How The Ic Works

The Intelligence Community is made up of 18 elements that each focus on a different aspect of our common mission.

Our Organizations

Learn more about the 18 organizations that make up the IC and what they do.

Air Force Intelligence


Army Intelligence and Security Command


Central Intelligence Agency


Defense Intelligence Agency


Dept. of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence


Dept. of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis


Dept. of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research


Dept. of Treasury Office of Intelligence & Analysis


Drug Enforcement Administration Intelligence Program


Federal Bureau of Investigation


Marine Corps Intelligence


National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency


National Reconnaissance Office


National Security Agency


Office of Naval Intelligence


Office of the Director of National Intelligence


U.S. Coast Guard Intelligence


U.S. Space Force


the SIX STEPS in the Intelligence Cycle


Policymakers—including the president, presidential advisors, the National Security Council, and other major departments and agencies—determine what issues need to be addressed and set intelligence priorities. The IC’s issue coordinators interact with these officials to identify core concerns and information requirements.

Those needs, in turn, guide our collection strategies and allow us to produce appropriate intelligence products. We begin with an awareness of what has previously been collected to inform plans for new intelligence gathering and analysis. Some issues, like terrorism, cybercrime, and weapons proliferation, are ongoing subjects of interest.


The IC uses many methods to collect information, including face-to-face meetings with human sources, technical and physical surveillance, satellite surveillance, interviews, searches, and liaison relationships. Information can be gathered through open, covert, and electronic means.All collection methods must be lawful and are subject to oversight by Congress and others. Information collected must be relevant, timely, and useful. At this stage, the information is often referred to as raw intelligence, because it hasn’t been thoroughly examined and evaluated yet.

There are six basic types of intelligence collection.

Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT)

Imagery and geospatial data produced through an integration of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geographic information.

Human-Source Intelligence (HUMINT)

Information collected from human sources, the oldest method for collecting information.

Imagery Intelligence (IMINT)

Representations of objects reproduced electronically or by optical means on film, electronic display devices, or other media.

Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT)

Scientific and technical intelligence information used to locate, identify, or describe distinctive characteristics of specific targets.

Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT)

Publicly available information appearing in print or electronic form, including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the Internet, commercial databases, videos, graphics, and drawings.

Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)

The interception of signals, whether between people, between machines, or a combination of both.


The collection stage of the intelligence cycle can yield large amounts of data that requires organization and refinement. Substantial resources are devoted to synthesizing this data into a form that intelligence analysts can use.

Techniques include:

  • Processing imagery
  • Decoding messages and translating broadcasts
  • Preparing information for computer processing, storage, and retrieval
  • Placing human-source reports into a form and context to make them more understandable


Analysts examine and evaluate all the information collected, add context as needed, and integrate it into complete products. They produce finished intelligence that includes assessments of events and judgments about the implications of the information for the United States.

Often times they include alternative scenarios in their assessments and, when appropriate, warn about possible developments abroad that could provide threats to or opportunities for U.S. security and policy interests. Based on their in-depth subject-matter knowledge, analysts are adept at spotting intelligence gaps and use those as the basis for requirements for additional collection.


Finished intelligence is delivered to policymakers, military leaders, and other senior government leaders who then make decisions based on the information. Finished intelligence can lead to requests for additional information, thus triggering the intelligence cycle again.

The President’s Daily Brief is one example of intelligence dissemination. Many other policymakers and senior cabinet official also receive daily or near-daily intelligence briefings.


Although this is listed as a discrete step in the intelligence cycle, evaluation of our products and approaches to producing them is ongoing throughout the cycle. We are continuously evaluating our products for relevance, bias, accuracy, and timeliness, as well as our process to ensure it is efficient and thorough.

Feedback from customers is an important part of evaluation, as it helps us adjust and refine our activities and outputs to better meet customers’ evolving information needs.

Oversight & Partners

The Intelligence Community is subject to oversight by several groups, who ensure we conduct our activities within the law and in the best interests of the country. We also partner with local and international groups to share information and with the private sector to develop new technology.

Oversight Bodies

Intelligence oversight is a way to ensure that the IC works with the law and balances collecting essential information and protecting individuals’ interests and privacy. Groups inside and outside of the IC conduct oversight. The IC regularly briefs the groups listed below on its activities and, where appropriate, coordinates with them in advance of taking action.

The President

National Security Council

Executive Branch: The National Security Council (NSC), chaired by the president, advises the president on national security and foreign policy. It also coordinates policies among various government agencies. As such, the NSC must remain informed about intelligence activities, analysis, and findings. The NSC is composed of the president; vice president; secretaries of Defense, State, Treasury, and Energy; and the National Security Advisor. Other agency heads and cabinet members are often invited to participate in NSC meetings.

President's Intelligence Advisory Board

Executive Branch: The President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) is an element within the Executive Office of the President. The PIAB exists exclusively to provide the president with an independent source of advice on the effectiveness with which the IC is meeting the nation's intelligence needs. The PIAB consists of not more than 16 members selected from distinguished citizens outside the government. The PIAB has access to all information necessary to perform its functions.

The Intelligence Oversight Board

Executive Branch: The Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), a standing committee of the PIAB since 1993, consists of not more than four members of the PIAB appointed by the Chairman of the PIAB. The IOB is charged with overseeing the IC's compliance with the Constitution and all applicable laws, Executive Orders, and Presidential Directives.

Office of Management and Budget

Executive Branch: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is part of the Executive Office of the President. OMB carries out its mission through five critical processes that are essential to the president’s ability to plan and implement his priorities across the Executive Branch: (1) Budget development and execution; (2) Management, including oversight of agency performance, human capital, Federal procurement, financial management, and information technology; (3) Regulatory policy, including coordination and review of all significant Federal regulations by executive agencies (4) Legislative clearance and coordination; (5) Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda.

Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board

Executive Branch: The Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) is an independent agency established by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, Pub. L. 110-53, signed into law in August 2007. Composed of four part-time members and a full-time chairman, the Board's responsibilities comprise two basic functions: oversight and advice. In its oversight role, the Board is authorized to continually review the implementation of executive branch policies, procedures, regulations, and information sharing practices relating to efforts to protect the nation from terrorism, in order to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are protected and to determine whether they are consistent with governing laws, regulations, and policies regarding privacy and civil liberties. In its advice role, the Board is authorized to review proposed legislation, regulations, and policies (as well as the implementation of new and existing policies and legal authorities), in order to advise the president and executive branch agencies on ensuring that privacy and civil liberties are appropriately considered in their development and implementation. The Board is also directed by statute to, when appropriate, coordinate the activities of federal agency privacy and civil liberties officers on relevant interagency matters.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Legislative Branch: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is responsible for regular oversight and review of U.S. intelligence activities. The committee also authorizes funding for intelligence activities and can provide legislative provisions that limit or allow certain intelligence activities. The committee is comprised of 15 senators: eight from the majority party and seven from the minority party.

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Legislative Branch: The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has oversight over the entire Intelligence Community and the Military Intelligence Program. It also has a role in intelligence funding and must be notified of covert action plans. Members from both parties make up the committee.

Other Legislative Groups

Legislative Branch: As the IC resides in various departments and agencies, additional committees of the U.S. Congress provide oversight and funding for the IC’s activities, including:

  • House and Senate Armed Services Committees
  • Judiciary Committees
  • Homeland Security Committees
  • Appropriations Committees


Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Judiciary Branch: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) was established in 1978 when Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Court sits in Washington D.C., and is composed of eleven federal district court judges who are designated by the Chief Justice of the United States. Each judge serves for a maximum of seven years. By statute, the judges must be drawn from at least seven of the United States judicial circuits, and three of the judges must reside within 20 miles of the District of Columbia.

Inspectors General

Judiciary Branch: Each Intelligence Community agency has an Inspector General who is appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The IGs' job is to conduct audits and reviews within their respective organizations to ensure all activities comply with federal law, Executive Orders, and agency policy. The IGs report their findings to their agency or department heads and to Congress.


The Intelligence Community partners with numerous external groups to achieve its mission. The Office of Partner Engagement (PE), within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, focuses on helping the IC to integrate, coordinate, and collaborate with its many domestic, international, military, and private sector partners. Click on a partner category to learn more.

U.S. Military

The Intelligence Community and the military work hand-in-hand to keep our nation and our deployed troops safe. Each branch of the military has its own intelligence element, which is both part of the military and part of the IC. Together, these military and civilian IC elements collect strategic and tactical intelligence that supports military operations and planning, personnel security in war zones and elsewhere, and anti-terrorism efforts. In war zones and other high-threat areas abroad, military and IC civilians may be co-located to maximize resources.

Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement

Intelligence Community partnerships with law enforcement ensure we can effectively carry out our individual and shared national and homeland security responsibilities while working within our respective authorities. The IC and its law enforcement partners have made significant progress since 9/11 in building capacity, standardizing practices, and sharing information with domestic mission partners in the United States to defend against and respond to foreign and foreign-inspired threats to our homeland. Many threats to the U.S.—such as those posed by terrorists and transnational organized crime groups—transcend borders, making this type of cooperation a necessity.

Foreign Intelligence Agency Counterparts

Foreign intelligence or security services ("foreign liaison") are critical partners to the U.S. Intelligence Community, providing force-multiplying benefits to bear against our mutual enemies. Under the direction of the DNI, the Director of the CIA is responsible for "coordinating" those foreign liaison relationships.

Foreign Military Counterparts

Similar to foreign liaison relationships, contact between military intelligence officers and their foreign military counterparts is critical to force protection and overall national security, particularly when conducting joint maneuvers on foreign soil and dealing with transnational threats. These relationships fill in information gaps, increase operational awareness, and improve understanding of local attitudes and tensions, particularly in areas where cultural complexities and norms are not well-understood by U.S. personnel.

Private Sector

A strong partnership between the U.S. private and public sectors remains one of the cornerstones of ensuring an intelligence advantage for our nation's decision-makers, law enforcement officers, and warfighters. The Intelligence Community sponsors a number of programs to facilitate joint research and development with both industry and academia.

Some individual IC agencies also foster and sponsor relationships with the private sector, particularly to advance innovation and an enhanced mutual understanding of longstanding and emerging issues. One example is NGA, which has a directorate dedicated to research activities and has an official presence in Silicon Valley, the NGA Outpost Valley.

Learn more about private sector partnerships on the Collaboration page.

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