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National Security & Central Intelligence Agencies Research Paper


Terrorism is an old evil that dates back to when human beings started to live in communities. The vice has however increased over the last century and especially over the last few decades. Countries and individuals at risk have instituted counterterrorism measures, with the various security organs being involved in massive projects to prevent terrorism both internationally and locally. With the United States and its citizens being the prime targets of terrorist bodies and outfits, the federal government has invested heavily on counterterrorism measures through the strengthening of its security bodies. The use of technology has kept the war on terror going, with various technological installations being used to predict and fight terrorism before it occurs. Some of the organizations mandated with ensuring the security for the American citizens and interests abroad include the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These bodies have put various technological measures in place. In this paper, a comparison of the two security organizations is made based on their respective utilization of technology in the war on terror.

War on Terrorism

Terrorism has led to the death of many civilians. It constitutes one of the greatest risks to security after the end of the cold war. Several countries have experienced terrorist activities, with the United States being hit hard in 2001 after terrorists used hijacked planes to carry out suicide attacks on the pentagon and the twin towers (Kramer, 2009). The United States has responded by instituting measures that are aimed at preventing such attacks, with one of these being the use of security agencies in places such as the CIA and the NSA (Latham, 2003). However, some measures allow terrorists to be ahead of the security agencies including the technologically improved communication.

The CIA and the NSA have had a significant success in the fight against terrorism, with some of the acts of terror being thwarted before they occur. The United States’ federal government has engaged in war with several countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, with the main aim being to smoke out the remaining terrorists and/or close their operating bases (Kramer, 2009). Currently, the war is being fought on the internet and other technological fronts, with the terrorists, also being equipped for this battle. Has the CIA failed to counter-terrorism and lagged in the use of technology to fight terrorism? Is the NSA technologically equipped to use technology in the war on terrorism? Which of the two organizations has had more success in the utilization of technology in the war on terrorism? These comprise the questions that this paper will answer.

The Central Intelligence Agency

The Central Intelligence Agency was created with the mandate of providing intelligence to the federal government on foreign governments. It was also mandated with the analysis of this gathered intelligence. With authorization from the federal government, the carrying out of certain activities was vital to the national security of the US or her global partners. After the terrorist attack on the US soil in 2011, the CIA was blamed by some quarters for having failed to provide the necessary intelligence to avert the attack (Rand, 2004, p. 175). The terrorist attack and subsequent acts of terror internationally directed at the US and her allies have prompted the agency to re-evaluate its tactics in the war on terror. One of the significant changes in the application of technology in the war on terror. Months following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the American soil were marred by allegations that the CIA had failed in its intelligence gathering, with some stating scholars that it was because of the absence of human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities in the agency (Rand, 2004, p. 175).

The attack on the American territory also led to questions of whether the intelligence was available and/or if the various intelligence agencies shared this, or they were just negligent. The CIA is one of the institutions with technological capabilities well ahead of any other organization in the world. These are directed towards the facilitation of its operations, with the war on terror being central. The intelligence-gathering methods include the “signal intelligence (SIGINT), image intelligence (IMINT), measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT), open-source intelligence (OSINT), and human intelligence (HUMINT)” (Rand, 2004, p. 176). Of the above methods, the CIA has traditionally utilized Human Intelligence. However, with the changes in the administration of the agency, change in the public perceptions over intelligence gathering, and the end of the cold war, some of the other listed methods have largely replaced the method.

The shift from the traditional intelligence gathering methods took shape after the Vietnam War, with the then director William Colby putting more emphasis on technologically obtained intelligence rather than the information from HUMINT (Rand, 2004, p. 177). The change, however, took some time to implement, with subsequent budgets having a large proportion for the HUMINT (Duckworth, 1997). The CIA has advanced its intelligence capabilities, with some of the latest hi-tech tools being the unmanned aircraft that it operates. These tools have the capability of striking a target that has been predetermined. They are also useful tools in intelligence gathering since they can take aerial photographs of government and terror organization installations.

The CIA also operated some of the detention prisons for terrorists. It has set up a network using federal and military satellites to monitor terrorist activities across the globe. Several tools are technologically designed to predict and counter any terrorism towards the USA. The CIA operates most of them (Kramer, 2009). The personnel are also equipped with some of the latest and state-of-the-art equipment on their way on terror. They can mount an operation anywhere on the globe within minutes. An example is the killing of Saddam Hussein that the United States was able to do based on the intelligence provided by the CIA (Kramer, 2009). The CIA technological innovations have been through the Directorate of Science and Technology, with the main aim being the creation of newer and more effective counterterrorism equipment. The objectives are to equip the agency with the latest technology in the world while at the same time helping to counter such developments elsewhere in the world (Latham, 2003).

The National Security Agency

Established in 1952, the National Security Agency was a relatively small organization. It has grown with the primary role of information gathering in national security matters. There have been recent challenges to the organization, with the main one being the development of new forms of communication that have low-cost encryption systems (Duckworth, 1997). The NSA primarily uses the Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), which is the method most likely to produce the best results in terms of efficacy in the intelligence gathering (Rand, 2004, p. 176). According to Rand, “SIGINT provides the majority of raw intelligence data and is primarily the responsibility of the National Security Agency (NSA) involving the collection, processing, and reporting of information derived from signal intercepts” (Rand, 2004, p. 176). The main role of the Agency is to collect information on the threats to the USA and to provide information to the relevant security organs for implementation and planning.

With the current development in the technological field, NSA has developed capabilities that help it collect information from the various electronic sources worldwide. However, there has been a growing criticism that the agency has participated in eavesdropping on the public and on international financial bodies, with the information being used against the victims and/or to favor the American companies to make them better competitors on the global front (Best, 2001, p. 2). As a result, the agency has experienced regulatory measures that limit its information-gathering capabilities. One of such limitations as Best states is, “Laws have been enacted that carefully prescribe the limits of NSA’s electronic surveillance of the U.S. persons” (2001, p. 1).

In the early days of the agency, the main aim of the information was to maintain a lead in the cold war. The available information was encrypted with some being transmitted through telephone lines that would have to be physically tapped. However, with the end of the cold war, other installations and organizations, as well as other nations were classified as potential threats to national security. The role of the NSA had to be enhanced (Best, 2001 p. 3). Some of the identified potential threats included drug trafficking networks and terrorist threats that have evolved to be the most significant part of the security installations (Kramer, 2009).

In the current communication age, much conversation takes place over networks. One of the challenges associated with this issue is the difficulty in keeping in touch with the communications. The agency has to have solid and advanced measures of keeping the communication environment clear of terrorist activities. In the present day and age, the other form of terrorism that is taking shape is cyber terrorism where the terrorists hack into the national institutions and use the time to implement their plans (Duckworth, 1997). The NSA has developed some strict measures to ensure that cybercriminals do not infiltrate its networks of information and that of the federal government, with this strategy allowing it to protect the citizens.

Some of the other challenges that come with development in technology and communication include the relative difficulties of accessing data from one individual to the other. In the present age, there has been a change from the traditional microwave transmissions, with the fiber optic cables being widely used. According to Best, “Fiber optics can carry far more circuits with greater clarity and through longer distances, thus providing the greater bandwidth necessary for transmitting the enormous quantities of data commonplace in the internet age” (2001, p. 4). The information and data transmitted in the fiber optics are not easily accessed. NSA has to have connections to the network to access the data. Best also states, “The widespread use of fiber optics may also affect requirements for expensive satellites since transmissions over fiber optic cables cannot be intercepted from space-based platforms” (2001, p.4).

The NSA reliance on some of the methods of intelligence gathering has also been a subject of sharp focus, with some major failures being observed. Best, for example, reports, “a major shortcoming was revealed in January 2000 when a software anomaly in the communications infrastructure curtailed NSA’s operations for some 72 hours” (2001, p. 4). The failure was attributed to some major organizational problems, and hence some of the chief challenges facing the organization.


The two organizations have a distinctive use of the latest technology. Both work towards preventing terrorism on American soil or elsewhere. The CIA has a special role in thwarting terrorist activities before they happen, with the technological capabilities being significantly higher about those of the NSA. Although the institution is also heavily financed, some shortcomings led to the terrorist attacks in 2001. The blame was more on the CIA based on its failure to collect any intelligence regarding the attack. On the other hand, the NSA that is mandated with the collection of communication intelligence did little to predict the incident. This situation showed that the technological capabilities for the organizations were not exactly mature and/or up-to-date (Kramer, 2009).

The CIA has had a significant success in the prediction and countering of terrorism. This effort can be largely attributed to the technological capability that it houses, which is in contrast to the performance of the NSA that has experienced problems with its use of modern technology. The Agency is unable to compete in the present communication age. It seems to be trailing behind (Duckworth, 1997). The CIA is a bit suited to compete in the current technological age. An example to prove this capability is the capture of Sadam Hussein and the killing of Bin Laden (Duckworth, 1997). The CIA is also in control of many networks around the world, with its influence being experienced in all the world nations. Some of the previous works that involved the use of technology in the cold war included the operation of surveillance high-altitude planes, which help by providing crucial information regarding the enemy territories that were very much restricted. The same technology is also in use currently with the use of space satellites.


In conclusion, based on the expositions made in the paper, it is clear that the current technological age has seen the evolution of terrorism and counterterrorism measures. In general, security organizations that are given the mandate of predicting and preventing terrorist activities have had to adjust to the change, with the adoption of the latest technology being the practice. In comparison, the CIA has had better utilization of technology about the National Security Agency, with the latter being effectively put to use. On the other hand, the NSA has experienced major technological hitches, with this finding being attributed to the broad field of communication that they are tasked to monitor. In comparison, it is clear that the NSA has more to do to fight the war on terrorism technologically. Besides, the CIA has to invest more in the acquisition of the latest counterterrorism technologies.

Reference List

Best, R. (2001). The National Security Agency: Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service Report for congress. London: The Library of Congress.

Duckworth, A. (1997). The Defense HUMINT Service: Preparing for the 21st Century. Defense Intelligence Journal, 6(1), 1-5.

Kramer, D. (2009). Cyber power and national security. Washington, D C: Center for Technology and National Security Policy.

Latham, R. (2003). Bombs & Bandwidth: The Emerging Relationship Between Information Technology and Security. New York: New Press.

Rand, L. (2004). Espionage and the War on Terrorism: Investigating U.S. Efforts. Brown Journal of World Affairs, 11(1), 175-182.

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"National Security & Central Intelligence Agencies." IvyPanda, 27 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/national-security-amp-central-intelligence-agencies/.

1. IvyPanda. "National Security & Central Intelligence Agencies." July 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/national-security-amp-central-intelligence-agencies/.


IvyPanda. "National Security & Central Intelligence Agencies." July 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/national-security-amp-central-intelligence-agencies/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "National Security & Central Intelligence Agencies." July 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/national-security-amp-central-intelligence-agencies/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'National Security & Central Intelligence Agencies'. 27 July.

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