Cultivating Decision Advantage: How CBP Can Integrate Intelligence to Improve Border Security

– Executive Summary

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seeks to integrate intelligence to capitalize on the information it collects and cultivate decision advantage within its frontline ranks. CBP places significant emphasis on strengthening its ability to recognize and confront threats impacting the United States by extending intelligence capabilities to the field.[1] The Office of Field Operations (OFO)—a CBP component—is capable of integrating intelligence by leveraging its authorities and embracing its access to valuable information. Despite CBP’s potential to collect, analyze, and disseminate tactical and strategic intelligence, several factors impede OFO’s ability to integrate intelligence to improve border security. Disparate responsibilities, competing priorities, insufficient intelligence structures, and a lack of public awareness impact OFO’s evolution toward intelligence. Exploring those perceived problems assists OFO as it navigates mission priorities with increased and integrated intelligence roles.

This thesis explores how OFO can effectively integrate intelligence to improve border security by collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information in a more strategic manner. Considering CBP’s desire to expand intelligence capabilities to improve border security, a case study approach helps understand contemporary OFO practices and recognize deficiencies in its ability to coordinate intelligence. Comparative research identifies how intelligence agencies abroad coordinate intelligence; specifically, the domestic intelligence apparatuses of the United Kingdom (MI5), Australia (ASIO), and Germany (BfV) provide a potential path forward for OFO. Although the role of OFO expands beyond intelligence responsibilities, understanding the functionality of various established intelligence agencies provides context to adopt best practices.

OFO can contribute to CBP’s strategic intelligence goals and empower personnel in various roles. However—due to the size of OFO and the scope of its mission—disparate responsibilities and competing priorities impact its ability to translate the information it collects into actionable intelligence. Similarly, insufficient intelligence structures and a lack of public awareness about CBP’s mission impede OFO’s ability to transcend the limits of its capabilities. Therefore, despite the authorities and tools in place to play to the edge, OFO must improve its ability to coordinate intelligence and cultivate decision advantage.

Researching established intelligence agencies—like MI5, ASIO, and the BfV—proves beneficial for OFO to integrate intelligence into operations. By studying each agency, OFO can learn and adapt best practices to coordinate intelligence effectively. The history, structure, and priorities of MI5, ASIO, and the BfV provide insight into the intricacies of the intelligence profession. In particular, intelligence frameworks help the surveyed agencies structure intelligence and pursue the greatest threats to their homelands. Similarly—despite varying levels of transparency—MI5, ASIO, and the BfV value transparency differently; however, being open about intelligence activity helps garner strategic legislative support. Overall, a case study approach of established intelligence agencies reveals best practices that emerged from threat prioritization, structural approach, and transparency. By adapting best practices and leveraging its tools and authorities, OFO can emerge as an agency capable of cultivating decision advantage and contributing to tactical and strategic intelligence objectives.

Upon evaluating each intelligence agency, and considering CBP’s strategic goal to integrate intelligence, OFO should establish intelligence units at designated ports of entry. However, merely prioritizing port intelligence does not sufficiently integrate intelligence. By adopting structured intelligence frameworks, OFO can efficiently coordinate intelligence to improve agency outcomes and contribute to the broader intelligence enterprise. One takeaway from the case studies is MI5’s intelligence structure, which features a Desk Officer at the center of the intelligence cycle.[2] OFO can adopt a modified structure in which CBP officers fulfill the entire intelligence cycle, including collection efforts. In a desk officer system, a group of CBP officers comprise a port intelligence unit; in that unit, officers are responsible for collecting, exploiting, analyzing, and disseminating information and intelligence. The desk officer system bridges gaps between collection and analysis; it further streamlines the ability to disseminate actionable intelligence to consumers quickly. By structuring port intelligence in a desk officer system, enforcement units focus on interdiction, primarily driven by port intelligence.

The other framework for OFO to consider is an adaptation of the BfV intelligence structure known as federal task-sharing. In Germany, the BfV oversees the activity of each state’s domestic intelligence service; OFO can modify the task-sharing system to satisfy tactical and strategic intelligence needs at ports of entry.[3] In the task-sharing system, port intelligence units feature a central intelligence body with intelligence officers embedded in various specialized work units. Like the desk officer system, CBP officers comprise the task-sharing system; however, port intelligence officers are not responsible for collection efforts. The central body coordinates strategic intelligence while the embedded port intelligence officers focus on tactical intelligence to improve team outcomes. The task-sharing system emphasizes analytically driven collection—which is considered the ideal state for collectors—by streamlining the dissemination of relevant information.[4]

The recommended frameworks for OFO to structure port intelligence serve to integrate intelligence effectively. Such integration improves OFO’s ability to use the information it collects more strategically. Establishing and structuring intelligence units at CBP ports of entry will help OFO evolve as an agency capable of contributing to the intelligence enterprise; furthermore, embracing intelligence capabilities will strengthen OFO’s ability to cultivate the necessary decision advantage to improve border security.

[1] Customs and Border Protection, CBP Strategy 2021–2026 (Washington, DC: Customs and Border Protection, 2020), 25,

[2] Paul Jonathan Smith, “Counterterrorism in the United Kingdom,” in Module III: The UK’s Counterterrorism Structure and the Pursuit of Terrorists (Monterey, CA: Center for Homeland Defense & Security, August 3, 2023),

[3] “The German Domestic Intelligence Services,” Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, accessed November 2, 2021,

[4] Mark M. Lowenthal, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, 9th ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2022), 81.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top