NMIC (National Maritime Intelligence Center)

NMIC (National Maritime Intelligence Center)

The National Maritime Intelligence Center (NMIC) brings together several military intelligence operations for the United States: Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The first of these, being by far the largest, is the dominant participant in NMIC, whose headquarters in Suitland, Maryland, are home to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). NMIC also houses offices for the Naval Information Warfare Activity (NIWA), as well as the principal intelligence agencies of the two smaller services, the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA) and Coast Intelligence Coordination Center (ICC).

NMIC does not represent a single command; indeed, it would be hard for it to do so, given the fact that the navy and marines fall under the Department of Defense, while the Coast Guard, as of March 2003, is under the aegis of Department Homeland Security. Rather, NMIC offers a united source for maritime intelligence at the national level, and provides support to joint warfighters of the three services involved, as well as to the Department of Defense (DOD), and to other national agencies and departments requiring maritime intelligence.

The physical facilities of NMIC are located on the 226-acre (91.5-hectare) Suitland Federal Center in Suitland, Prince George's County, Maryland. Situated on the Metro's Green Line alongside the Census Bureau, Washington National Records Center, and Atmospheric Administration, NMIC itself occupies 42 acres (17 hectares). It is housed in a 603,000 square-foot facility (5.6 hectares; depicted on the NMIC Web site, listed below), which contains the headquarters of ONI, as well as offices for NIWA, MCIA, and ICC.

Historical background. The origins of NMIC lie in the early 1990s, when the United States, had successfully concluded the Cold War following the fall of the Soviet empire. During this era, long before the war on terrorism that commenced with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the federal government began to scale down its defense and intelligence operations.

By September 1991, just after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy had seven intelligence organizations: ONI, the Naval Intelligence Command (NIC), Task Force 168, the Naval Technical Intelligence Center (NTIC), the Navy Operational Intelligence Center (NOIC), the Naval Intelligence Activity (NIA), and the Naval Security Group Command. Highest in prestige and authority was ONI, with NIC occupying a second level of authority, while all the others—with the exception of the last named—were subordinate to NIC.

In October 1991, the Navy closed down NTIC, Task Force 168, and NOIC. Formerly, Task Force 168 had been involved in overt collection of data from human sources; NTIC had performed the duties of a scientific and technical intelligence organization, specializing in information on the Soviet navy; and NOIC had used signals intelligence to monitor naval forces worldwide. Thenceforth, these offices would fall under a new Naval Maritime Intelligence Center (NAVMIC).

The consolidation continued in January 1993, when the navy disestablished NAVMIC after less than two years, and placed it, along with NIC and NIA, under ONI. The latter would thus take over the functions of the other organizations, including NIA's responsibility for the provision of automatic data processing support to naval intelligence organizations. ONI then was reorganized into eight major directorates, each with direct access to the Director of Naval Intelligence. In 1994, NMIC was formed as a joint operating center for ONI, NIWA, and the intelligence agencies of the marines and Coast Guard.

Naval components of NMIC. ONI organizes and trains intelligence personnel; provides highly specialized intelligence analysis related to maritime activities; and operates in an oversight capacity with regard to security and intelligence manpower issues for the navy. It serves as a liaison between DOD and non-DOD agencies, and supports foreign liaisons. Additionally, it is engaged in long-term analysis of foreign military (particularly naval) forces and operations, as well as broader scientific, technical, and strategic trade analysis. ONI is also involved in intelligence systems acquisition.

Established in 1882, ONI has the distinction of being the oldest continually operating intelligence agency in the United States. Until the First World War, it was concerned primarily with collection of technical data on foreign governments and their naval forces, and with conducting war games in association with the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. The world war brought with it expanded responsibilities for ONI, which was deployed to provide security at war material plants, conduct security checks of navy personnel, and hunt down spies and saboteurs.

Just as ONI would survive the downscaling of the U.S. armed forces after the end of the Cold War three-quarters of a century later, it weathered the downsizing of the military that occurred during the interwar period. As Japan began mobilizing for war in the 1930s, ONI, in association with the Navy's Office of Communication, maintained a close watch on Japanese diplomatic dispatches. After World War II, it endured another period of downsizing, but thanks to the support of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, ONI was strengthened rather than reduced in the postwar era.

As of the early twenty-first century, ONI housed the vast majority of its personnel—some 500 military and 1,000 civilians—at NMIC. Even in the aftermath of September 11, it maintained an appearance of relative openness that, while perhaps illusory, served to welcome intelligent and talented men and women as recruits, particularly recruiting architects, engineers, communications analysts, scientists, and mathematicians.

Much more secretive is NIWA, which, while many of its personnel are housed at NMIC, has its headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland. It serves as the technical agent for the Chief of Naval Operations in pursuit of technologies useful in information warfare. In particular, NIWA is responsible for threat analysis and assessment of vulnerabilities. It evaluates and assesses new forms of information technology, and other concepts relating to naval defensive information warfare systems.

Marine and Coast Guard components. MCIA, which also has facilities at Quantico, Virginia, is focused on providing threat assessments and expeditionary intelligence to Marine Corps headquarters. It works with marines in the field, as well as with other services, and with other organizations in the U.S. intelligence community, to provide threat, technical, and terrain analysis tailored to the specific needs of Marine Corps tactical units. It also serves as the primary coordination link with ONI for expeditionary intelligence analysis.

Aside from being much smaller than the "big three"—army, air force, and navy—the Coast Guard and marines could hardly be more different. Whereas the marines are widely perceived as being the most "military" of the military services, the Coast Guard is not even supervised by DOD. And whereas the marines are regularly deployed to far-flung theatres, the Coast Guard's purview is primarily—though not exclusively—along the U.S. coastline.

Formed in 1984, as the war on drugs began to heat up, ICC included some 50 Coast Guard and civilian personnel as of 2003. Though it is the most notable arm of Coast Guard intelligence, its functions are augmented by intelligence staff who work with the Atlantic and Pacific Coast Guard commanders.

Coast Guard intelligence is concerned with everything from drug smuggling to illegal fishing, and the war on terrorism begun after September 11, 2001, has served to greatly expand its importance as a protector of homeland security. In particular, ICC, and the Coast Guard as a whole, has been tasked with monitoring ships destined for the United States as a means of intercepting terrorist operatives. According to a December 2002 report that appeared in the Seattle Times, the al-Qaeda terror network is assumed to control up to 15 cargo freighters operating under false papers worldwide.



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Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community, 3rd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.


Brinkley, Joel. "Coast Guard Encounters Big Hurdles in New Effort to Screen Arriving Ships." New York Times. (March 16, 2002): A9.

Killian, Michael. "New Defensive Posture for Former Prosecutor: Threat from Sea a Top Priority." Chicago Tribune. (February 13, 2002): 7.

Mintz, John. "Fearing Attack by Sea, U.S. Tracking 'Ships of Concern.'" Seattle Times. (December 31, 2002): A1.

Thompson, Phillip. "A Crystal Ball for Intelligence Needs." Sea Power vol. 44, no. 3 (March 2001): 51–53.


National Maritime Intelligence Center/Office of Naval Intelligence. < http://www.nmic.navy.mil/nmicpic.htm > (January 17, 2003).


Coast Guard (USCG), United States
Homeland Security, United States Department of
Information Warfare

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