National Intelligence Machinery

Introduction to National Intelligence Machinery

Whitehall, City of Westminster

The intelligence agencies are at the
heart of the national intelligence machinery

The national intelligence machinery has the UK Intelligence Community (UKIC) of MI5, SIS, and GCHQ at its heart, with important work also carried out by Defence Intelligence and the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.

The machinery at the centre of the government also plays an important function. These include the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), supported by the Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO), which assesses raw intelligence gathered by the agencies and presents it to ministers to enable effective policy making, while the strategic management of intelligence policy and the government’s international security agenda is governed by the National Security Advisor who heads the Secretariat for the National Security Council (NSC).

The JIC sits within the Cabinet Office and is responsible for assessments and intelligence briefings that look at both tactical and strategic issues of importance to national interests, primarily in the fields of security, defence and foreign affairs. The chairman is specifically charged with ensuring that the committee monitors and gives early warning of the development of direct and indirect threats in those fields. They also provide government ministers and senior officials with assessments that appear to require operational, planning or policy action. 

The JIC's permanent members are senior officials from Cabinet Office, including the JIC Chairman, the Chief of the Assessments Staff and the National Security Advisor, as well as officials from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the Department for International Development, HM Treasury and the agency heads. Other departments attend as necessary.

The JIC also feeds their assessments into the NSC which is the main forum for the collective discussion of the government’s objectives for national security, in which a range of relevant departments participate. It is charged with examining more specific national security areas and overseeing and co-ordinating all aspects of Britain’s security.  The Prime Minister is advised by the head of the NSC secretariat, the National Security Adviser, who is responsible for co-ordinating and delivering the government’s international security agenda.


The JIC carries out an annual review of government departments' requirements and priorities for secret intelligence concerning national security, economic well-being and the prevention of serious crime. Ministers approve these requirements and priorities, which are arranged in three orders of importance. Each level reflects the scale, directness and immediacy of the risk or benefit to UK interests.

The statement of requirements gives detailed guidance to the collectors of intelligence (SIS and GCHQ). MI5 contributes intelligence to meet some of the JIC requirements. However, in line with our statutory functions, we formulate our own set of plans and priorities, which the Home Secretary approves.

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