Day 03 of Intelligence and Community Security: Intelligence Collection & Analysis – Forward Observer Shop

Day 03 of Intelligence and Community Security: Intelligence Collection & Analysis

Intelligence Collection & Intelligence Analysis

Welcome to Day 03 of this Introduction to Intelligence and Community Security. You can catch up on previous posts below:

A New Introduction to the ACE Blog
Day 01: Shifting Landscapes and the OODA Loop
Day 02: What Intelligence Does for Us

In previous days, we’ve discussed a good foundation for understanding the value and utility of intelligence for community security. We talked about the OODA Loop — the pathway for decision-making — and how intelligence is the first half of that loop: Observing and Orienting. (If you’re confused about the OODA Loop, refer back to Day 01 of this series and start from there.) Today, we’re talking about what intelligence collection and intelligence analysis actually look like for the purposes of community security.

We can’t Decide and Act unless we Observe (intelligence collection) and Orient (intelligence analysis), which is why collection and analysis are so crucial for community security, emergency preparedness, warfighting, or anything in between.

We have blind spots; we have a fundamental need for real-time intelligence to support real-time decision-making, therefore, our mission requires collectors and analysts.

Traditionally, as with the military and civilian intelligence agencies, collectors and analysts are different roles. Collectors don’t analyze and analysts don’t collect, and there’s a good reason for this. Let’s think of intelligence as the process of baking a pie. Intelligence collectors are trying to collect the ingredients for the pie, while the analysts are sorting through everything that’s been collected to find only the best quality ingredients. Collectors aren’t that concerned with the quality of the ingredients they’re finding; they job is just to collect and pass on the ingredients. Furthermore, each collector has access only to the ingredients he’s collected, and doesn’t know what other collectors have gathered. How can a collector, then, analyze what’s best for the pie if he doesn’t know what other ingredients are available? That’s where the analysts come in, because they’re pouring through everything that’s being collected in real-time until they have everything required to bake the pie. That’s how you get finished intelligence, as opposed to raw information. Collectors are reporting raw information, while the analysts are putting it together, using only the best and highest quality information, and then producing intelligence. We make decisions based on the finished intelligence.

Another way to look at this is using yesterday’s puzzle analogy. Let’s say that we’re putting together a puzzle, so the analysts dump the puzzle box onto a table, sort through the available pieces, and find that some are missing. So the analysts tell the collectors what puzzle pieces are required to put together the puzzle, and then the collectors go look for the missing pieces. The collectors being looking around the house for puzzle pieces, and then start giving any puzzle piece they find to the analysts. Only the analyst can compare each new piece to the needs of the puzzle and determine if the puzzle can be completed.

Aside from these two analogies, there’s training and specialization. Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) collectors are not Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors. Why? Because each of these jobs require very specific training for very specific missions. Additionally, neither SIGINT nor HUMINT collector would be good all-source analyst because he lacks the training and experience in intelligence analysis. This is also true for other professions: heart surgeons aren’t brain surgeons, wide receivers aren’t safeties, civil engineers aren’t electrical engineers, and so on.

Unfortunately, we at the community level probably aren’t going to have the luxury of having a well-staffed, well-trained, and specialized intelligence section. That means we’re going to have to wear multiple hats, both of the collector and the analyst. Let’s go ahead and break down what this all looks like.

First, our analyst — that’s probably going to be you — is what’s referred to as all-source. I’ll cover this in greater detail next week, however, for now just know that the all-source analyst is responsible for combining all the different sources of intelligence (called disciplines) into his analysis.

Next, our collector — that’s probably going to be you, too — is responsible for gathering information from sources. There are numerous intelligence disciplines, however, for the purposes of community security, we’re going to focus on four. (I’ll cover these in much greater detail next week, but for now here’s an overview.)

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), often referred to as the most underutilized and under appreciated type of intelligence, is often the most widely available. According to the U.S. Intelligence Community, 80 percent of all intelligence information globally comes from open sources. That’s probably 90 percent or more considering the ubiquitous adoption of social media. OSINT includes things that are openly broadcast, like television or radio news reporting, magazines and other publications, and most of what can be found on the internet. In fact, with a few caveats, Google can be one of our best facilitators of intelligence information. Although not often highly considered, local events like town halls, city council meetings, and political gatherings can also be considered OSINT. Because it’s the most available, easiest to collect, and provides us with some quick wins up front, OSINT should become one of our top collection priorities.

Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) is information derived from photographs and video, and we’re going to rope GEOINT into this category, as well. Maps of our communities and broader areas are an example but we’re also going to include geospatial information software like Google Earth, ArcGIS, FalconView, or any number of free, open source tools available on the web. IMINT allows us to visualize physical terrain and its geographic layouts without having to expend the time and resources to travel to these places. Lesser considered IMINT sources could also include full-motion video from traffic or security cameras, as well as drones. IMINT can carry with it some limitations, such as old or outdated map data; however, it is an indispensable source of the intelligence information we’ll need. More recently, Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) is being used to describe information about environmental factors, like the attributes of physical terrain (flood plain data, for example). Whereas IMINT captures what the physical terrain looks like, GEOINT could describe factors like soil composition and density (“Is the ground of this open space capable of supporting a staging area for heavy equipment?”), and climatic and environmental effects on the physical terrain (“Does this area flood?” or “How much snowpack will there be in February?”).

Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is intelligence information derived from human sources. Through HUMINT, we can gain access to information that we could never gather on our own. The dramatized spy films, for instance, where CIA or MI6 case officers leverage and recruit foreign nationals to infiltrate criminal or terrorist organizations are examples of the use of HUMINT. For our purposes, we’ll focus more on localized collection about local threats. Friends and family, neighbors, convenience or grocery store clerks, peace enforcement officers, and city/county officials are all high value sources of information.

Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) is derived from signals, including from communication devices like cell phones and computers. You may have heard that it’s used to target terrorist leaders around the globe. From the jungles of Columbia and the Philippines to the deserts of Iraq and Yemen to the mountains of Afghanistan and lots of places in between (including your hometown), U.S. military and civilian intelligence agencies (to include law enforcement agencies) rely heavily on the use of SIGINT. Through even very rudimentary capabilities, we can leverage this Gold Standard of intelligence collection to provide early warning, through a subset of SIGINT called Communications Intelligence, or COMINT. (For an equipment recommendations, refer to the Ultimate ACE Startup Guide.)

Utilizing all available disciplines, sources, and methods required for the mission, the task of intelligence is ultimately to reduce uncertainty about the future. Now that we have our feet with with the understanding the decision-making process (OODA Loop on Day 01), the difference between information and intelligence (What Intelligence Does for Us on Day 02), and the practical difference between collection and analysis today, tomorrow’s post will be about putting this all together and what the entire cycle of collection, reporting, analysis, and dissemination looks like.


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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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