Mailbag: What Do You Mean by “Information Superiority”? – Forward Observer Shop

Mailbag: What Do You Mean by “Information Superiority”?

This week’s mailbag question comes to us from Brian K. He asks:

“In a previous article you mentioned having “information superiority”. Can you please expand that thinking for us?”

Do you remember the game “Battleship”? You set out your ships on your part of the board, and those locations are blinded from your opponent. He does the same and then you take turns guessing where the ships might be until you hit a part of one. That represents the “fog of war”; there are things we can’t possibly know if we don’t have intelligence collection capabilities. And in that game, you don’t; at least by the established rules.

Did you ever try to cheat at that game? Did you ever try to lean in or lean over for a peek at your opponents ships? That’s reconnaissance and it’s a vital part of intelligence collection — it’s also a large part of gaining information superiority over your opponent.

Now let’s re-imagine a game of chess, where we can see all the pieces on the board. But what if every chess piece were shaped like a domino, and your opponent saw only the blank side of the domino but on your side, each piece is imprinted with the shape of a pawn, a rook, a knight, a queen, etc. Each player can see what his pieces are, but neither play can see what the opponent’s pieces are. You would have to carefully observe the movement of each piece in order to determine what that piece may be, and you’d be performing intelligence analysis. You’d look for ‘indicators’ — this piece moved this way, so it must be a knight. This piece moved this way, so it’s either a queen or a bishop. At some point during the chess game, if you were able to identify the type of each piece of your opponent and he hasn’t been able to, then you’d have information superiority over him. That gives you a distinct advantage in the game.

Now let’s take this to the battlefield. Remember that post where I broke down the OODA Loop? (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – be sure to read it if you haven’t. Critical concept.) What would happen if only one commander were able to observe his enemy’s locations, orient himself to layout of the battlefield, decide on a course of action, and then act to destroy those enemy locations? That battle or war would be over very quickly because this commander has information superiority. And in this case, we should probably call it information dominance.

When it comes to community security during a natural disaster, a man-made disaster, or whether you’re dealing with local gangs and crime, we need information superiority. Without the ability to observe (gather intelligence), we can’t orient (analyze our situation), decide or act. Intelligence drives our decision-making and without it, we don’t make very good decisions.

Information superiority is the difference between having early warning that a gang-affiliated vehicle is approaching our neighborhood so we can prevent a robbery, and not knowing who or what’s in that vehicle and being the victim of that robbery. [In fact, if you start a neighborhood watch program and become a block or precinct captain, you may be able to get the Be On the Look Out (BOLO) list to know which vehicles law enforcement knows or suspects of being involved in crimes.] Information superiority is being able to determine if, during the next hurricane or disaster, houses in our neighborhood are being looted so we can stop the looters. Information superiority is having the situational awareness of what could happen in the future so we can begin preparing for it now.

All that begins with completing an Area Study and starting to gather local threat information. As always, if you have a question for the mailbag, get in touch with us. Each Friday I’ll answer a new question about intelligence, security, and defense for an uncertain future.

If you want more training, more knowledge, and more experience in using intelligence for community security, be sure to sign up for the daily or weekly emails from Forward Observer. SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analyst’s Guide to Community Security is a start-to-finish guide to implementing an intelligence team for community security; it’s nearly 200 pages of information, instruction, and how-to’s. And be sure to check my training schedule. My next course is on 19-20 May in Austin, Texas.

If you enjoyed this article and want more of my thoughts on intelligence, security, and defense for an uncertain future, be sure to subscribe to my email updates.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper


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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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