Day 02 of Intelligence and Community Security: What Intelligence Does for Us – Forward Observer Shop

Day 02 of Intelligence and Community Security: What Intelligence Does for Us

What Intelligence Does for Us

Welcome to Day 02 of this Introduction to Intelligence and Community Security. You can read Day 01: Shifting Landscapes and the OODA Loop here.

Yesterday, we covered that intelligence is the bedrock of decision-making. Military leaders use intelligence to make decisions for operations. Governments use intelligence for making decisions in foreign policy. Corporations use intelligence to make decisions on how to stay competitive. Every time you check the weather, the traffic, or the local news, you are receiving intelligence so that you can make better decisions, too. Everyone uses intelligence.

Here’s one important distinction that you should know going forward: there’s a difference between intelligence and information.

Information is usually raw and unverified. Studies show that the first reports after mass casualty events are almost always wrong. After a bombing, a school shooting, a plane crash, or any number of other events, media outlets report to the public whatever they come across so the channel can get higher ratings. What they’re passing on is not intelligence — it’s just information and it’s usually wrong.

Intelligence, on the other hand, is the accumulation of this information that’s been triaged, corroborated, assessed for accuracy, and synthesized with other information to meet the needs of timely-decision making. This is often referred to as finished intelligence.

“Intelligence gathering” is really a misnomer because you can’t gather intelligence, only information. Information is gathered, intelligence is produced. Our goal for community security is to gather information, but to act on intelligence.

Intelligence for community security is going to be five things:

  • Timely – we need intelligence by a certain point in time to make a decision. Intelligence that arrives after the decision has been made is often useless.
  • Relevant – intelligence aids decision-making. If the intelligence doesn’t help a leader to make a decision, then it is often useless.
  • Accurate – Intelligence is not always spot-on. The more accurate the intelligence, the better the decisions.
  • Specific – Intelligence is unfortunately sometimes vague. Saying that there are “a bunch of tanks” in the area is not the same as saying there are seven tanks in the area.
  • Predictive or Actionable – Intelligence that is predictive in nature helps us make better decisions about the future. Intelligence that is actionable in nature helps us to make better decisions now.

Regardless of your role or mission, we seek out intelligence because we have blind spots. Today, we’re talking a little more in-depth about those blind spots, and identifying some considerations for our own intelligence needs before getting further into the weeds later this week and next.

At the heart of intelligence is the ability to reduce uncertainty about the future. If we’re expecting an event that causes systems disruption — that is, if our key assumption is that the event is not a matter of if, but of when — then how can we begin to reduce uncertainty about the immediate effects of that event? How about reducing uncertainty for the second- and third-order effects of the event as well? Intelligence is the only thing in the entire world that helps us to solve the problem of uncertainty about the future.

“If I always appear prepared, it is because before entering on an undertaking, I have meditated for long and foreseen what may occur.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

So what are some questions we might have in the aftermath of an event that disrupts systems like the distribution of food, water, fuel, electricity, and public services? Close your eyes and imagine yourself suddenly without power, without a cell phone, without access to information. What are the first questions you want answered? Should I stay or should I go? Are the roads navigable or are they clogged with traffic? Is it safe to hit the local grocery store or CVS and stock up just in case this emergency lasts more than a few days? What are the questions you might start to ask yourself?

Congratulations: you’re already involved in the very first steps of performing the work of intelligence. You are identifying intelligence gaps — literally gaps in the working knowledge of our operating environment. Once you identify an intelligence gap, it’s important to write it down, where it becomes an intelligence requirement. This list becomes a collection of questions or statements describing information that we need to know, but don’t. Here’s a short list of requirements you might consider:

  • Which neighbors will be willing to cooperate with a neighborhood watch?
  • Who are the known criminals in the area?
  • Which individuals in the area are likely to resort to criminality in the future?
  • How is local law enforcement responding to this emergency?
  • What’s the security situation immediately outside of our neighborhood?

These are just a handful of questions that the work of intelligence can answer for us. If you’re concerned about a grid-down event or financial collapse or the Golden Horde or  an EMP or some other event or threat, then some basic intelligence work should be at the top of your To Do list.

Ultimately, what intelligence brings to the table is the ability to make well-informed, time-sensitive decisions because we’re bringing in a constant flow of real-time intelligence information. That’s going to take some work up front to build up that capacity, so I encourage you to do the work. It’s going to be worth it. In future posts, I’ll describe what that process looks like.


Two Major Responsibilities

One thing that will separate you from your peers is knowledge of what intelligence tasks and responsibilities will be required during an emergency. You and your community are going to find yourselves in one of two situations:

  1. You’re not going to have enough information to make timely, informed decisions; or
  2. You’re going to have so much information that you can’t keep up, and will be forced to make a decision, anyway.

If I were a betting man, my money would be on the former for many in the preparedness community, and this is after over a decade of a very active preparedness industry. An entire decade later, most individuals who considered themselves prepared may have tons of gear and equipment, but if they’re lacking the ability to gather intelligence information in real-time to aid their decision-making, are they truly prepared for an emergency?

In any emergency, whether it’s local or national, we have two immediate tasks where it concerns intelligence. The first responsibility is to produce Early Warning, and the second is to produce Threat Intelligence. Early Warning is advanced knowledge of a threat’s intent or activities.Threat Intelligence is an understanding of the intent, capabilities, manpower, equipment, and other factors available to, or employed by, a threat.

Early Warning usually means that we have collection platforms, human and machine, in areas where early warning indicators can be observed. A long range reconnaissance team sitting in a hide site and observing the movement of enemy equipment could be one example. Signals Intelligence equipment that tracks the location of a cell phone is another. For us, we probably need to work on getting “eyes on” the entry ways of our neighborhood, at a minimum. If we expect looters or out-of-area criminals, then one of the best ways to produce early warning is to simply get beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood and scout out potential threats in the greater area. With a couple of radios and a decent vantage point, this could be a very effective way of producing early warning intelligence. There are others, which we can cover in future posts.

Threat Intelligence could come in many forms, usually as what’s called an Order of Battle which details the manpower and equipment of a military unit. A police report on the members and activities of a local gang is an example of threat intelligence. Threat intelligence is usually cumulative and describes the strength, capabilities, activities, resources, and intent of a specific individual or group.

If we can take steps now to produce threat intelligence on potential threats, and develop ways that we can observe early warning indicators of these potential threats, then we can reap the benefits later. The work of intelligence is a lot like exercise; you won’t be in shape for the emergency unless you get in shape now.

Tomorrow, we’re going to pick back up with the difference between intelligence collection and intelligence analysis, and begin talking about why these two things are supremely relevant to community security.


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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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