How the nation’s oldest intelligence agency engages the new world

A little over a year ago, I was privileged to return to the world’s premiere maritime intelligence center, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), as its commander. Having previously served as a combatant command director of intelligence, I was very familiar with the daunting challenges ONI would face in a constantly evolving threat landscape. But no one was totally prepared for the year that was to come.

I’m proud to say that, as a team, ONI took every challenge head-on and did the hard, important work to continue providing decision advantage against strategic competitors. We endured a global pandemic and kept our workforce safe while ensuring our customers around the world kept receiving exquisite, timely, value-added intelligence. We expanded our ability to bring unique maritime and undersea expertise to bear on Navy and national priorities to ensure maritime security and global freedom of navigation. We further integrated with the Joint Force to help the Navy deter and defeat real and potential threats, meet the challenges of strategic competitors, maintain maritime superiority, protect the American homeland and protect our economic prosperity. And we did much of this amidst a global conflict, where we provided relevant and timely support to our partners during an ongoing crisis.

Those successes have only been achievable thanks to ONI’s team of warriors, a world-class workforce whose diversity in culture, experience and skillsets provides unmatched analysis of adversarial threat capabilities and intelligence support to warfighters. 

And now, that team is initiating major change to meet a new era. Today, the United States finds itself in a strategic competition with multiple nations, in an increasingly complex, contested environment. This geopolitical environment has made ONI’s mission to possess a deep understanding of our adversaries and deliver decision advantage more relevant than ever.

Change isn’t easy for the nation’s oldest intelligence agency, but we have changed many times already. World War I required ONI to operate domestically to prevent the sabotage of ports. During World War II, ONI’s focus shifted toward operational intelligence. Throughout the Cold War, our analytics pivoted toward Soviet submarines. And since 9/11, ONI has provided direct and reach-back support for counterterrorism operations in the global war on terror.

And now, in order to meet the challenges of this new era, we are transforming once again to more effectively and efficiently meet Naval Intelligence priorities, better align organizationally and functionally, improve our analytic output and streamline our ability to operate within the current fiscal constraints. We are achieving this by aligning our talent and our treasure against the highest priorities, distributing decision making and taking appropriate risks. In short, we are enabling the ONI enterprise to do fewer things better.

I am confident this team will continue to meet new and emerging challenges for decades to come. The defense of our nation, our interests and our global system of rules-based order depend on it.

As I leave ONI, I’m proud of the work we accomplished this past year and encouraged by the promise of a transformed, penetrating ONI, more ready than ever to execute missions and deliver decision advantage in relentless pursuit of our adversaries. The nation is fortunate to have this team of warriors fighting for it. Especially those standing watch around the world, in harm’s way even now, to protect the freedoms and security we hold dear.

Rear Admiral Curt Copley served as commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence from June 2021 until Aug. 1, 2022.