Building an Intelligence Section for Community Security – Forward Observer Shop

Building an Intelligence Section for Community Security

Good Intelligence enables your leaders to make informed, time-sensitive decisions, and use finite resources to maximum effect. Your community security team — whether that’s a neighborhood watch, preparedness group, or some other organized group of individuals — are going to need timely information so you can maintain situational awareness inside and outside of your immediate area. You and your organization run the risk of mission failure without it. At the heart of intelligence operations during an emergency is collection and analysis.

Collection – the gathering information of intelligence value derived from Human Sources, Open Sources, Imagery and Signals, among others – provide the lifeblood of Analysis: collection provides timely and relevant information to be analyzed. Without that inflow of relevant information, the Intelligence element – and the rest of the organization by proxy – is flying blind. It doesn’t matter how deep and wide our Intelligence collection is if we don’t have people to process it. This bottleneck is like having all the crude oil in the world: without a refinery, there is no fuel. So let’s build a refinery.

We’re going to need to build an Intelligence section – the refinery. This is the ‘brain’ of our community security team that accepts incoming information, processes it and understands its significance, and then translates this raw data into Intelligence that informs leadership and the community about what’s happening around them. An organization involved in community security (or what we call in the Army “stability and support operations”) must have an intelligence element, whether it’s one individual doing the best he or she can, a small team of individuals, or an entire section of trained Intelligence Analysts. For our purposes, this Intelligence element is called the Analysis & Control Element, or ACE. It doesn’t matter what you call your Intelligence section, as long as sufficient time and effort are put into running it.

The ACE is what’s called an “All-Source” organization. That literally means it’s responsible for analysis of information from all sources and from all intelligence disciplines; whichever you may have available. (We discussed intelligence disciplines yesterday.) Without technical abilities and sensitive collection platforms, the community security ACE is likely to rely on data from Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and perhaps Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). This All-Source approach allows us to have a wider range of collection potential, as well as the ability to use information from one discipline to confirm or deny information from another. For instance, radio traffic from local law enforcement indicates that a home in our area of operations was recently robbed by two men, which confirms HUMINT source information that two men in the same vicinity and at the same time were observed running to a red vehicle with out of state license plates. Because these two separate sources are reporting congruent information, it allows us as analysts to better judge the veracity of this information. These two pieces of information have put us on the path to being able to produce actionable intelligence.

The ACE’s real function is to be what we call an ‘enabler’ of action. The ACE’s primary responsibilities, then, are to:

  1. Direct the collection of information of Intelligence value
  2. Process and analyze this incoming information; and
  3. Turn it into finished Intelligence that the commander or leadership can use for decision-making, planning, and action.

Building and overseeing an ACE is going to be one of the most difficult jobs for a community security team. Not only are the tasks and concepts already foreign to most individuals, but these tasks and concepts will need to be employed during a time of already heightened physical and mental stress. Additionally, there may be other priorities competing for our limited resources. This is going to include manpower. There are a handful of things we can do right now in order to help alleviate these potential future burdens.

First, we need to stress the importance of Intelligence as it relates to community security. The people in your preparedness group, security team — or just members of the community, for that matter — don’t know what they don’t know, and it’s not likely that they understand the value of Intelligence in the first place. The more our leadership, commander, and/or team members understand about Intelligence, the more likely they will see the extreme value of making it a priority. Illustrating the OODA Loop and how Intelligence plays a critical role in making informed, time-sensitive decisions is probably a very good first step. There are those communities which will implement intelligence and be more prepared, and there will be communities who don’t use intelligence. I believe the difference between the two will be visible.

Intelligence is critical in our ability to stay a step ahead of threats. The principles outlined on this blog are the same principles used by intelligence agencies and the military. Those two organizations happen to have roles in fighting terrorism; a mission of which community security is a microcosm. While we aren’t involved in fighting terrorists, what we may face in a worst-case scenario is a modified form of terrorism in our communities: in other words, violence against society. And we know that “no other single policy effort [other than intelligence] is more important for preventing, preempting, and responding to attacks.”

The second thing we can do is to develop some criteria we can include when scouting out potential ACE members; we need to find those mental giants capable of heavy lifting. There are probably individuals in your community who may not be able to physically contribute to security, but can certainly contribute mentally. These are the people we want.

If we look at the ACE through the lens of any other organization, we’ll find that it’s always best to assign individuals to the function to which they’re best suited. On my first deployment, I was assigned to a small task force. On Day One, I sat down with the Sergeant Major and he asked me about my background and experience in order to find the best place for me. He was a smart guy because not only did he assign me to the best mission that fit my capabilities, but I also came away with a sense of pride and responsibility because, as a young specialist, I was assigned a specific mission based on my strengths. It turned out that I was assigned to interrogation operations at the national detention facility in Afghanistan. This formed the foundation of my intelligence career. And I’ll tell you what: that Sergeant Major got the best work out of me. Treat your ACE Team the same way. Let them excel in positions where they can play to their strengths.

Third, we need to get our Intelligence section designed and staffed as quickly as possible. Any practice we have before a catastrophic event, even rudimentary practice doing some simple threat analysis, is going to be time very well spent. The more we can get our team, even just a couple members, introduced to their work, the more we can rely on them to perform without supervision. The less we have to supervise existing members, the more time we have to train newcomers to pitch in.

The fourth thing we can do is to be deliberate about how we design our ACE. Remember that Intelligence drives the Fight and the Mission drives Intelligence; so how we organize our ACE really depends on our mission. Think carefully about your likely operational requirements. If you live in a rural area, it’s more likely that your operational tempo will be slower than an urban area, which might require 24/7 intelligence support. If you live in an urban area, crime stands a good chance at occurring at any time of day, so we may be required to provide around the clock coverage. Conducting threat analysis will greatly aid you in understanding these requirements. But understand that our organization of the ACE can be changed; we must always adapt our organization of the ACE to the mission and security conditions.

I’ll follow up with more of these thoughts in future posts. Thank you for reading. If this was informative for you, be sure to sign up below to receive our new ebook Intelligence and Community Security. It should be available the first week of September.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper


P.S. – Are you concerned about future conditions in America? Economic and security conditions, natural disasters, or national emergencies? We are. That’s why were training intelligence officers for community security and disaster preparedness. Our intelligence and special operations veterans train students on intelligence gathering and other skills required for navigating complex environments. Give our online training platform a shot. If you’re not happy within the first two weeks, I’ll refund your monthly or annual subscription cost – no questions asked. You can get access to our intelligence reporting and training area here.




Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.


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