History often overlooks the Coast Guard role as an intelligence gathering operation. This small service, with its unique combination of military, law enforcement, and humanitarian missions is not what comes to mind when describing an intelligence agency.
In 1790, shortly after the Continental Navy was dissolved, Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, created a “system of cutters.” The Revenue Marine has played a significant role in national intelligence Coast Gard.
These ten small ships patrolled the ports of the new United States, enforcing tariffs, arresting smugglers, and ensuring free and open trade. Part of the Revenue Marine’s task was to supply the treasury with a steady stream of intelligence on the movement of pirates, as well as the political and economic situations in American ports. The young service was established as a premier intelligence gathering agency for domestic and criminal issues.
The intelligence operations of the Revenue Marine, and later the Revenue Cutter Service (the name changed in 1894) were mostly informal being a side effect of their counter-piracy operations.
In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson created the United States Coast Guard, combining the Revenue Cutter Service with the US Life Saving Service.
This new military branch formalized the intelligence gathering operations. The position of Chief Intelligence Officer was created with responsibility for the coordination and development of Coast Guard intelligence gathering operations which would become vital.
In 1920, the US passed a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol. It created a black market demand with smugglers bringing it into the country any way they could. Smuggling by boat became a favorite method; it was fast, easy to conceal, and only the Coast Guard could get in the way.
To combat this, the Coast Guard established a series of listening stations, which intercepted ship to shore radio traffic. This information was relayed to cryptanalysts who would determine whether or not the message contained a hidden code.
As the 20s continued the Coast Guard installed mountain radio detection equipment on patrol boats, the first recorded use of such technology. By 1927, they were
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