A Primer in Intelligence.
Intelligence in Brief
Intelligence is an important part of modern warfare and policing in the fight against terrorism, but exactly what it is and how it works is often a mystery to most people. While the word “intelligence” can mean a lot of things, in the context of national power (the Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence, and Law Enforcement Power of a nation or organization) the word intelligence can be simply defined as information of military or political value and the collection of such information.
The Intelligence Cycle
This intelligence is handled through a cycle which is always ongoing. Useful intelligence must be both accurate and timely, the process to produce this timely and accurate information starts with deciding what information is necessary to make decisions and ends with the processed information handed to leaders in such a format that they can make informed decisions. While there are several different forms of the intelligence cycle, the most common pieces are 1. Creating Intelligence Requirements, 2. Collection, 3. Processing and Exploitation, 4. Analysis, and 5. Dissemination. Each part of this cycle is constantly ongoing as more intelligence is obtained and more intelligence is required to make additional decisions.
Creating Intelligence Requirements
Before information can be obtained and eventually handed on to leaders and policy makers as useful intelligence, it must be determined what information is needed. This is often decided based upon previous intelligence because with each new piece of intelligence and the answers that come with it, new questions must be asked to continue to improve strategy and policy as new events occur.
Once it has been determined what information is needed, it must be collected. There are a variety of methods of intelligence collection which use different types of sources. Some of the most common methods are HUMINT, SIGINT, and OSINT, to the untrained eye those look like confusing acronyms but to the intelligence professional they are simply different disciplines of intelligence collection.
HUMINT, or human intelligence, is any information obtained from human sources. This can mean information obtained from interviewing a person or information obtained from someone specifically recruited to pass along information they have unique access to.
SIGINT, or signals intelligence, is information obtained from communication through electronic means as well as information that can be collected from detecting the signals of different types of electronic equipment.
OSINT, or open source intelligence, is information obtained from sources that aren’t meant to be secret. This can mean reading a newspaper, studying a research paper, or watching an interview. It is an often underrated form of intelligence which can produce situation summaries, support information obtained from other sources, or track ongoing events.
There are many other disciplines of intelligence as well, each kind is unique in what kind of information it collects and how it collects this information. Each type of intelligence also has different uses and is processed and then analyzed in different ways.
Processing and Exploitation
Once information is collected, it must be turned into a format that can be read and understood. This can mean decrypting encrypted computer files, translating a piece of information from a foreign language, and putting data into charts, graphs, or figures that are easier to use. This part of the intelligence cycle prepares the information that has been collected to be analyzed.
This is the point at which information becomes real intelligence. The amount of information collected from the various types of intelligence can be massive and not all of it is always accurate. It becomes the job of an analyst to prioritize the information and put pieces together in order to determine what the facts of a situation are. While nothing in intelligence is 100% certain, a skilled analyst can put together information in such a way that the probability of drawing the right conclusions is very high.
Each type of intelligence collection has some specific analytical techniques that go along with it as well as techniques that can be used across multiple types of sources. Once analysis is complete, a report is made to fulfill the specific needs of leaders and policy makers. This final report is known as the intelligence product and once it is complete it is used inform those who need to make decisions relevant to the intelligence.
When a policy maker, whether it is a politician or military leader, needs information, they wait for the intelligence cycle to be complete so they can obtain the intelligence product and make decisions based upon the timely and accurate information it contains. Once this intelligence is understood, new questions will be asked by policy makers who must prepare for their next decisions. These questions will take the form of new intelligence requirements and once these are created, the process will begin again.
While that is how the cycle works for each individual intelligence requirement, the entire process is always ongoing. Intelligence is always required, collected, and analyzed so that policy makers can make decisions.
The Importance of Intelligence
Intelligence is an important tool for all kinds of organizations ranging from governments to international groups to private companies. It is handled by vast and secretive organizations such as the CIA, SIS, BND, DGSE, SVR, and MSS. Every country has some type of intelligence service and many have multiple services, in the United States, for example, there are 16 individual agencies that make up its Intelligence Community as well as many more organizations that provide support.
The actual reason to why this is necessary may not be clear to everyone though, in his book Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy former Assistant Director of the CIA Mark Lowenthal goes through the purposes of having major intelligence services.
“To avoid strategic surprise” an intelligence service must constantly collect information and create intelligence products to know about the intentions and plans of their enemies, and sometimes even their friends. At its core, the goal of an intelligence service is to not be surprised by events that affect the country or organization they support.
“To provide long-term expertise,” over time politicians and their staff will come and go. Qualified experts who follow world events and the issues of foreign countries and organizations over time will be the best collectors and analysts of intelligence, to ensure they can do this and do it well it is necessary to have a dedicated professional intelligence service.
“To support the policy process,” an intelligence service must be kept as free of politics as possible so they can provide impartial intelligence products regarding the intelligence requirements of the policy makers they must support. “To maintain the secrecy of information, needs, and methods,” secrecy is a unique aspect to intelligence work since the first three points Lowenthal makes could also be a part of other government organizations. Keeping the information collected by intelligence services, their intelligence requirements, and the ways they collect intelligence a secret is vital to ensuring these services are effective. This is because if this information is not a secret, adversaries are able to adapt their actions to what the intelligence service knows.
A safe and secure society requires effective intelligence services that are professional, trustworthy, and regulated in such a way that they are able to do their job without taking away from the rights and freedoms associated with an open society. Gecko Professional Services will provide future writings on the various types of intelligence and other topics within the realm of security and terrorism. For more information on Gecko Professional Services, read our other articles or contact us so we may provide a capabilities overview of our consulting, training, and critical skills services.