINT can be types of SIGINT and contribute to MASINT.
    • The Defense Intelligence Agency’s Central MASINT Office (CMO), is the principal user of MASINT data. Measurement and Signatures Intelligence has become increasingly important due to growing concern about the existence and spread of weapons of mass destruction. MASINT can be used, for example, to help identify chemical weapons or pinpoint the specific features of unknown weapons systems. The FBI’s extensive forensic work is a type of MASINT. The FBI Laboratory’s Chem-Bio Sciences Unit, for example, provides analysis to detect traces of chemical, biological, or nuclear materials to support the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of terrorist activities.

  • Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) refers to a broad array of information and sources that are generally available, including information obtained from the media (newspapers, radio, television, etc.), professional and academic records (papers, conferences, professional associations, etc.), and public data (government reports, demographics, hearings, speeches, etc.).
    • Unlike the other INTs, open-source intelligence is not the responsibility of any one agency, but instead is collected by the entire U.S. Intelligence Community. One advantage of OSINT is its accessibility, although the sheer amount of available information can make it difficult to know what is of value. Determining the data’s source and its reliability can also be complicated. OSINT data therefore still requires review and analysis to be of use to policymakers.
Lab Technician Working With Trace Evidence

Our Responsibility to Protect Civil Liberties

Intelligence activities conducted within the U.S. require special consideration because they directly affect privacy rights and civil liberties protected by the Constitution and other laws.

The FBI’s authority to collect information is very clearly laid out in law and is directed by the attorney general. Intelligence collection is done only in accordance with the intelligence priorities set by the president, and is guided at every step by procedures mandated by the attorney general. The FBI is subject to and follows the attorney general’s guidelines and procedures for FBI national security investigations and foreign intelligence collection.

The FBI’s collection authorities are also controlled by the federal courts. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, a federal judge must still approve search warrants and wiretaps for counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. Agents must still prove probable cause in order to obtain a warrant authorizing searches and wiretaps. The FBI only collects and disseminates intelligence under guidelines designed specifically to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens, and the Bureau is committed to using its authorities and resources responsibly.

The FBI is dedicated to carrying out its mission in accordance with the protections provided by the Constitution. FBI agents are trained to understand and appreciate that the responsibility to respect and protect the law is the basis for their authority to enforce it.

The FBI puts a premium on thoroughly training its special agents about their responsibility to respect the rights and dignity of individuals. In addition to extensive instruction on Constitutional law, criminal procedure, and sensitivity to other cultures, every new FBI agent visits to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to see for themselves what can happen when law enforcement becomes a tool of oppression.

Man Standing Over Digital Display

Evolution of FBI Intelligence

The FBI has always used intelligence to investigate and solve cases. Throughout the Bureau’s history, its ability to successfully adapt to new threats included the development of increasingly sophisticated methods of gathering, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence. The FBI history page provides a glimpse at the Bureau’s intelligence role from its founding to the present day.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FBI recognized the need to establish centralized control over intelligence operations throughout the Bureau. It began in 2001 with a dedicated analysis section in the Counterterrorism Division (CTD), and, in 2002, led to the creation of an Office of Intelligence within CTD. This structure and capability significantly enhanced the Bureau’s counterterrorism operations and those of its partners.

In 2003, the FBI extended this concept across all programs—Criminal, Cyber, Counterterrorism, and Counterintelligence—and unified intelligence authorities under a new FBI Office of Intelligence led by an executive assistant director for intelligence (EAD-I). The Office of Intelligence leveraged U.S. Intelligence Community tradecraft to direct all FBI intelligence activities. Congress and the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (“The 9/11 Commission”) reviewed these efforts and provided recommendations to further strengthen the FBI’s intelligence capability.

The FBI was first directed to create a Directorate of Intelligence through a November 23, 2004 presidential memorandum for the attorney general (titled “Further Strengthening Federal Bureau of Investigation Capabilities”) and later through The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 reiterated this guidance and formally acknowledged the significant progress made by the FBI in improving its intelligence capabilities since the 9/11 attacks.

The Directorate of Intelligence was established in February 2005 as a dedicated national intelligence workforce within the FBI—a service within a service. The central mission of the FBI’s Intelligence Program is to optimally position the Bureau to meet current and emerging national security and criminal threats. The Bureau does this in cooperation with its fellow intelligence organizations.

In June 2005, the president directed the attorney general to create a “National Security Service” within the FBI, as recommended by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD Commission).

The attorney general implemented the president’s directive in September 2005 by creating the FBI’s National Security Branch (NSB), which combines the missions, capabilities, and resources of the Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence divisions and the Directorate of Intelligence under the leadership of a senior FBI official. In July 2006, the newly-created FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD) also became part of the NSB. The branch oversees the national security operations of these four components and is accountable for the national security functions carried out by other FBI divisions.

For more information about the NSB, visit the NSB webpage.

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