An Agent of Transformation
Within a decade
following the end of the American Civil War, the United States Navy had
deteriorated into a small collection of obsolete vessels as compared to the
major naval powers in Europe, Russia and Japan. By the early 1880’s the
government finally acknowledged the need to address the situation. Lieutenant
Theodorus Bailey Myers Mason was a young naval officer who was part of a group
of reformers intent on modernizing the U.S. Navy.
Mason advocated the creation of an intelligence office to
collect and disseminate information on the latest technological developments
abroad to support the modernization of the U.S. Navy. ONI's first naval attachés
went abroad and acquired as much data and materiel as they could collect about
the latest foreign technological advances in naval warfare. ONI played an
important role in transforming the American fleet from a wooden ship Navy into a
world-class naval power by the turn of the century.
The year 1916 marked a significant turning point for
the Office of Naval Intelligence. Congress authorized the first major expansion
of ONI's personnel and budget to support domestic security operations, including
protecting America's ports, harbors and defense plants from enemy infiltration,
subversion and sabotage. ONI worked closely with the departments of State, War,
Justice, Commerce and Labor. ONI also censored radio and mail communications to
prevent unauthorized disclosure of sensitive defense information.
ONI in World War II
ONI expanded again during World War II. The Special
Activities Branch provided critical intelligence on German U-boat technology,
operations and tactics from prisoner interrogations to Fleet Admiral Ernest J.
King’s Combat Intelligence Division to help win the Battle of the Atlantic. ONI
produced thousands of ship and aircraft recognition manuals for U.S. forces.
ONI’s Photographic Interpretation Center provided trained photographic
interpreters to the fleet and produced detailed three-dimensional terrain models
used by fleet operators for mission planning. ONI established two intelligence
schools that provided hundreds of trained Intel officers to the fleet and
forward area commanders.
Operational Intelligence Section established in 1946, inherited the mission of
the wartime Combat Intelligence Division created by Fleet Admiral Ernest J.
King. The Special Section (Y1) of the Operational Intelligence Section was
directly descended from the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Area
(JICPOA) organization that operated with great success against the Imperial
Japanese Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
The Navy Field Operational Intelligence Office (NFOIO),
established in 1957, expanded on the successful exploitation of signals
intelligence to provide real-time information about the disposition of enemy
forces during World War II. NFOIO provided tailored operational intelligence to
support the fleet and other authorized intelligence community and government
decision makers during the cold war.
Scientific and Technical
World War II made evident the importance of scientific
and technical intelligence. In 1945 ONI began hiring civilian experts in a wide
range of fields to diversify its technical expertise. The development of the
Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) and the establishment of a dedicated acoustic
intelligence facility added important new capabilities to U.S. Navy efforts to
deter the threat posed by Soviet submarines armed with strategic nuclear
missiles. The Navy Scientific and Technical Intelligence Center (NAVSTIC) was
established in 1968 and merged with the Navy Reconnaissance and Technical
Support Center (NRTSC) in 1972.
In the 1980s the synergistic efforts of
the Navy’s operational and scientific and technical intelligence organizations
led to an era of major success vis á vis the U.S. Fleet’s principal adversary,
the Soviet Navy.
During the Cold War, ONI’s mastery of operational intelligence,
deep technical knowledge and leadership in the Navy’s global Ocean
Surveillance Information system (OSIS) ensured the U.S. Navy held a consistent
advantage over the Soviet Navy.
Following a series of consolidations of naval intelligence field commands between 1988 and 1993, the Office of
Naval Intelligence moved into a newly constructed facility where it was joined by the U.S. Coast Guard Intelligence
Coordination Center, which supports domestic maritime missions, and the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity,
supporting expeditionary and littoral missions. The Naval Information Warfare Activity became a tenant in 1995. The
new facility was named the National Maritime Intelligence Center (NMIC), housing the combined expertise of the sea
services' intelligence organizations.
In 2009 the Chief of Naval
Operations (CNO) approved the transformation of ONI into a command with four
subordinate commands as Centers of Excellence to improve fleet engagement and
deliver penetrating knowledge of adversary navy operations and capabilities.
Specializing in scientific and technical intelligence, operational
intelligence, information services and technology, and expeditionary and
special warfare support, the commands work synergistically to deliver superior
tailored intelligence to a wide range of customers worldwide. The Director of
National Intelligence designated the NMIC as a "national center for the
integration of strategic maritime information." While continuing to
perform its traditional missions in support of national leaders, the
acquisition community, and the fleet, ONI is also providing critical support to
what is now a truly national-level global maritime community of interest,
envisioned to include U.S., governmental, academic and industry partners.
With the vision to harness the power of information-centric disciplines in
maritime warfighting, the Navy established the Information Dominance Corps
(IDC) in 2009 under the leadership of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for
Information Dominance (N2/N6). The IDC was redesignated as the Information
Warfare Community (IWC) in 2016 to reflect the rising influence of global
information systems and the increasing rate of technological creation and
adoption. The name change also highlights three fundamental capabilities that
form the mission of the Information Warfare Community: providing sufficient
overmatch in command and control, understanding the battlespace and
adversaries, and projecting power through and across all domains. The IWC has
evolved from a multi-disciplinary force to an inter-disciplinary Community, an
agile Total Force that acquires, exploits, and employs Information Warfare
capabilities to achieve Navy mission requirements. Over 52,000 military and
civilian professionals span the information warfare, intelligence, cryptology,
meteorology and oceanography, information technology and space cadre. Today,
the IWC is organized to sustain Information Warfare as a critical warfighting
capability on par with aviation, surface and submarine warfare. ONI supports the IWC by producing meaningful maritime intelligence for
strategic, operational and tactical decision makers to maintain the U.S. Navy's
superiority over any potential maritime adversary while maintaining worldwide
situational awareness of maritime traffic, enabling Global Maritime
Intelligence Integration and Maritime Domain Awareness for Homeland Defense.