We are constantly hearing about the three-letter agencies – MI6, CIA, FBI, NSA but do we understand what they do and how they impact the lives of citizens? Do you know which one is the top intelligence agency in 2021?
In the following article, I explain to you the importance of intelligence agencies, their main tasks and a top 10 of the best intelligence agencies in the world in 2021.
The importance of intelligence agencies
Intelligence agencies are mandatory for the security and the prosperity of a country.
In most of the states, intelligence agencies are classified in two main categories: internal security intelligence and foreign intelligence.
The internal security intelligence agencies take care of the security on the homeland taking care of domestic threats like bioterrorism, terrorism or espionage.
The foreign intelligence agencies are busy with activities like information collection relating to the political, or economic activities of foreign states.
It’s important to know that all foreign intelligence agencies are active in other countries where they don’t have any protection of the law and have to work clandestinely.If I take as an example the United States, FBI is the homeland intelligence agency while the CIA is taking care of US interests in all other states.
What are the tasks of an intelligence agency?
The Intelligence agencies of any country can provide the following services for their national governments:
- gathering intelligence through various means (open sources like social media, online newspapers etc.)
- conducting various forms of espionage
- advising the government on matters related to national security
- Protect sensitive information secrets, both of their sources and activities, and those of other state agencies;
- Defence against the efforts of other national intelligence agencies (counter-intelligence).
While all the intelligence services of the world nations are best in their regard, some are superior to others in the execution of their missions.
Wait no more, here is our top 10 powerful intelligence agencies around the world.
10. Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – Canada
- Headquarters: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
- Annual budget: C$589.4 million (2016–2017)
- Employees: 2449 (est)
- Website: csis.gc.ca
CSIS is the intelligence agency of Canada that looks into the national security of the country. Duties of CSIS include collecting intelligence, running covert operations, and advising the government on potential security threats.
The CSIS is also Canada’s representative in the Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
9. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – Pakistan
- Headquarters: Aabpara, Islamabad, Pakistan
- Annual budget: Classified
- Employees: 10000 (est)
- Website: ispr.gov.pk
ISI was formed in 1948 and is the Pakistan intelligence agency operating within the military forces. The main objective of ISI is to investigate and analyse data on security issues for the Pakistani government.
Speaking of the Afghan-Soviet Union relationship, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency of Pakistan had a huge role in that during the late ’70s and early ’80s. The ISI took the sides of the Afghan fighters clashing against the Soviets and even worked closely with the CIA to train and fund them.
Headquartered in Shahrah-e-Soharwardi in Islamabad the Pakistani agency was at the heart of a large number of scandals, especially caused by India, which accused them of encouraging terrorism by supporting militant and smuggling groups.
Its is believed to have the highest number of agents worldwide, close to 10,000. The most striking thing is that it’s one of the least funded Intelligence agency out of the top 10.
9”. Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) – India
- Headquarters: New Delhi, India
- Founded: 1968
- Annual budget: Classified
- Employees: Classified
- Website: Not available
The Research and Analysis Division (RAW) is India’s most important secret service. Established in New Delhi, the intelligence agency has as main objectives the oversight of the two great Powers on the Asian continent, Russian Federation and China.
It was formed in September 1968, after the newly independent Republic of India was faced with 2 consecutive wars, the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and the India-Pakistani war of 1965, as it was evident that a credible intelligence gathering setup was lacking.
RAW also has powers in terms of monitoring and restricting the provision of hardware services to Pakistan by the US, European countries and China.
8. Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) – Australia
- Headquarters: Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
- Annual budget: $468M AUD (2017)
- Employees: Not available
- Website: asis.gov.au
Australian Secret Intelligence Service, aka ASIS, is the Australian government intelligence agency responsible for collecting foreign intelligence, undertaking counter-intelligence activities and cooperation with other intelligence agencies overseas.
Its primary responsibility is gathering intelligence from mainly Asian and Pacific interests using agents stationed in a wide variety of areas.
The best well-kept secret, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) operated in secret for twenty years. Hidden from not just the Australian public, but even the Australian government they worked in secret until 1972 when was sensationally exposed by The Daily Telegraph.
7. BND – Germany
- Headquarters: Berlin, Germany
- Founded: 1956
- Annual budget: $1063M (2019)
- Employees: 6500 (2016)
- Website: bnd.bund.de
Germany’s Federal intelligence service, called the Bundesnachrichtendienst, is the country’s external information agency. Founded before World War II to spy on the strategies and plans of combatants, being one of the most longest-running institutions of its kind.
Considered one of the richest and most well-equipped secret services in the world, with state-of-the-art technologies, BND has as main objectives countering national security attacks and supervising external espionage. It depends heavily on wiretapping and electronic surveillance of international communications.
6. DGSE – France
- Headquarters: Paris, France
- Annual budget: $731M
- Employees: 6102
- Website: defense.gouv.fr/english/dgse
The Directorate-General for External security is the main intelligence agency in France. The headquarters are in Paris, and those around 5,000 agents provide information gathered from all over the world.
Furthermore, the DGSE collaborates very closely with the country’s internal security agency with powers and in terms of national security.
They claim to have stopped numerous terrorist bombings in the Hexagon, however, in this country, some of ISIS ‘ most bloody attacks took place.
Below you can watch a documentary about DGSE in french. Use Auto-translate captions to get English translation.
5. Ministry of State Security (MSS) – China
- Headquarters: Beijing, China
- Founded: 1983
- Annual budget: Classified
- Employees: Classified
- Website: None
Ministry of State Security or also more commonly known as the MSS is an intelligence agency that was founded by the State of China back in 1983.
The agency cuts off the national population from the information of the outside world. It gives the power in the hands of government to influence the information being portrayed to its people.
The agency also carries out the task related to handling internal threats like citizens who are revolting against the ruling party of China; the Communist Party. The MSS conducts operations both domestic and foreign in the name of national security.
In September 2007, the Pentagon accused China of hacking into U.S. Defense Department databases. The governments of Germany and Britain have made similar accusations.
The MSS has no official website or any list of contacts, and it’s even thought that China’s rapid economic growth can be attributed in part to the MSS and their keen ability to steal intellectual property from other nations.
4.Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) – Russian Federation
- Headquarters: Moscow, Russia
- Founded: 1991
- Annual budget: Classified
- Employees: Classified
- Website: http://svr.gov.ru/
Russia’s intelligence services are well-funded, aggressive and politically protected. The Foreign Intelligence Service is the civilian foreign intelligence agency of the Russian Federation (the military counterpart is GRU).
Officially, the SVR was established as a Special Section of the Cheka, on December 20, 1920. In July 1934, the Joint State Political Directorate ( OGPU ) merged back into the NKVD. In 1954, the NKVD merged back into the KGB. SVR it is the successor to the First Chief Directorate of the KGB and works closely with the Main Intelligence Directorate, the military, the foreign intelligence agency of Russia.
Unlike the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the SVR is tasked with intelligence and espionage activities outside the Russian Federation.
3. Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) – United Kingdom
- Headquarters: London, United Kingdom
- Founded: 1909
- Annual budget: $2.6B USD (2016)
- Employees: 3594 (est)
- Website: sis.gov.uk/
The British intelligence Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6, is the oldest intelligence agency in the world so we could say that the brits have intelligence gathering in their blood. MI6 it is responsible for counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, and counter-espionage.
The 1930s and ’40s gained MI6 a reputation for being one of the top spy agencies in the world, and they surely had a major part in training US agents once America entered the Second World War.
Post World War II, MI6 had to shake off numerous infiltrations by Russian double agents, and by the ’80s and ’90s, had become a much more open, re-prioritized agency.
Formed 110 years ago, MI6 is undoubtedly one of the oldest operating intelligence services across the globe. The agency came under fire in 2018 when a parliamentary report found that MI6 acquiesced in the mistreatment of suspected terrorists by the United States.
2. Mossad – Israel
- Headquarters: Tel Aviv, Israel
- Founded: 1949
- Annual budget: $2.73B USD (2017)
- Employees: 7000 (est)
- Website: mossad.gov.il
The Mossad is responsible for intelligence collection and covert operations, including paramilitary activities. It is one of the main entities in the Israeli Intelligence Community, along with Aman (military intelligence) and Shin Bet (internal security). Still, its director reports directly to the Prime Minister.
The list of its successes is long. Israel’s intelligence agency is most famous for having taken out several PLO operatives in retaliation for the attack that killed eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
Note about the Mossad HQ: An apparent former Mossad agent claimed to have revealed its location in at a highway intersection called Glilot Junction in 1987. In journalist Patrick Tyler’s 2012 book Fortress Israel, he located Mossad’s headquarters as a “partially hidden campus of low-slung office buildings sandwiched between the Glilot highway junction, a Cineplex, and a shopping centre.” The buildings seen above appear to fit the location and description
The most famous division of Mossad is the “Special Operations Division” called Metsada, was involved in many assassinations and operations around the world.
1. CIA – United States of America
- Headquarters: Langley, Virginia, U.S.
- Founded: 1947
- Annual budget: $52.6B USD (est)
- Employees: 21500 (est)
- Website: cia.gov
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is the most famous and powerful Secret service in the world. Headquartered in Langley, Virginia, west of Washington, the CIA is leading technology and power to the other intelligence services in the United States, including the National Security Agency (NASA), the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Federal Bureau of Information (FBI).
The CIA specializes mainly in foreign affairs, with very few responsibilities in terms of internal policy and responds directly to the President of the United States. Its basic functions include searching for and analyzing information about foreigners and operations that concern the President.
It was difficult to create a top of intelligence/espionage agencies because of the fact most of the successes of these agencies remain secret and are declassified after 50 years, or the general public never founds some out.
That’s why we took a close look at the security and prosperity of the countries and intelligence-gathering operations from open sources like digital newspapers and books.
It’s your turn now: Who is the world’s best intelligence agency in 2021?
Share your comments below. Want to find out more about spies and espionage? Check our Top 15 Best Spy Movies of all time.