Tactical, Operational, and Strategic Intelligence – Forward Observer Shop

Tactical, Operational, and Strategic Intelligence

Bottom line up front: Information has different levels of intelligence value and it’s important for us as intelligence analysts involved in community security to understand them. Broadly, there are three ‘levels’ of intelligence value: tactical, operational, and strategic.

Tactical Intelligence is of direct importance to our Area of Operations (AO). It’s what’s happening locally; either within our line of sight or nearby enough to affect us directly. This is the level on which a single soldier or individual has an effect. How gangs operate locally is of tactical intelligence value. The information about local criminal threats is of tactical intelligence value. For us, the tactical intelligence level is local and perhaps applies to things happening in our county. My tactical situation is different from yours, unless we live in the same area. I can take the tactical situation from my AO and combine with several AOs around me to start getting more of an Operational picture.

Operational Intelligence, the next level up, is where the combined actions and/or decisions of larger military units have an affect. Information about a military campaign, for instance, is of operational intelligence value. The movement of battalions and brigades is of operational intelligence value. For us, the operational level would equate to our state or region. And we can take the operational situations from multiple regions and start developing a Strategic or National picture.

Strategic Intelligence almost always refers to the global or national level. This describes higher level planning and political/military objectives, often dealing with national security. In warfare, the strategic level has either national security or foreign policy implications. For us involved in community security, our strategic level would include the nation and perhaps extend into a few topics of global interest (i.e., cyber attacks, nuclear weapons, financial or economic warfare, etc.).

As an example, a local gang and their activities in your town would be of tactical intelligence value. Above that, the local gang’s cooperation with other gangs in the region might be of operational intelligence value. That gang and their affiliates and activities across the nation would be of strategic/national intelligence value. We won’t have an accurate picture of the operational level unless we have accurate pictures of the tactical levels that constitute that operational level. And the same goes for the strategic/national level: unless we understand the subordinate operational levels, we won’t have an accurate picture of the national level trends. This is why starting with and understanding the tactical, or community, level is so important. Everything builds from there.

In the Army, for instance, you might have company level intelligence cells reporting to the Battalion S2 so analysts there can have an accurate picture of the entire area of responsibility. Those Battalion S2s are reporting intelligence summaries up to the Brigade S2 for the same reason. Those Brigade S2s are reporting intelligence summaries up to the Division G2 for the same reason, and the G2s to the Corps level C2 shop.

So now that we’ve outlined the three levels of intelligence value, our next step is to go through each level and identify appropriate threats that can directly or indirectly affect our community.

For instance, we have local criminals; that’s a tactical-level threat. But we also have operational level threats, like extreme weather or area disasters (think Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf) that can generate tactical level threats. And we have national or strategic level threats, like a cyber attack or a Middle East war that creates a fuel shortage, that can generate operational and tactical level threats.

So our goal is to focus first on the existing or potential threats on the tactical level, and then identify the operational and national/strategic level threats and their second- and third-order effects which will affect us at the tactical level.

If you’re looking for some help in identifying national-level trends, we do offer three intelligence reports each week, which is a part of our Intelligence subscription package. You’ll have access to the reporting and analysis of three intelligence analysts who look for early warning indicators and current trends at the Strategic and National levels. You can look at our packages 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.

1 Comment

  1. Samuel,

    Our CG-2 Directorate is taking note of the progression of the dust up between India and Pakistan. Apparently, India not only wants to be ready, they want to be REAL READY and are moving forward at a pace that most disconcerting.

    If this was 1983 or so, folks in the Point Alpha overwatch of the Fulda Gap would be busier than normal by now and maybe Fed-Ex and UPS would be starting to fly into some very busy airports in Germany, the UK, Belgium and Norway.

    Suggest you stir the coals just a bit, build some real intel and move forward on it.

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