Collecting Intelligence: Balancing Safety, Security, And Privacy

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Collecting Intelligence: Balancing Safety, Security, and Privacy

Collecting Intelligence: Balancing Safety, Security, and Privacy


Since the Revolutionary War era, American political and military leaders have recognized the value of gathering intelligence on their adversaries, especially in wartime. Early attempts to collect intelligence in wartime were typically small, ad hoc efforts that ended quickly once peace returned. They emphasized the use of spies to secretly acquire information that contributed to success in battle. Such information included knowledge of the enemy's strengths, weaknesses, intentions, and dispositions. Beginning in the late 19th century with the creation and growth of permanent intelligence organizations, the collection of intelligence was no longer limited to wartime. In peacetime, American intelligence gathering became a longterm effort to collect information from open and clandestine sources to aid government policy makers and avert strategic surprise.

The intelligence gathered included information about the intentions and capabilities of potential foreign adversaries and, occasionally, data on U.S. citizens and groups deemed to be subversive. In the modern era, the U.S. government has employed new and different methods to collect intelligence to forestall future attacks on U.S. soil. This paper discusses the implications of these actions on Constitutional guarantees of privacy for U.S. citizens versus the government's imperative to provide safety and security in a concise and comprehensive way.


While US government develops strategies to combat terrorist violence, security forces focus on the tactical aspects of counterterrorism. US government frequently employs two types of political strategies against terrorists. They often exert political pressure on nations that support terrorists. Dyson (2001) argues that this type of pressure is designed to keep “rogue nations” from sponsoring terrorism. Nations also band together to cooperate against terrorism. For instance, foreign ministers from several governments met in Paris in 1996 and pledged to fight terrorists through international collaboration. These political activities are important strategies that seek to limit the effectiveness of terrorism. In another example, the United States sought to build a strong international coalition to stop Osama bin Laden in 2001 after his terrorist network orchestrated attacks against New York and Washington, D.C.

Tactical security forces are involved with four primary functions: intelligence gathering, investigating, responsive measures, and target hardening. Each of these functions fits under the broad theme of counterterrorism, but intelligence gathering is the most important because the effectiveness of each function depends on the quality of intelligence that a government can gather.

The first step in intelligence gathering involves examining the type of problem posed by the terrorists. This is done by determining the source, motivation, and probable actions of the terrorists. Each campaign differs, but the basic questions remain the same. Are there international implications to the incident? Does the action involve a group or an individual? If it is a group, how large is the organization and does it have foreign support? What is the primary factor motivating the action? What do the terrorists say about themselves? How is the action financed? How are the terrorists armed? Can their leaders be identified?

There are two methods of intelligence ...
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