Although the U.S. Navy rating of Intelligence Specialist (IS) was established from the Photographic Intelligenceman rating (with some duties taken from the Yeoman rating) in 1975, the history of naval intelligence is as old as the art of seafaring itself. Indeed, for centuries ships were the only way to transmit intelligence over long distances separated by vast expanses of water. Even the arrival of telegraphs and then wireless radio transmissions did not blunt the importance of the Navy in intelligence gathering; agents might be able to transmit valuable intelligence data through those means, but very often vessels were required to carry them to the location where they could gather the intelligence in the first place.
Regardless of the rating names that have been employed, it’s generally agreed that Naval Intelligence as a cohesive branch of the service can be traced to the creation of the Office of Intelligence in the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation in 1882. At its head was Lieutenant Theodorus B. M. Mason, who served as the nascent division’s first Chief Intelligence Officer until 1885. Five years later, the office underwent a change in organizational status when it was moved from the Bureau of Navigation to the Secretary of the Navy and named the Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI.
The size, scope, and importance of ONI grew throughout the 20th century. But instead of being overtaken and replaced by new intelligence-gathering techniques and delivery systems, the Navy incorporated these into ONI and made its officers and enlisted personnel a critical component of the Information Dominance Corps, a multi-faceted warfare command divided into four distinct sub-groups. In 2016, the Information Dominance Corps was renamed the Information Warfare Community.
Navy recruits considering a career in the IS rating need to be aware that because of the significant amount of highly technical training involved, it is considered an Advanced Technical Field and requires an obligation of six years of active-duty service.