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.