Editor’s note: We have republished this article from the December 2008 issue of Studies in Intelligence to provide some insight into the Coast Guard’s historical connection to the work of intelligence.
As the Intelligence Community continues its transformation and the Coast Guard intelligence program experiences enormous growth, members of both communities would be well served by reflecting on the contributions Coast Guard intelligence has made in the past. From its beginning as the Revenue Marine in 1790, the Coast Guard’s unique authorities, industry access, and culture of adaptability have allowed it to make great contributions to intelligence and to important military successes in our nation’s history.
Archived documents, many originally classified, and published histories show that Coast Guard intelligence officers have turned up in some unlikely places—sometimes by design, sometimes by accident, but most by dint of the nature of Coast Guard operations and missions. Examples include scouting and information gathering by revenue cutters during the War of 1812; Rum War cryptanalysis and code breaking in the 1920s; HF/DF decryption work under the Office of Naval Intelligence before and during World War II, including the work of Field Radio Unit Pacific; contributions to ULTRA; and the Maritime Unit of the Office of Strategic Services. The Coast Guard’s contribution to the latter effort was barely noted in the official history of OSS written after the war’s end. This article is intended to illuminate this little-known aspect of intelligence history.