We continually hear about the three-letter agencies – MI6, CIA, FBI, NSA but do we understand what they do and how they impact citizens’ lives? Do you know which one is the top intelligence agency in 2021?
In the following article, I explain the importance of intelligence agencies, their primary tasks, and the top 10 of the world’s best intelligence agencies in 2021.
Table of Contents
- The importance of intelligence agencies
- What are the tasks of an intelligence agency?
- 10. Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – Canada
- 9. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – Pakistan
- 9”. Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) – India
- 8. Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) – Australia
- 7. BND – Germany
- 6. DGSE – France
- 5. Ministry of State Security (MSS) – China
- 4.Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) – Russian Federation
- 3. Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) – United Kingdom
- 2. Mossad – Israel
- 1. CIA – United States of America
The importance of intelligence agencies
Intelligence agencies are mandatory for the security and the prosperity of a country.
In most states, intelligence agencies are classified into two main categories: internal security intelligence and foreign intelligence.
The internal security intelligence agencies take care of the homeland security of domestic threats like bioterrorism, terrorism, or espionage.
The foreign intelligence agencies are busy with information collection relating to foreign states’ political or economic activities.
It’s important to know that all foreign intelligence agencies are active in other countries where they don’t have any law protection and work clandestinely.
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;
- Defense against the efforts of other national intelligence agencies (counter-intelligence).
While all the world nations’ intelligence services are best in their regard, some are superior to others in executing their missions.
Wait no more. Here are 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. CSIS’s duties 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 analyze 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 during the late ’70s and early ’80s. The ISI took the Afghan fighters’ sides 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 many scandals, mostly caused by India, which accused them of encouraging terrorism by supporting militant and smuggling groups.
It 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 agencies 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 oversees the two great Powers on the Asian continent, the Russian Federation and China.
It was formed in September 1968, after the newly independent Republic of India faced two consecutive wars, the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and the India-Pakistani war of 1965. It was evident that a credible intelligence gathering setup was lacking.
RAW also has powers to monitor and restrict 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 cooperating 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 the Australian public and even the Australian government, they worked in secret until 1972, when it 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 combatants’ strategies and plans, being one of the most longest-running institutions of its kind.
Considered one of the wealthiest and most well-equipped secret services globally, with state-of-the-art technologies, BND has the primary objective of 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 central intelligence agency in France. The headquarters are in Paris, and around 5,000 agents provide information gathered worldwide.
Furthermore, the DGSE collaborates very closely with the country’s internal security agency with powers and national security.
They claim to have stopped numerous terrorist bombings in the Hexagon; however, some of ISIS’s most bloody attacks took place in this country.
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, also more commonly known as the MSS, is an intelligence agency 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 government’s hands to influence the story being portrayed to its people.
The agency also carries out the task of handling internal threats like citizens revolting against China’s ruling party, 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. It’s even thought that China’s rapid economic growth can be attributed in part to the MSS and its 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 Russian Federation’s civilian foreign intelligence agency (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 joined ago into the KGB. SVR is the successor to the First Chief Directorate of the KGB and works closely with the Main Intelligence Directorate, the military, and Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.
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 globally, so we could say that the brits have intelligence gathering in their blood. MI6 is responsible for counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, and counter-espionage.
The 1930s and ’40s gained MI6 a reputation for being one of the world’s top spy agencies, and they indeed had a significant 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, it 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 United States’ mistreatment of suspected terrorists.
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 taking 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 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 center.” The buildings seen above appear to fit the location and description
Mossad’s most famous division is the “Special Operations Division” called Metsada, which was involved in many assassinations and operations worldwide.
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 influential 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 internal policy responsibilities, and responds directly to the United States President. Its primary functions include searching for and analyzing information about foreigners and operations that concern the President.
It was challenging to create a top of intelligence/espionage agencies because 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?
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