Truth tellers: at the headquarters of the CIA, in Virginia, August 2008.
LARRY DOWNING / REUTERS

U.S. presidents and other senior policymakers often come into office knowing little about the 17 federal agencies and offices that make up the U.S. intelligence community, but in short order, they come to rely heavily on its unique technologies, tradecraft, and expert analysis. The intelligence community’s mission is to provide national leaders with the best and most timely information available on global affairs and national security issues—information that, in turn, can help those leaders achieve their foreign policy objectives.

The president is the country’s top intelligence consumer and the only person who can authorize a covert

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