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Intelligence agency facts for kids

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An intelligence agency is a government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and exploitation of information in support of law enforcement, national security, military, and foreign policy objectives.

Means of information gathering are both overt and covert and may include espionage, communication interception, cryptanalysis, cooperation with other institutions, and evaluation of public sources. The assembly and propagation of this information is known as intelligence analysis or intelligence assessment.

Intelligence agencies can provide the following services for their national governments.

  • Provision of analysis in areas relevant to national security;
  • Give early warning of impending crises;
  • Serve national and international crisis management by helping to discern the intentions of current or potential opponents;
  • Inform national defense planning and military operations;
  • Protect sensitive information secrets, both of their own sources and activities, and those of other state agencies;
  • May act covertly to influence the outcome of events in favor of national interests, or influence international security; and
  • Defense against the efforts of other national intelligence agencies (counter-intelligence).

There is a distinction between "security intelligence" and "foreign intelligence". Security intelligence pertains to domestic threats (e.g., terrorism, espionage). Foreign intelligence involves information collection relating to the political, or economic activities of foreign states.

Secret Intelligence Service building - Vauxhall Cross - Vauxhall - London - 24042004
The SIS building, headquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

The methods of information gathering are sometimes covert (hidden) and sometimes quite open. A covert method might be to steal and copy secret documents. An open method would be to read all published work on some important matter, and analyse it. Much important material is published openly in democratic countries.

To get hold of secret information, these organisations use espionage, intercept signals (tap phones, hack computers), cryptanalysis (break codes), and think about what the information means. Putting together and communicating information is known as intelligence analysis and assessment.

Some agencies have been involved in assassination, arms trafficking, coups d'état, and the placement of misinformation (propaganda) as well as other covert operations, in order to support their own or their governments' interests.



  • SIS The Secret Intelligence Service, usually called MI6. Collects intelligence ("spies on") from other countries.
  • The Security Service, usually called MI5. Does counter-intelligence against foreign threats.
  • GCHQ Government Communication Headquarters. Intercepts signals, decodes them, passes the information on to other agencies.
  • Joint Intelligence Committee. Informs government as to what is going on.


The United States has about 17 major intelligence groups, and many other smaller groups. These are the most important:

  • CIA The Central Intelligence Agency. Spies on foreign countries, and takes covert action against enemies of the U.S. abroad.
  • Defence Intelligence Agency
  • Homeland Security acts against terrorism inside the United States, and helps when natural disasters occur.
  • United States Intelligence Community is the coordinating group for government intelligence agencies, headed by the Director of National Intelligence.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Servicio de inteligencia para niños

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