In April 1981, DIA broke ground on the Defense Intelligence Analysis Center at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.
When it opened in 1984, the DIAC not only gave the Agency a new, modern and permanent home, it also improved the Agency’s work by co-locating nearly all of DIA’s disparate directorates under one roof, allowing for better information sharing and the more rapid output of intelligence products.
The event was symbolic of DIA’s arrival as a key member of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Over the course of the 1980s, the Agency would participate in every major foreign intelligence challenge and expand the range of its capabilities to serve senior policymakers and field commanders alike as it pressed the concept of intelligence as a force multiplier in crises.
Early in the decade, DIA began taking steps to provide better operational and tactical intelligence to theater- and command-level U.S. troops by improving its intelligence databases and worldwide communications systems.
The first major test of this new level of support to military operations arrived in 1983, when U.S. forces invaded the island of Grenada to topple the communist government there and rescue American medical students.
A DIA task force provided detailed tactical intelligence to combat troops in the operation, and Operation URGENT FURY revealed important lessons in how a national-level intelligence agency could quickly provide timely, fine-grain intelligence that was tailored to the specific needs of consumers on the sharp end of the spear.
That same year, DIA established the Central America Joint Intelligence Team. CAJIT was the country’s first national-level intelligence fusion center.
Its mission was to support policymakers, U.S. Southern Command, and, most importantly, the government of El Salvador, with strategic, operational and tactical intelligence designed to defeat El Salvador’s communist insurgency.
It included analysts from across the Intelligence Community, and used powerful databases and improved communications technology to quickly analyze and disseminate intelligence used in U.S. support of the Salvadoran military as a way to improve its operations against the insurgents.
The organization was extremely effective, and enabled the Salvadorans to beat back the insurgents that threatened to defeat it early in the decade. Meanwhile, the Agency continued to provide intelligence that was essential to understanding and defeating the Soviet Union.
It maintained its contributions to the vaunted National Intelligence Estimates and developed new information about the weaknesses of the Soviet economy, which President Ronald Reagan would use in succeeding years to put the Soviet Union under increasing pressure.
It also continued to provide key support to the arms control verification process, particularly SALT, and later, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The Agency also began taking on a significant and expanded counterterrorism mission in the 1980s.
After increased attacks against Americans in the mid-1980s and a more aggressive response demanded by the White House, DIA created its first all-source fusion cell for terrorism analysis.
The Agency supported the military’s counterterrorism operations in response to such events as the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the cruise ship Achille Lauro, and the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin.
DIA’s counterterrorism efforts in this period earned the Agency its first Joint Military Unit award.
Other world crises continued to flare up as well. As the Iran-Iraq War spilled into the Persian Gulf, the Agency’s intelligence support to U.S. forces in the Gulf intensified.
DIA was a key player in Operation EARNEST WILL, the effort to protect international shipping in the Persian Gulf.
It provided targeting data on Iranian surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missile batteries and intelligence on Iraqi air power capabilities.
This information was vital for U.S. retaliatory strikes on Iranian oil platforms and in the aftermath of the Iraqi attack on the USS Stark.
By the middle of the decade, DIA was fully engaged in collection and analysis efforts for events around the globe. The Agency kept a close watch on unrest in the Philippines and the Soviet imbroglio in Afghanistan.
The Toyota War between Libya and Chad, and turmoil in Haiti, added to DIA’s heavy production workload, as did unrest in other parts of Latin America, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burma and Pakistan.
Organizational adjustments allowed DIA to continue its high tempo of operations. During this period, the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act designated DIA a “combat support agency,” which made its activities subject to the review of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and assigned DIA responsibilities in providing supporting operational capabilities to the combatant commanders.
DIA also established its Operational Intelligence Crisis Center, which served as the primary vehicle for coordinating analytic support during crises.
The Agency also moved and renovated the National Military Intelligence Center, co-locating it with the National Military Command Center, a move that encouraged the fusion of military operations with national-level intelligence production.
These changes paid off near the end of the decade. Operation JUST CAUSE, the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, was a dramatic success in part because of the timely, accurate, and tailored intelligence provided by DIA to policymakers, operational planners, and combat forces on the ground.
The Agency also provided threat data on hot spots in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia while continuing to produce intelligence on the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Tiananmen Square incident in China.
Counterproliferation, counternarcotics and counterterrorism remained critical intelligence issues at the end of the decade.