Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

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Imagery: DigitalGlobe 9/10/2012
Two MQ-1 Predators at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Imagery: DigitalGlobe 9/10/2012

This Portal is part of a series of posts and resources on drones and the world of intelligence. For an in-depth look at the U.S. communications infrastructure at the heart of drone operations, click hereFor a complete guide to drone hunting, click here. For resources on how to find and spot drones, click here

Drones have become a crucial tool for intelligence work, and they are hastening dramatic changes in the field. As they are pilotless, drones can dwell over targets for long periods of time, collecting massive amounts of intelligence data. During the lengthy counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, this capability was a valuable asset to American ground forces. Together with its manned predecessors the U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird, the drone is one of those aircraft that have added new dimensions to the collecting of information from the air.

This Portal examines the history of intelligence gathering and the concepts that contribute to this discipline.

This Portal is curated by Dan Gettinger. 

One: Intelligence in Practice

“Drawing on recently declassified material, personal papers, and extensive interviews, Wilford, a University of California historian, tells the story of the CIA in the Middle East during the 1940s and ’50s. Focusing on Miles Copeland and the Roosevelt cousins, Kermit and Archie, Wilford traces a series of pro-Arab activities that included coups and support for repressive regimes, actions that ultimately destabilized the very states they were meant to support.”

“Official secrecy in the U.S. during the Cold War altered the culture of government and served many hidden agendas. Classified information became an institutional asset to be traded for other kinds of access and information. Security clearances became a way to police behavior, such that homosexuals and others deemed to be deviant could be driven from government… Professor Matthew Connelly is Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at LSE IDEAS for 2014-2015. Currently a professor in the Department of History at Columbia University.”

“The techniques included waterboarding and other methods of sensory deprivation, and over the year they proved unsuccessful in gathering meaningful intelligence. In this hour of Radio Times we’ll explore the history of the CIA’s interrogation program, the early work of the psychologists involved, and what we know now about torture and intelligence gathering. Our guests are Steve Kleinman, former senior intelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force, and New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane who has been covering the CIA’s interrogation program.”

Mark Mazzetti, author of The Way of the Knife, speaks on the rise of the CIA’s counterterrorism branch and, in particular, the adoption of the Predator drone as a critical tool in the “War on Terror.” Mazzetti, a New York Times journalist who covers national security issues, discusses how the CIA came to embrace paramilitary action.

Two: Intelligence Concepts

  • “ From Combined Arms to Combined Intelligence: Philosophy, Doctrine & Operations” – Naval Postgraduate School // Audio // 00:23:00 // July 2008 // Part One, Part Two, Part Three

“This module addresses the ways in which combined arms operations can be applied, for instance; the basic logic of combined arms operations can be applied to the functional disciplines of imagery intelligence (IMINT); signals intelligence (SIGINT); measures and signals intelligence (MASINT); human intelligence (HUMINT), and open source intelligence (OSINT).”

“Strategic surprise, or intelligence failures, often are neither: a surprise or a `failure“, at least on the part of Intelligence Agencies.  What they often are is a breakdown in communications between the players involved; a breakdown that is often facilitated by a gross misunderstanding of what Strategic Intelligence can and cannot do.”

  • “Strategic and Tactical Challenges Facing the U.S. Intelligence Community” – National Committee on American Foreign Policy and the Center for a New American Security // Audio // 01:05:89 // April 22, 2010 // Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

This in-depth discussion considers the value and relevance of intelligence on multiple levels of command. Ambassador Negroponte addresses the role of strategic intelligence and the status of the American intelligence community today. Mr. Exum and Mr. Fick consider the role that intelligence plays on the battlefields in the context of the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Panelists: Ambassador John D. Negroponte, Abraham M. Denmark, Andrew M. Exum Dr. John A. Nagl, Nathaniel C. Fick

“Crumpton joined the CIA in 1981 and spent twenty-four years working undercover around the world, from Africa to Afghanistan. His experiences gave him a deep knowledge of and appreciation for the Agency and a special understanding of the capacities and limits of national security.”

Three: Aerial Reconnaissance

“Dino Brugioni talked about President Eisenhower’s secret Cold War efforts to develop intelligence gathering spy planes and satellites. He is a retired senior analyst with the CIA and has briefed presidents from Eisenhower through Ford. As a founder of the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center, Mr. Brugioni was a key member of the team providing President Kennedy with evidence that the Soviets were installing missiles in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Note: we have had difficulties playing videos hosted on C-SPAN using the Chrome Internet browser. Recommend alternative browser.

This presentation features men who contributed to Project Oxcart, the development of the famed SR-71 Blackbird, one of the fastest planes ever invented. The Blackbird, like the U-2 before it and eventually the Predator drone, was developed by the CIA to collect intelligence. This video tells the story of the men who were part of that project, of their challenges meeting the design requirements and their ultimate success.

“[A] dialogue with Major General John Shanahan on the creation of the 25th Air Force and the future of Air Force [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance]. Maj Gen Shanahan will discuss the challenges of standing up a new command as its assets are increasingly stressed, the effects of fiscal constraints, and potential future capabilities.”

“Colonel Ortega explored the idiosyncrasies of “telewarfare” and presented some of the work that he and other Air Force medical personnel have undertaken to understand this emerging operational environment, to characterize the unique constellation of risks, and to discern the true prevalence of PTSD in the operator population.”


Finnegan, Terrence J. Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front— World War I. Washington: National Defense Intelligence College, 2006.

Keegan, John. Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda. New York: Knopf, 2003. Print.

Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha International, 1992. Print.

Mazzetti, Mark. The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.