Intelligence agencies all over the world are organizations used by governments to gather information (intelligence) at both local and mostly at international levels. Intelligence agencies use spies to gather information about the activities of other countries. Such organizations usually want the information to do with the trade secrets of other countries, military secrets, and information about the security measures in such countries. These agencies need to gather such information so as to determine whether such countries pose a threat to them, usually it is about security threats. Countries, which are economic giants, would also use such agencies to acquire the business secrets of competing countries. Moreover, intelligence is not all about clandestine covert operations; such organizations also gather information in environmental, cultural, and health fields, among other fields. There are five main methods of intelligence collection, which are often referred to as intelligence collection disciplines. This paper shall analyze these fields in the intelligence agencies of three nations, that is, China, Iran, and Russia determine which of them poses the greatest threat to national security of the United States.
The intelligence disciplines
The five main intelligence disciplines are; signals intelligence (SIGINT), human intelligence (HUMINT), measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT), and open-source intelligence (OSINT). These five intelligence disciplines or “INTS” as they are commonly known make up the intelligence gathering activities of many intelligence organizations. China, Iran, and Russia are all countries that are thought to pose a threat to the United States national security. There are numerous ways by which we can assess the actual threat that these countries pose to the United States, but this paper shall focus on the development of the five intelligence gathering disciplines in these respective countries. Among the three countries, Russia is the country that poses the biggest threat to U.S national security according to the development of the INTs in their intelligence agencies. The paper shall analyze the three countries and seek to demonstrate that Russia indeed poses the greatest threat to the U.S.
Human intelligence (HUMINT)
The Ministry of State Security (MSS) is China’s main foreign intelligence agency which is among the top intelligence agencies in the world. The MSS has agents worldwide who gather information on behalf of their government. It is known to use agents who are in the U.S temporarily like students. However, they do not pose the biggest threat to U.S security because the U.S intelligence agencies are aware of their operations and they are not well coordinated. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service or SVR, which works in collaboration with the Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, (GRU) are the main Russian intelligence agencies that conduct foreign espionage. In 1997, the GRU had deployed over seven times more spies in foreign countries than the SVR. This shows that the GRU is a bigger threat to the U.S in terms of human intelligence gathering than the SVR. This is mainly because of the huge number of its workforce.
Russia poses the greatest threat to U.S security because it has a long history of intelligence gathering within the USA. Russia has deployed agents within the USA since the world wars, and also during the cold war years. This means that Russia is more experienced at deploying human assets within the USA because of its many years experience of doing the same. The MISIRI, also known as VEVAK, VAJA, or MOIS are the Iranian Intelligence agency in charge of both local and foreign intelligence gathering. The number of employees at MOIS is estimated at around 30000, which is twice that of the CIA, America’s foreign intelligence agency. Despite the huge number of its employees, MOIS does not pose a huge threat to the USA on the human intelligence discipline. MOIS agents are mainly known for committing murders and aiding terrorists rather than for gathering intelligence. They are also not well trained in intelligence gathering.
Signals intelligence (SIGINT)
Signals intelligence refers to electronic transmissions, which can be collected by planes, satellites, ships and ground sites. One type of SIGINT is communications intelligence (COMINT), which is the interception of channels of communication between two parties. The U.S National security agency is in charge of collecting SIGINT; it has the most advanced signal collecting technology in the world. Russia also has highly advanced satellites and ships and poses the biggest competition in the USA in the signal collection discipline. China does not have the advanced technology that the USA and Russia have in terms of satellite and ships, but has highly advanced COMINT. Chinese hackers have initiated numerous cyber attacks in the USA and other countries, which have been aimed at stealing sensitive data in computers. In response to these cyber attacks, the USA has employed many computer security specialists to build robust firewalls for its systems. Iran does not have the advanced technological capabilities in order to be a threat to the USA in SIGINT.
Imagery intelligence (IMINT)
Imagery intelligence is also known as (PHOTINT), which is photo intelligence. IMINT was largely used during World War I and II, when both sides used spy planes to take photographs. The USA has remarkably advanced imagery satellites, which are mainly built by the National Reconnaissance Office. Russia also possesses technological capabilities to build extremely powerful imagery satellite since it has been stealing such technology from the USA since the cold war. Therefore, Russia poses the biggest threat to the USA in this field of intelligence collection. China also has satellites, but is not known to have extremely advanced technology to conduct high standards IMINT. It is still a threat to the USA in this field, but it is not as big as Russia is. On the other hand, Iran is not known to have any satellites in space and is not a threat to the USA in this intelligence discipline.
Measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT)
MASINT is an intelligence collection discipline that involves weapons capabilities and industrial activities. MASINT involves advanced processing of data gathered from IMINT and SIGINT collection systems. This discipline is a highly advanced form of intelligence collection. Both Russia and China possess some capability to carry out this intelligence collection method. However, Russia’s capability is superior to China’s; therefore, Russia poses a bigger threat to the USA on this front. Iran does not have the advanced research capability required to carry out this type of intelligence collection. Iran poses no threat to the USA in this discipline.
Open source intelligence (OSINT)
Open source intelligence refers to generally available information and its sources. This includes information from the media, academic, and professional records together with public data among others. This data is mainly used by policymakers after it has been reviewed. The capability of the three countries in this discipline is not a direct threat to the USA.
According to this paper’s analysis of the three countries and their capabilities in the five disciplines, the country, which poses the greatest threat to the USA, also leads against the others in most disciplines. Russia is the leader among all the three countries in most of the disciplines. Therefore, it can be concluded that Russia is the country, which poses the biggest threat to USA national security.
Grumman Northrop, “Capability of the People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation,” United States – China Economic and Security Review Commission, 9 October 2009.
Raymond W. Leonard, Secret soldiers of the revolution: Soviet military intelligence, 1918-1933. Westport, Conn.; London: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Anderson Julie, “The HUMINT Offensive from Putin’s Chekist State” International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence 20, no.2 (2007): 258 – 316
- Grumman Northrop, “Capability of the People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation,” United States – China Economic and Security Review Commission, 9 October 2009, 72.
- Raymond W. Leonard, Secret soldiers of the revolution: Soviet military intelligence, 1918-1933. (Westport, Conn.; London: Greenwood Press, 1999) 100.
- Anderson Julie, “The HUMINT Offensive from Putin’s Chekist State” International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence 20, no.2 (2007): 258 – 316