Four Bases of Intelligence and Community Security – Forward Observer Shop

Four Bases of Intelligence and Community Security

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In yesterday’s post, we left off with the first base of Intelligence and Community Security. Not all information is intelligence. Not all information we receive is accurate, therefore we need to produce intelligence. We don’t act on information, we act on intelligence. There’s a major difference between the two, and you can catch up here.

Second base is that Intelligence answers, “So what?”. A news report of a train wreck is just a puzzle piece. As we begin to put numerous puzzle pieces together, we may find out that several train cars have spilled liquid chlorine. Further, we find out the spill’s location. The next question is, “So what?” How will it affect you? Until now, we’ve just been dealing with Intelligence information, but when a chemical expert comes on the air and says that the maximum affected range is two miles (for instance), now it’s Intelligence. The local emergency management people have verified the contents of the spill, examined its relation to the environment, and know enough about the properties of chlorine to make a forecast or projection. Without that subject matter expertise, those in the would be left wondering if we were in immediate danger. Having lots of data is great, but without an expertise and understanding of the relational context of the information, the information alone is often insufficient.

There’s a reason why the intelligence agencies like to recruit candidates based on expertise and experience, rather than just an ability to do anything else. Someone who grew up in Syria and who speaks native Arabic can be turned into a spy more easily than a native English speaker can be turned into a Syrian. The best Russian analyst in the U.S. Intelligence Community, no matter how skilled he is at Intelligence analysis, would not do much good were he placed in an office covering West African tribes and warlords. He no longer holds an expertise in the subject and is now at a grave disadvantage. Two paragraphs summed up: become an expert on your community.

Third Base is knowing that good Intelligence should be five things: timely, relevant, accurate, specific, and predictive or actionable. In my experience, accuracy and timeliness are next to godliness. The accuracy of an Intelligence report doesn’t matter if it’s too late to inform decision-makers. There’s a cutoff for when consensus must be reached or a decision made. Information that comes after a decision is made, after the effort and resources are given direction, is useless. As Intelligence Analysts, we should always strive to produce this greatly needed Intelligence before it requires action. We don’t have the luxury of knowing if the Intelligence we’ve produced will become necessary an hour or a month from now, but we should have it when we need it. That requires a lot of foresight; a lot of strategic, one-step-ahead sort of thinking. Still, chances are good that a small Intelligence element like the one you build for your community or preparedness group will be so busy tackling today’s problems, that anticipating and producing intelligence for tomorrow’s problems will be difficult. But no matter what problems we’re working on, the Intelligence we produce must be timely. For instance, if an Army unit was moving to secure a village in Afghanistan on Tuesday morning, producing Intelligence on Wednesday would be of lesser value, and perhaps no value at all. Before beginning a project, ensure that you know what’s called the Latest Time Intelligence of Value, or LTIOV. That’s the cutoff date for when our Intelligence is no longer relevant, so be sure to beat the clock.

Intelligence is relevant. After all, that’s part of what separates it from the white noise of information. If we aren’t producing Intelligence that’s relevant to the mission, then we’re simply wasting time and resources. In our case, the mission is providing for community security. So that means that the farther we get away from our community, the less relevant most information is likely to become. Spending less time oscillating on global or national events (the triggers) and more time understanding the effects those events will have on the community, will produce large dividends for our levels of preparedness.

Intelligence should be accurate. As an Intelligence analyst, it doesn’t take long to make a name for yourself, good or bad. Providing accurate intelligence is predicated on a few things, most notably of which is subject matter expertise. One takeaway is that the ability to think rationally and critically, and then communicate clearly and effectively is of the utmost importance. Analysis without critical thinking is poor analysis. We must also be able to think logically and rationally. But remember that what’s rational to us isn’t always rational for an adversary. That’s why we have to get inside the enemy’s head and think like he thinks. The last ingredient in our accuracy recipe is having accurate information. Driving directions that include making the first left, the second right, and then the first left, seems fairly straightforward as long as the correct starting point is also identified. When I was a sergeant, I had a really great section leader; probably the greatest Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4) the intelligence community has ever produced. He used to say to new analysts, and I’ve committed it to memory:

Using perfect logic on inaccurate information will lead your perfect logic very, very astray.

Intelligence should also be specific. When everything we do is time-sensitive; when our guys our out on patrol or when you’ve identified a threat in your community, we need to produce the most clear and concise Intelligence possible. No one has time to come back for clarification. There’s a large difference between saying that there’s gang activity around Shady Dell Park and saying that there are eight gang members using Shady Dell Park as a staging area for robberies. We have to be as specific as possible with everything we know. The more we’re able to convey quickly to our action arms, the more prepared they can be to bring security to the area.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll be covering our four primary intelligence disciplines: Open Source Intelligence, Imagery Intelligence, Human Intelligence Signals Intelligence. I’ll be referring them to their abbreviations: OSINT, IMINT, HUMINT, and SIGINT, respectively.


Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper


P.S. – If this sort of information interests you, I have a series of online lessons and lectures that you’ll find interesting and educational. I provide students with an understanding of intelligence and the skills necessary to aid the community security mission. If you expect a natural disaster or national emergency to affect your area, and if you’re concerned that you risk your safety during these events, you can sign up for our exclusive training 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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