SHTF Intelligence: Getting Started – Part Three – Forward Observer Shop

SHTF Intelligence: Getting Started – Part Three

This is the third article in a series about using intelligence for preparedness.  I’m starting from square zero in order to introduce a new crop of Americans to the concept of using intelligence, to prove that there’s a need for intelligence, and to get readers quickly up to speed on how to incorporate it into their security planning.  For a better foundation, be sure to read Part One and Part Two.  And check out the Ultimate ACE Startup Guide, too.


Brief recap:  In the first article, we established that prepared communities need intelligence because they’re going to have blind spots during an emergency or disaster.  I recommended writing out a list called Intelligence Requirements.  Before we build a house, we need to be organized with the right tools and materials.  The same is true of intelligence, and our requirements prepare for us the path ahead.  In the second article, I talked about shopping at the hardware store for our materials list.  Once we have our requirements, we need to start satisfying them through intelligence gathering.  I wanted to stress that we have to automate collection as much as possible, and I offered some strategies on how to accomplish that.  The second article was about how to collect information now while it’s cheap, easy, and readily available.

Today I’m going to focus on the zero-hour, power/internet goes down, what-should-we-do approach to intelligence gathering.  While reading this, you’re going to realize that we need a small team to tackle intelligence.  You can’t do it all by yourself.  (I recommend forming a community watch group to find the individuals who are already geared towards community security.  They may not be preppers yet, but as active and interested members of the community watch, they’re already halfway there.)

First things first, we have to get eyes on the surrounding area and/or the neighborhood.  In a worst-case SHTF scenario, that typically means getting an elevated vantage point, being in a forward position to look for threats, or setting up an listening post / observation post (LP/OP).  The last thing we want to do in intelligence is to be surprised.  And since ‘finding, knowing, and never losing’ the threat is our job, that means that we have to be proactive.  The most immediate threats are going to have the greatest proximity, so the quickest way to identify potential threats is to get them in our view before we’re in theirs.  (I recommend the Motorola DTR550 for area communications, like back and forth to an LP/OP.  It’s frequency-hopping capabilities ensure that we don’t come up on anyone else’s scanners, except for high-end state-sponsored platforms.  If that your concern, then get an old school military field phone with sufficient wire.)

Simultaneously, we need to power up our police scanners and software defined radio (SDR) platform.  (See the Ultimate ACE Startup Guide for detailed information.)  Our police scanners already need to be programmed for our area (which is why I recommend the Uniden HomePatrol2).  I’d set someone at a desk with earphones plugged into the scanner.  During a SHTF scenario, we should have 24/7 coverage on the police scanner.  If we’re going to get consistent, authoritative intelligence information about events in the area, it’s most likely to originate from emergency services.  On Forward Observer Podcast 44 – Battle Tracking Basics, I give a rundown about how this process works.

Next, I also recommend putting someone on the SDR platform to search out transmissions on radio frequencies that our police scanner won’t pick up.  This could be a goldmine of information, especially if we can listen into a conversation.  Be sure to log the times, frequencies and callsigns of these communications.  (By the way, I routinely do this at home and work, and have a list of frequencies in use by ham radio operators.  I recommend doing the same now so that during an SHTF event, we can quickly tune to where the conversations are mostly like to occur.  Practice now to avoid failure in the future.  Also, check out our good friends at AmRRON.)

If we can begin visually monitoring the area around our home, listening to the police scanner, and begin searching for frequencies in use around us, then we have a really good start on gathering information about what’s going on around us.  The next thing I would do in my neighborhood is start contacting neighbors door to door.  My goal would be to get them to contact me if they see or hear anything; that way if things got really bad, I’ve already established contact with them and can bring them on board for community security.  I live in a pretty good neighborhood in a pretty safe area.  Chances are good that most folks want to keep it that way, so I’m offering a solution to that problem.  I expect most will volunteer to help me.

Remember that every set of eyes and ears in your neighborhood is a sensor.  I want to make sure that I can collect as much of what’s seen and heard as possible.  That means that I need to influence them or otherwise gain their cooperation to feed me information.  As a former intelligence analyst, that’s been an easy sell to my prepping neighbors.  Should you be in a similar situation with preppers already on the block, as a group you should nominate a person in charge of collating information and building out the security picture.

We’re now getting into the world of very basic Human Intelligence, called HUMINT.  Plainly stated, that’s gathering information from conversations with humans.  That means getting out and talking to people.  Beyond what we can sit back and collect passively through observation or listening, we may have to be more aggressive in collecting information through human sources.

With the internet, radios, and scanners, we can be very wide and very deep in our intelligence gathering.  That’s a 1:n ratio.  We have one collection platform, in this case a radio receiver, and we can scan a very wide band to collect information from anyone who’s transmitting.  But when we deal with human intelligence, we’re often on a 1:1 ratio; that is, one collector speaking to one source at any given time.  That’s a very slow and difficult way to do business, and underscores a real need for us to be out in our community getting to know folks before an SHTF event.

Instead of a typical 1:1, I want you to consider the scalability of that ratio.  If one person is limited to gathering intelligence information from one person at at time, wouldn’t it make sense to scale that ratio to 10:10 or 100:100?  It absolutely would.  Every set of eyes and ears is a sensor, so we as an intelligence element tasked with providing intelligence for community security should absolutely be interested in encouraging community members to passively collect lots of information.  All that information is reported back to us, and then we’re engaged in the arduous task of compiling and evaluating that information in order to create intelligence.

Intelligence doesn’t produce itself, so it’s incumbent on us to build that capability.  The more accurate information we have, the more well-informed we can be.  Without first being well-informed, making high-risk, time-sensitive decisions just got a whole lot more complicated.  In Part Four of this series, I’ll be discussing the last two phases of the Intelligence Cycle: Production and Dissemination.  I’ll point out different intelligence products we may need to produce, and then how to ensure that our threat intelligence is distributed to people in the community who need to know.

Samuel Culper is the Director of Forward Observer and the SHTF Intelligence Center. He was an Army and contract Intelligence analyst with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the author of SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analyst’s Guide to Community Security.

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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