While both the CIA and the DIA are members of the Intelligence community and they both perform the role of intelligence gathering, evaluating, analyzing and disseminating it to interested parties for purposes of policy making and defense of the U.S national interest, the two agencies are different in certain ways. For instance, the nature of the agency and type of intelligence they collect differ. In addition, the structures of both agencies differ in terms of its level of autonomy. This article therefore seeks to highlight these differences between two important intelligence agencies of the U.S.
First and foremost, the difference in the level of autonomy of the aforementioned can be explained by the fact that the DIA is a subdivision of the Department of Defense and as such it operates within the general mandate of the DOD. Thus it cannot carry out independent work outside of the mandate of the umbrella institution. The CIA on the other hand operates autonomously with no parent institution to report to. Consequently the CIA serves as an independent source of intelligence on topics of interest within the world of intelligence.
Moreover, the two agencies came into being as a result of the need for both military and civilian intelligence activities. Leaning more on the military side, the DIA is a military agency while its counterpart is a civilian agency. Consequently, the employees of both agencies are different with the CIA recruiting its employees mostly from the civilian population while the DIA recruits people with a military background as well as from the civilian background.
Furthermore, the CIA receives more oversight from the congress in comparison to the DIA. This is as a result of the additional power that the former has in carrying out its mandate. The CIA obtains the said extra powers from the National Security Act of 1947 which empowers the CIA to conduct covert operations. Consequently, with more authority there is need for more accountability within the CIA in comparison to the DIA. It is therefore correct to state that the CIA differs from the DIA in how it gathers its intelligence since the CIA is legally authorized to conduct covert operations while the DIA is not authorized.
The other difference that stems from the background of both agencies is the resulting intelligence produced by both agencies. The DIA is involved with topics that cover national defense and military intelligence while the CIA engages in more general topics on national security intelligence. As an agency specializing in defense and military intelligence, the DIA informs the defense and civilian policy makers about the military intentions and capabilities of foreign governments and non-state actors. The CIA on the other hand collects and analyzes foreign but nonmilitary intelligence for the president and his cabinet which is used in making decisions on national security.
Moreover, the foreign intelligence supplied by the CIA is used to provide tactical and strategic advantages in order to preempt threats and further the U.S. national interest. The information supplied by the DIA is analyzed for any future political or military consequences that might impact the security of the U.S. and its allies.
In sum, the differences between the CIA and the DIA are not easy to detect as their roles overlap each other. However, a keen look at the two agencies reveals structural differences as well as differences in the nature of intelligence supplied by both agencies. Moreover, among other things, the aforementioned agencies differ in the way they collect their intelligence since the CIA is legally authorized to conduct covert operations.