Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Fact Box

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Formed on April 22, 2005
Headquarters- McLean, Virginia
Director- James R. Clapper
Employees- approx 1,500
Annual budget (2014) - $50.5 billion


Created in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) serves as the top intelligence official in the United States government. The DNI oversees what is known as the Intelligence Community, which consists of more than a dozen civilian and military agencies that collect information on threats against the United States. The 16 agencies include Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Coast Guard Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marine Corps Intelligence, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, and Navy Intelligence.

Prior to the creation of the DNI, the top intelligence official was the Director of Central Intelligence, best known as the head of the CIA. But the massive security failure that allowed terrorists to hijack airliners and crash them into New York and Washington D.C., provoked such outrage that the Director of Central Intelligence lost its top place in the intelligence pecking order to the newly established DNI. The new position has struggled with its own controversies during its short tenure.


Before there was a Director of National Intelligence, the leading intelligence figure in the U.S. government was the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). The DCI was established in 1947 as part of the National Security Act, which also created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), over which the DCI presided. Aside from running the CIA, the DCI reported directly to the President, keeping him informed of any threats to the United States while overseeing all aspects of the nation’s Intelligence Community.

Over the next 50 years, the DCI was largely preoccupied, as were all intelligence-gathering efforts, with the Soviet Union and the ongoing Cold War. The CIA evolved into a highly secretive and controversial organization, carrying out covert and spying operations throughout the world and sometimes in the U.S. In the 1970s, the Church Committee exposed years of illegal activities by CIA operatives, which led to federal legislation intended to prevent the CIA or any other government spy agency from conducting clandestine missions in the U.S. unless authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

Although the CIA kept out of domestic affairs in the succeeding decade, the agency found itself in hot water again with the Iran-Contra scandal. Then-DCI William Casey was involved in the illegal diversion of arms sales to Contra rebels in Central America, but Casey died before federal investigators could determine how deep his involvement was.

With the end of the Cold War, the 1990s saw the CIA lose funding and struggle with its mission now that the Soviet Union was no longer around. As threats from Islamic terrorists began to develop, the agency failed time and again to warn government officials of attacks. These included the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing, the 1998 twin attacks against U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. But the agency’s biggest, and most costly, intelligence failure was not learning of the plot to hijack American airliners and fly them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In the wake of the attacks, lawmakers demanded answers and authorized a special commission to look into what went wrong. The 9/11 Commission identified major intelligence failures that called into question how well the CIA and the rest of the Intelligence Community protected U.S. national and homeland security interests against attacks by foreign terrorists.

Soon thereafter, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Bob Graham (D-Florida) introduced legislation to create a Director of National Intelligence. Other intelligence-related reform plans soon followed. After considerable debate, lawmakers passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Among other things, the law established the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and, in doing so, down-sized the DCI to the head of the CIA and nothing more. The new DNI was now in charge of the Intelligence Community, overseeing all intelligence gathering from civilian and military spy operations.

Some conservatives were not happy with the structure of the new DNI’s responsibilities, arguing that the new director’s powers weren’t strong enough to improve the performance of the Intelligence Community. Although the DNI technically oversaw the work of the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, these three spy groups still reported directly to the Secretary of Defense.

When it came time to fill the role of the DNI, President George W. Bush wanted to give the job to former DCI Robert Gates, who served under the President’s father, George H. W. Bush. But Gates declined. Instead, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte was nominated and confirmed to serve as the nation’s first Director of National Intelligence. Negroponte served for two years before moving over to the State Department. The President made former NSA Director John Michael McConnell the second DNI in 2007. President Barack Obama replaced McConnell with retired U.S. Navy Admiral Dennis Blair at the outset of his administration in 2009, and then replaced Blair in 2010 with James Clapper, formerly the Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and, previous to that, Director of Defense Intelligence.

In April 2009, an internal report produced by the agency’s Inspector General, Edward Maguire, described “poor performance” by the ODNI, which, the report stated, had merely become “an additional layer of bureaucracy” in the U.S. government, where the pre-existing “culture of protecting ‘turf' remains a problem.” The report added that computer systems intended for linking the Intelligence Community’s 16 agencies “are largely disconnected and incompatible,” and it warned of wasteful spending on a litany of private contractors. However, two years later, the Intelligence Community was hailed as a highly tuned, integrated machine for its contributions to tracking down and killing most-wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Two Web-based attempts were made to bridge the persistent data-sharing problem in the Intelligence Community. In 2009 it was reported that the ODNI, along with other spy agencies, had developed a Web-based intelligence-sharing system, Intellipedia, that runs 900,000 pages, contains 100,000 user accounts, and undergoes 5,000 page edits per day. The CIA’s Directorate of Support, Dr. Calvin Andrus, proposed an information-sharing network called SIPRNet, which the Pentagon launched, and the CIA set up A-Space, a sort of secure social networking site for spies. The contractor that developed it,ManTech International, was hired by the CIA to maintain the site through 2012. The CIA has been using Facebook as a recruiting tool since 2006, and the FBI uses social networking sites for its investigations and information gathering.

The ODNI also put into effect a “join-duty personnel program” that requires personnel of one intelligence agency to rotate to another as a condition for promotion, the idea being to overcome rivalries by encouraging inter-agency trust and cooperation.

The ODNI was the only intelligence (or military) agency out of 41 federal agencies that has complied with President Obama’s December 2009 Executive Order to establish new policies to reduce the amount of classified information. In October 2010, DNI Clapper publicly released—for the first time since 1998—the overall budget figures for the U.S. Intelligence Community: $80.1 billion for FY 2010.

In 2011, ODNI chief Clapper won an agreement for the agency’s budget to be removed from Pentagon control and placed under the ODNI’s purview by 2013, thereby enhancing the ODNI’s authority throughout the Intelligence Community. Director Clapper also announced that the ODNI will soon be “reduced in its size and budget.”

What it Does

The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) serves as the head of the Intelligence Community (IC), overseeing and directing the implementation of the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and acting as the principal adviser to the President, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters. The DNI works together with the principal deputy DNI, mission managers, and four deputy directors to ensure that timely and objective national intelligence is provided to the President, the heads of departments and agencies of the executive branch, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior military commanders, and Congress.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the DNI also establishes objectives and priorities for collection, analysis, production and dissemination of national intelligence, and the director develops an annual budget for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) based on budget proposals provided by IC component organizations. Overseeing coordination of relationships with the intelligence or security services of foreign governments and international organizations is another duty of the DNI, as is supporting national security needs by ensuring the most accurate analysis of intelligence derived from all sources. Last, the DNI develops personnel policies and programs to enhance the capacity for joint operations and to facilitate staffing of community management functions, plus it oversees the development and implementation of plans for acquiring major systems that aid in intelligence gathering, doing so jointly with the Secretary of Defense.

Under the DNI is the Science and Technology division, which oversees the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity program, a highly secretive office that develops new technology for spying operations.

In March 2011, the National Research Council released an advisory report that was developed at the request of the ODNI. The report recommended that the DNI spearhead an initiative for the intelligence community to adopt methods, theories, and findings from the behavioral and social sciences as a way to improve its analyses. It also urged a routine evaluation of these methods.

There are six basic intelligence sources or collection disciplines utilized by the IC. These are: Signals Intelligence (SIGINT); Imagery Intelligence (IMINT); Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT); Human-Source Intelligence (HUMINT); Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT); and Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT).

Signals intelligence is derived from signals intercepted from all communications intelligence (COMINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), and foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (FISINT). The National Security Agency is responsible for collecting, processing and reporting SIGINT. The National SIGINT Committee within NSA advises the director of NSA and the DNI on SIGINT policy issues and manages the SIGINT requirements system.

Imagery Intelligence includes representations of objects reproduced electronically or by optical means on film, electronic display devices, or other media. Imagery can be derived from visual photography, radar sensors, infrared sensors, lasers, and electro-optics. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is the manager for all imagery intelligence activities, both classified and unclassified, within the government.

IMINT Gallery (Federation of American Scientists)

IMINT Gallery (Global Security)

Measurement and Signature Intelligence is technically derived intelligence data other than imagery and SIGINT. The data results in intelligence that locates, identifies or describes distinctive characteristics of targets. It employs a broad group of disciplines including nuclear, optical, radio frequency, acoustics, seismic, and materials sciences. Examples of this might be the distinctive radar signatures of specific aircraft systems or the chemical composition of air and water samples. 

Human Intelligence is derived from human sources, or spies. To the public, HUMINT remains synonymous with espionage and clandestine activities; however, most of this collection is performed by overt collectors such as diplomats and military attaches. It is the oldest method for collecting information and until recently it was the primary source of intelligence. HUMINT is used mainly by the CIA, the Department of State, the DoD, and the FBI. Collection includes clandestine acquisition of photography, documents, and other material; overt collection by personnel in diplomatic and consular posts; debriefing of foreign nationals and U.S. citizens who travel abroad; and official contacts with foreign governments.

Open-Source Intelligence is publicly available information appearing in print or electronic form including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the Internet, commercial databases, videos, graphics, and drawings. While open-source collection responsibilities are broadly distributed through the IC, the major collectors are the DNI’s Open Source Center (OSC) and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).

Geospatial Intelligence is the analysis and visual representation of security related activities on the earth. It is produced through an integration of imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information collected from spy satellites.

National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)

Created in 2004, the National Counterterrorism Center serves as the clearinghouse and analytic center for information pertaining to international terrorism. Although most of the center’s activities are secret, for the public, the NCTC does provide a database of terror incidents worldwide, called the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System. Incidents occurring in the United States can be found here.

DNI Leadership:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) comprises four directorates, focusing on management, collection, requirements, and analysis.

The Deputy Director of National Intelligence (DDNI) for Management helps implement responsibilities related to the administrative management of the IC, strategic planning and coordination and the development and execution of the National Intelligence Program budget. The Deputy Director for Management exercises a number of budgeting, programming, acquisition and personnel authorities and is responsible for the approval of Intelligence Community Directives, instructions and procedural guidance. The DDNI for Management supervises the functions of the chief financial officer, director of strategy, plans and policy, the senior acquisition executive, the IC chief human capital officer, the director for community training and education, and the directors of security and administration.

The Deputy Director for Collection coordinates the collection of intelligence data from throughout the Intelligence Community and ensure that the National Intelligence

Strategy (NIS) priorities are appropriately reflected in future planning and systems acquisition decisions. It develops “corporate understanding of needs, requirements and capabilities to ensure that a holistic view is taken on current and future collection systems.” He or she also brings together key IC stakeholders to get senior level insight into issues.

According to the Office of the DNI, the Deputy Director for Requirements is responsible for ensuring decision makers receive timely and actionable information that allows them to fulfill their respective national security missions by articulating, advocating and coordinating requirements within the IC. The Deputy Director for Requirements interfaces with the variety of intelligence customers at the national, state and local level, and he or she provides organizations not traditionally associated with national intelligence a link to information, products, and avenues for sharing intelligence.

The most well-known of the responsibilities of the Deputy Director for Analysis is the production of the President’s Daily Brief. The DDNI for Analysis also serves concurrently as the chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC). According to the ODNI, the Deputy Director for Analysis manages and establishes common policies and standards to ensure the highest quality, timeliness, and utility of analytic resources. To achieve this goal, the DDNI for Analysis works to increase expertise and improve analytic tradecraft at individual, agency and community levels through specialization, training, collaboration, and cross-fertilization. Some of the most important functions of the DDNI for Analysis include establishing analytic priorities; ensuring timely and effective analysis and dissemination of analysis; tasking of analytic products; and encouraging sound analytic methods, all-source analysis, competitive analysis, and resource recommendations regarding the need to balance collection and analytic capabilities.

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) is a key component of DNI operations, serving as a bridge between the intelligence and policy communities and as a facilitator of IC collaboration. The NIC supports the DNI in his role as head of the IC and serves as the center for mid-term and long-term strategic thinking. Its core missions are to produce National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs), the IC’s most authoritative written assessments on national security issues, and a broad range of other products; reach out to nongovernmental experts in academia and the private sector to broaden the IC’s perspective; and articulate substantive intelligence priorities and procedures to guide intelligence collection and analysis.

The DNI relies on associate directors who deal with issues cutting across a number of IC functions, and, therefore, reside outside of the directorates. These associate directors include the chief information officer, the civil liberties and privacy officer, the inspector general, and the associate director for science and technology.

Mission Managers

Six mission managers serve as the principal IC officials overseeing all aspects of intelligence related to key issues or “targets.” These mission managers oversee Iran, North Korea, Cuba/Venezuela, counter terrorism, counter proliferation, and counterintelligence.

Where Does the Money Go?

All government contracts that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) distributes are classified, making it difficult to determine how much money the office spends. Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell reportedly buried a detailed human capital report that detailed the Intelligence Community’s human resourcing and personnel outsourcing trends.

In general, the Intelligence Community reportedly spends 70% of its budgets on private contracts. As a result, intelligence agencies have struggled to retain talent as more government workers leave for the private sector and go back to working for their old agency but at higher costs to the government. In 2007, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden complained that his agency had become a “farm system for contractors,” and officials there banned some companies from the CIA cafeteria for openly recruiting active duty intelligence officers during lunch hour.

Those companies that perform a lot of work for spy agencies include Booz Allen Hamilton, Science Applications International Corp., General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and CACI International. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity program, DNI’s research and spy tool development unit, hired Booz Allen Hamilton.

Data gleaned from a 2007 ODNI presentation made at a DIA-hosted intelligence industry conference in Colorado revealed that $42 billion was spent on private contractors by the Intelligence Community in 2005, a figure that amounts to 70% of a probable $60 billion overall U.S. Intelligence budget for that fiscal year.

In November 2010, DNI James Clapper announced that an agreement had been reached to transfer control of the National Intelligence Program’s then-$53.1 billion budget (covering civilian Intelligence agencies) from the Pentagon to the ODNI. In February 2011, he stated that the size and budget of the agency would be reduced. Although the ODNI budget remains classified, indeed, for FY 2013, it was proposed that the overall National Intelligence budget be reduced by half a billion dollars.

Data on the National Intelligence Program