How Do We Enable Intelligence Reporting for Community Security? – Forward Observer Shop

How Do We Enable Intelligence Reporting for Community Security?

One of the challenges we’re all going to face during the next disaster is producing timely intelligence, which leads to the ability to make well-informed, time-sensitive decisions. Last year during Hurricane Harvey, one of the choices I faced was whether or not to evacuate family from Houston. Was the hurricane going to hit Houston or turn away? Just how bad was the hurricane going to be? There was 24/7 coverage of weather analysts trying to answer these questions, but there were very few engaged in methodical intelligence collection about local criminal/threat activity. In that scenario or a future one, we need to stay informed about the threats and conditions that exist beyond our line of sight. We can only do that through intelligence collection.

Here’s the central problem: I can fire up my police scanner, monitor social media, and watch or listen to the news, but that’s only providing me a small part of the overall security picture. Additionally, much of that information may be completely irrelevant to my neighborhood. In fact, I may be wasting a lot of time searching for information that doesn’t exist online.

Here’s a partial solution: In my neighborhood right now (and yours) there are dozens of individuals who are seeing and hearing information. Some of that information may be very valuable to me as an intelligence analyst involved in the neighborhood watch and community security. And these people have a vested interest, whether they realize it or not, in passing along new information from friends, family, social media, the news, their observations; where ever and however they find it. If someone in my neighborhood collects a piece of vital information and doesn’t pass that on to me, that’s a failure on my part. One of our chief responsibilities, especially if you start or join a neighborhood watch, is to stay engaged with the neighborhood.

Do you remember several years ago when DHS rolled out the “See Something, Say Something” campaign? That program was directed at building community involvement at the lowest levels to inform DHS officials on suspicious activities. It felt quite Orwellian back then and I don’t know how effective it was or is, but I do know that as far as the DHS mission goes, that program is directed at massively expanding access to intelligence information.

In his phenomenal book Team of Teams, former Army General Stanley McChrystal explained one problem he had at Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the military’s top tier special operations organization. Fundamentally, the problem was that information was not being coordinated at the level it should have been. Pieces of important intelligence were not passed on during a shift change brief. The intelligence collected from a computer in Afghanistan about a target in Syria was not passed on from the intelligence analysts in Afghanistan to the targeting analysts in Syria. For JSOC, these were at best missed opportunities. At worst, they could have cost Americans lives.

So McChrystal wanted to implement this concept of “shared consciousness”. How could he get all the intelligence analysts at JSOC on the same page and at the same time, passing on vital intelligence information discovered in disparate parts of the world or from unaffiliated operations? He likened this problem to re-building an airplane in mid-flight. If the solution doesn’t work or takes too long, your airplane is going to crash. But if you can solve these kinds of problems by re-organizing your watchfloor and facilitating better communication between all the intelligence analysts, then can make your unit more efficient and effective and better accomplish the mission.

Let’s apply this concept of “shared consciousness” to the neighborhood watch or community security. Here are three ways I solved a similar problem:

Identify all the stakeholders. Who has a vested interest in collecting or receiving intelligence information about threats in the community? Start or join a neighborhood watch, and go door to door in your neighborhood. Introduce yourself, meet your neighbors, pass along information about local crime and threats, and give them a reason to join and cooperate. The message is simple: “see something, say something” and you might prevent a break-in or something worse. If we don’t go out and “recruit” our neighbors to pass along information about community threats, then we’re missing out on a significant piece of the security picture. If we can do that when times are relatively calm and peaceful, then we can have their cooperation during the next emergency or disaster, too.

Ensure good communications. In the Army we had a saying: “Every soldier is a sensor.” Every soldier has a responsibility to pipe up if something doesn’t look right or feel right. Every soldier has a responsibility to remain alert, “keep his head on a swivel,” and be a contributing member of the team. But that soldier who sees something significant isn’t helping unless he passes on that information. In the community, we need to ensure that our neighbors have a way to contact us. A cell phone number, an email address, a radio frequency; some way to report the information they’ve collected.

Share information back with them. One big problem that Army had (and probably still has) is that information gets “stovepiped” to the highest levels. A company-level intelligence cell reports some intelligence up the chain to the Battalion intelligence officer (S2), who then combines it with other intelligence and reports it to the Brigade intelligence officer (S2), who then combines it with still other intelligence and reports it to the Division intelligence officer (G2). The Division G2 passes it along to Operations (G3), and then a bad guy is killed or captured. Is that Private First Class at the company level ever told that information in his intelligence summary led to the killing or capture of a bad guy? Maybe, but usually not. So we have intelligence collectors and analysts at the lowest levels who rarely get feedback about their contributions to the overall mission. We call this process “stovepiping” because just like a stove, the fire creates smoke that only rises up the pipe. The intelligence produced at the battalion, brigade, and/or division levels rarely makes it back down to the company level. And the folks at the lowest level need to know that they’re doing good work and making things happen at higher echelons. So I consider it imperative that in each monthly snapshot, in addition to all the crime information we’re also sharing success stories about criminals being taken off the street. Neighbors who see results, even if it’s only limited, are much more likely to stay engaged in this process. (For me, it’s a double-edged victory: if the crime rate is going down, then what we’re doing is contributing. If the crime rate is going up, then it gives neighbors a reason to get involved.)

Now, of course, the benefit for us is that not only are we driving community security, but we’re also building out a network of neighbors eager to collect information. And aside from the neighborhood watch mission, if things were to ever get really bad, we’ll have this incredible network of individuals who now become, for all intents and purposes, Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors, or Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) collectors, or whatever mission they may be tasked with.

This week, I’m posting two new videos to The Schoolhouse, our new online training area. (“The Schoolhouse” is a throwback to the intelligence training course taught at Fort Huachuca, AZ.) The first video is “Introduction to Intelligence”, which is the first hour or so of the SHTF Intelligence Course. And the second video is on Intelligence Requirements, which teaches students how to identify intelligence gaps and generate our collection requirements. I just recorded both of these videos on Monday; they’re being professionally shot and edited so students can get the highest audio and video quality.

If you’re like us and concerned about the future and want to increase your knowledge and learn some valuable skills, then join a growing community of students at the Forward Observer Schoolhouse. I’m posting new video lectures and training materials each month with the goal of creating intelligence officers for the uncertain future we’re going to inherit. You can sign up here.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper




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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