Four types of intelligence collection for community security – Forward Observer Shop

Four types of intelligence collection for community security

An intelligence discipline is a category of intelligence available for collection; we might also call them “types” of intelligence. Although there are many types of intelligence generally available, especially to those organizations with billion dollar budgets, we at the community level are likely to have a very limited number. The more we can access, the better off we are. In fact, our ability to produce good intelligence may be directly related to the types of disciplines we can make available. For your awareness, I’ll cover the first four that are most likely available to us.

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 or more percent of all intelligence information globally comes from open sources. OSINT includes things that are openly broadcast, like television or radio news reporting, magazines and other publications, social media posts, 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, OSINT should become one of our top collection priorities.

Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) is information derived from maps and photographs. 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 IMINT can carry with it some limitations, such as old or outdated map data; however, it is an indispensable source of the intelligence information we’ll need.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 physical attributes of the physical terrain. 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 a great example of the use of HUMINT. For our purposes, we’ll focus more on localized collection from cooperative and witting sources.

Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) is derived from signals, including from communication devices like cell phones and the internet. 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), the U.S. Government’s intelligence 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.

There are other intelligence disciplines and subsets, however, these listed are the most common and the most crucial for us to master for community security. In future posts we’ll discuss in detail how each can play a role for us. Standing up a basic collection capacity for these disciplines doesn’t require a technical ability or sensitive, specialized equipment. In most cases, we can begin collecting intelligence information from each of the four by the end of the day. I’ll have much more on intelligence gathering techniques in future posts. Be sure to sign up to receive these updates.

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. 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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