Intelligence for Community Security: Developing a “Shared Consciousness” – Forward Observer Shop

Intelligence for Community Security: Developing a “Shared Consciousness”

“Until you can plug a cable into a lance corporal’s head and download his memories, there needs to be some form of manual reporting to capture his experiences.”

– CWO 4 Sean Thompson

I want to expand a bit more on a post from last week. First, I want to address a misconception that at least one reader had. Intelligence for community security is not about spying on your neighbors. It’s not about collecting information on their comings and goings; to believe that or to have inferred that is to have missed the point entirely.

No one in the community wants to be robbed. No one wants to come home and find that their home has been burglarized. Last night, I forgot that I left some cash in my truck, which is parked on the street in my neighborhood. No one broke into my vehicle last night, nor did they break into anyone else’s in my neighborhood, and I like to think that’s because I live in a safe place.

But as we saw during Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and others, safe neighborhoods can experience major problems, too. Looting, robberies, people in extreme need doing desperate things — we’re at risk of being on the receiving end of these types of crimes. Earthquakes, wildfires, riots; there’s always something that’s going to affect someone somewhere. It’s only a matter of time before that someone is you. And so my message with the last post is simple: during the next disaster, we and our neighbors need to have a frame of reference where we understand the value of information. Timely and accurate information enables better decision making, and since no one is as smart as everyone, I want the cooperation of my neighbors to be engaged and help monitor the security situation in our neighborhood during the next hurricane, earthquake, or insert-disaster-here. It’s not about spying, it’s about informing the neighborhood of area threats so we can make better decisions about the safety and security of our families.

That said, I want to address the quote above from Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Sean Thompson. In the book Teams of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal discusses the need for intelligence analysts to be on the same page. When our intelligence collection and intelligence analysis is aligned — that is to say, when we’ve developed a “shared consciousness” — we can “drive the fight” efficiently and effectively. That means that targets are being killed or captured, we’re disrupting attacks against American soldiers, and we’re responding to the developing conditions in our battlespace. For General McChrystal, the fight was running Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Iraq and around the globe. For us, it’s driving security operations during the next emergency. (And I do believe that a violent domestic conflict will affect a great deal of Americans within the next five to ten years; and possibly much sooner.)

Let’s set the scene here and compare/contrast a neighborhood that’s running some kind of threat intelligence program and one that isn’t. Here are some characteristics of a neighborhood without an ACE:

  • Mostly clueless about area crime until it directly affects them (surprise/strategic shock)
  • Mostly clueless as to what’s going on beyond their immediate line of sight (lots of uncertainty)
  • Mostly clueless about whether the situation is getting better or worse (more uncertainty)
  • Mostly clueless about what’s causing systems disruption (power, water, etc.)
  • Mostly clueless about where to find this information
  • And mostly clueless when it comes to making decisions about safety and security

Little or poor information invariably leads to poor decision-making. Poor decision-making invariably leads to loss of time, resources, or lives. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that during the next emergency, whether natural or man-made, this neighborhood experiences “strategic shock” from unexpected looters or criminals who target the neighborhood. I know a lot of people who will read or hear this and say, “We’ll, I’ll just shoot the looters.” That’s one way to solve the problem, but these folks are again missing the point entirely: with intelligence, we can scale up security in response to threats. How do we find out about threats? Intelligence collection. If you’re going to have to defend your property or neighborhood against an armed threat, wouldn’t you like to have some early warning that these people are in the area? Without forewarning from intelligence collection, you lack a distinct advantage and the threat has the massive advantage of surprise. And how do we develop that early warning of threats in the community? People. Observers. Intelligence collectors.

Implementing McChrystal’s concept of “shared consciousness” — we’re all on the same page regarding new developments in the security situation — means that as your neighborhood’s “intelligence officer”, you’re in contact with others in the area. This is your intelligence network, and the nodes are sharing information about what they’re seeing and hearing. This isn’t spying on our neighbors, it’s passing along information that may help someone else. If there’s sustained systems disruption, e.g., the power goes out, a fuel shortage, a bank holiday, financial systems disruption, etc.; then I absolutely expect to see a rise in criminality in my area. Why? Because there will be people in need who believe that resorting to violence or criminal behavior is justified. And if my neighborhood is thrust into that kind of situation, then I want to know as much as a I can about area threats and as much as I can about the security situation in the area so that I’m equipped with the intelligence to make great decisions. The alternative to that — not having intelligence, suffering from the element of surprise, and being relatively helpless in preventing crime or violence in my neighborhood — is simply not a choice for me.

Intelligence collection, i.e., building an area intelligence network now, is going to be invaluable. Police scanners are great. Data mining Twitter or Facebook and other online resources is great, but we can’t beat the power of people observing and reporting. This kind of “shared consciousness” is what drives the fight in warfighting, and also what will enable us to make much better decisions about safety and security for our families. I hope you’ll take some time this week and begin thinking through and setting up an intelligence network that can provide information about current threats during the next emergency.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper


PS. If you’re concerned about where we’re headed as a country, whether on the near-end of the spectrum or the far end of the spectrum (social, political and economic instability; domestic conflict; or collapse of empire), and want to stay informed on what the headlines don’t cover, then I invite you to try us out. Our special operations and intelligence veterans track the day-to-day risk of global and domestic conflict. 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.

1 Comment

  1. For natural disasters/shared events, what you discuss is pure gold.

    But in the spectrum of potential problems, a yuuuuuuuuuuuge gap is the assumption that co-location = shared outlook.

    If you have a household up the street that’s nothing but recently-removed hood rats, they may be on the side of looters, not the neighborhood, come The Unpleasantness.

    If a neighborhood group didn’t know that, and are sharing intel product with Team Looter’s neighborhood cousins , that’s the security leak in the levee.

    If everybody inside the Green Zone had been pro-American in Iraq, there would have been no need for giant hesco walls around our bases.

    That’s even truer in Austin, Houston, or anywhere else.

    It may be convenient to think that there aren’t any people on some spectrum of opposition to what you want, in any neighborhood, but it’s neither safe nor sane to do so.

    At some point, there’s going to have to come a recognition that not everybody inside the castle walls now ought to be left there. Wobblers are either going to have to declare, or decamp.

    The side to figure that out first, and act most ruthlessly once necessary, is liable to be the side that prevails locally.

    And if it leads to you being dead, who cares what happens twenty years down the road?

    This is the difference between a factional and geographic revolution, like in 1860, versus an economic and philosophical one, like France circa 1789, or Russia 1917. Your neighbors will denounce you, turn on you, and split your gear after you’re gone.

    It won’t be a war by even competing zip codes, or a neighborhood-to-neighborhood conflict. It will be fought house-to-house, and door-to-door in the same apartment building.

    And that’s what’s capturing current interest and fears: I can prepare to ride out and survive, and even shrug off a mere hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or flood.
    Because when it’s over, the event isn’t going to come circling back to my place to get even.

    But that’s not true when the neighborhood socialists decide I did too well, and they deserve some of my stuff to augment their lack of preparation, or to assuage their hatred for my wisdom and material comfort. They want me to share in their misery, and may well be prepared to go as far as to kill me outright to punish me for not being as dopey as they were in the first place.

    While the preparations for a severe regional disaster are similar for those to survive societal collapse, the briefing paragraph on “enemy forces” is one helluva lot different under Option B.

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