In the hierarchy of the Commonwealth government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has significant preeminence. It is one of the few agencies that is permitted, outside of the military, to carry out espionage operations against foreign powers. This dual arrangement would seem, in the eyes of an outsider, to create considerable interservice rivalry between military and civilian spies. In reality the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a well deserved reputation for being a gentleman's club, a locked vanity drawer that hides what remains of the Third Imperium's noblesse oblige. This tends to attract individuals who are often best described as being misfits, downheeled adventurers who earnestly support the Commonwealth, but tend to look down upon its rough populism and the vulgate's obsession with economic matters. Since the military tends to be the strongest receptacle of popular will, the military and civilian spooks and analysts tend to treat each other with contempt. With the Chancellor already well served by his/her own intellegence assets, no rivalry could exist anyway. The CCIS divides itself into two branches, the Exploratory and Secret Services, and each branch largely exist to fill a niche that would otherwise overtax the military, and upend the domestic spy and security services.
Commonwealth Combined Intelligence Service: The CCIS is the Commonwealth's chief external intelligence and information gathering agency. Its primary job is to respond to the basic interrogatives: the who, what, where, why and how of just about anything it discovers about the nations, organizations and persons that the Commonwealth may potentially come into contact with outside of its boundaries. Like the Ministry of Interior, however, CCIS is not omnipotent, and its operations are generally confined to regions of interest to the current Chancellor, the NDC, MoFA and other parties. The agency is smaller than the military and MoI intel services, and its operatives must rely upon a more tenuous kind of covert cover, as they almost exclusively operate among foreign populations largely unassisted. For the last thirty years, CCIS has operated primarily behind the claw among the Zhodani successor states, other human states to spinward (the Corellian League in particular), the Aslan Hierate remnant and its breakaway successors, and the Vargr Splinters. Precious few resources have been dowered upon regions on the other side of the Great Rift, owing to the constant emergencies that have erupted in spinward space for the past seventy years. A measly ten percent of the CCIS has been allocated to intel gathering beyond the Rift since the end of the Crucible War, though this number is beginning to increase as the Zhodani Occupation Zones are wound down and more attention is placed upon rimward and trailing space.
The combined service reports to a single Director, who in turn is also the Deputy Foreign Minister for Intelligence and Security. The dual hatting is maintained partially to confuse foreign governments, but also to create a measure of professional pride in the CCIS that would be lacking if they answered directly to the Ministry's main chain of command. The Exploratory Branch, known popularly and primarily as the Pathfinders, are the spacegoing exploration, survey, covert operations and espionage arm of the joint service. They are also generally the only part of CCIS that is publicly acknowledged. On one hand the Pathfinders operate the majority of the Ministry's embassy ships, marked exploratory ships, and astrogation "guidedog" missions. The public face of the Pathfinders isn't that terribly different from the old RISS, and its open missions are trumpeted with great fanfare. The public nature of these missions simply exist to build up goodwill towards the Commonwealth and its expatriate citizens, and provide plausible deniability for the covert operations, as much as they are for practical reasons. Covert divisions of the Pathfinders engage in supporting the other dirtside branch, tracking and analyzing foreign trade, commerce and ship movements, and an ongoing mission to chart the interior space of foreign states for military, commercial and more nefarious purposes. The Secret Service Branch, better known as the Spooks or Spookforce, is entirely an active espionage service. It conducts both active and passive intelligence gathering (HumInt and SigInt), basic scientific and sociological research, and backchannel diplomacy. Together the two services are colloquially known as the Red Wings, in reference to the large red angel wings in the Combined Intelligence Service. Spookforce is not publicly acknowledged by the either the MoFA or the Commonwealth government; covert agents who are caught are often disavowed, or claimed to be "regular" Pathfinder personnel and/or expats that became lost, confused, led astray by foreign conspirators, and so on.
To allay confusion and possible duplication between each branch, their responsibilities are delegated between three different levels: The Pathfinders handle a "Summit" level that concentrates the space side of things, and provides a generalized database of demographic, astrogational, technical and personal information on a timely basis; and a "Horizon" level that handles signal and photographic intelligence, planetary surveys and charting, and basic economic profiling. Spookforce handles the "dirt" level that provides Human Intelligence and active spying and espionage, and the kinds of low level backchannel networks through normal individuals that give the Foreign Ministry a level of access to the normal working society that in many cases is greater than that exercised by local or national governments. Pathfinders and Spookforce operatives are based in foreign territory from Stations established with or without diplomatic cover, covert or in the open. All of these, without exception, are staffed with paramilitary Lifeline teams (virtually identical to the MoI's EAST teams in organization and equipment), which can act as diplomatic security and covert reaction teams. Beyond this, the stations act as touchstones for contact between field operatives and the higher hiearchy, though in practice senior leadership takes a hands off approach with most of its distributed field operations, though the Lifelines have standing instructions to eliminate rogue or criminal enterprises carried out by its personnel. All logistics and information clearance is handled by the station personnel, which usually include on-site analysts, medics and technicians. It is not uncommon for Lifeline teams to rescue stranded or wrongfully imprisoned Commonwealth citizens, often in abeyance of standing policies against armed confrontations with local authorities and leaders.
The combined services inherited much of their structure and personnel from the defunct Regency Scout and Quarantine Services, when these were disbanded after the War. Some of RISS and RQS traditions also made the transition, including the lack of formal military style ranks; all Red Wing personnel are ranked by Civil Service grade number, in contrast to the rank crazy Ministry of Interior. Operating techniques are also similar to their predecessors: the Pathfinders rarely operates ships that are more than five thousand tons displacement, though for extended expeditions beyond settled regions of space it relies upon massive tenders designed to carry all of the vessels and vehicles required for the duration of its undertaking. But unlike the RISS, the Red Wings do not have an extensive infrastructure of bases. In many cases its ships operate from a handful of installations at the edges of the Commonwealth, and usually has to rent or negotiate for berthing and facilities on foreign worlds. Protocol demands that the Pathfinders also clearly marks its vessels, though this is only observed with governments and under circumstances that are favorable to the Commonwealth or Pathfinder personnel. Most governments friendly to the Commonwealth allow them to operate with wide latitude under treaties or legal obligations, though they are bound by those to mostly overt missions spelled out by these protocols. Other governments usually treat CES vessels as quasi-military craft or diplomatic vessels, granting them diplomatic status, or attacking them as interlopers. Given the nature of it intelligence operations, vessels supporting the dirtside intelligence arm are usually "blacked out" civilian vessels operated by service or vetted private crews under a false identity or cover.
Both services operate fictitious or real businesses that provide a degree of cover to their movements. The operation of real businesses is strictly monitored by field supervisors and the omnipresent operatives of the National Defense Council. CCIS operatives were originally limited in the kinds of businesses they could operate for ethical and political reasons; though the restrictions have been eased, all businesses created as covers are required to be primarily legitimate. Financial rules have been tightened in response to the greater freedom this has created. It is not against the rules for the CCIS to supplement their alloted budgetary appropriations with the profits of their business operations. But given the black hole of temptation this creates (and past malfeasance by Imperial era intel services) this shifting of cash flow is carefully accounted for by overseers. This compartmentalization of bookkeeping, whereby an operation has to maintain different books for local and Commonwealth authorities, has created a number of unintended consequences, not the least of which is the deliberate manipulation of other government's currencies by the NDC. The grey and amorphous area of intelligence seems perpetually unamenable to the best of intentions it seems.
It is worth noting that the contacts between high ranking members of foreign national governments and the various levels of the service are not usually standard operating procedure, for that is the usual duty of designated ambassadors and their embassies. The Pathfinders are optimised for low level contacts with people it meets in the course of normal space operations: ordinary travellers, foreign naval personnel, lower ranking starport officials, merchant crews and other members of a interested society that whose "eyes graze the grass." The Spooks often deal with an even wider slice of the public in ordinary dirtside settings of both private and public nature. Both are also accustomed to dealing with an even coarser level of local gentry, down to petty pirates, smugglers, street criminals and other trash. By working at the grassroots level, both services provide a direct means of contact between Commonwealth policymakers and the citizens and actual societies of other interstellar countries without being filtered out by official propaganda or legalistic interference. It also allows for the circumventing of isolationist barriers or offical secrecy erected by local governing bodies, for backdoor access via its own official efforts in influencing and communicating both public and official bodies in subtle manners. This latter tendency has caused the service and its freewheeling agents to run afoul of other governments, and created some embarrassing blowback.