What is Navy Intelligence?

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  • Written By: Nicholas K.
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Images By: Commander, U.s. 7Th Fleet, Pavlo Vakhrushev, Mathesius
  • Last Modified Date: 27 February 2020
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Navy intelligence in the United States is conducted by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). The ONI was created in 1882 to provide information for an expanding U.S. Navy. The ONI’s role has evolved as the U.S. Navy has grown to respond to conflicts such as the Spanish-American War and World War II. This intelligence organization is responsible for gathering information on naval deployments by nations, pirates and terrorists worldwide. The intelligence gathered by the ONI is analyzed by naval officers and civilians to determine consequences for U.S. national security.

The ONI has evolved significantly from its humble origins. The first navy intelligence campaign by the office came during the Spanish-American War. The ONI was responsible for tracking the advances of the Spanish fleet near Cuba. The federal government also relied on the ONI to investigate suspected sabotage aboard U.S. vessels prior to the war.

The federal government relied on ONI maps, broken naval codes and other information during World War I and World War II. The ONI was particularly important in mapping out Nazi naval maneuvers in the Atlantic after 1941. This navy intelligence agency has gained importance in the 21st century as pirates and terrorists have taken to the ocean.


The mission of ONI is defined by four objectives. The ONI is tasked with gathering information that can prevent criminal acts on the high seas. The second objective is to use navy intelligence and proactive measures to protect coastal cities throughout the world. This intelligence organization also protects natural resources that are vital to the interests of the U.S. The final objective defined by the ONI's mission is to provide details on enemy movements in order to prevent counterattacks in naval campaigns.

The National Maritime Intelligence Center in Suitland, Maryland, is home to the ONI. This center houses more than 3,000 personnel, including about 750 naval reservists who are familiar with intelligence operations. The ONI command structure starts at the top with the Commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence. This lead position filters communications and organizational tasks to the Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff. The Command Master Chief oversees navy intelligence training for enlisted personnel at the ONI.

The ONI is the oldest agency within the 16-member U.S. Intelligence Community. The office’s longevity has given the ONI senior status among other military intelligence organizations. Marine Corps Intelligence and the Defense Intelligence Agency rely on the ONI for the latest information on maritime activity. Federal government agencies such as the State Department and the Department of Interior request reports from ONI to fulfill their civilian missions.


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