This is the Value of Information Superiority… – Forward Observer Shop

This is the Value of Information Superiority…

From time to time, I run across an individual who deliberately doesn’t understand the value of intelligence. Maybe he thinks about something outlandish like James Bond, or maybe he just doesn’t think he needs intelligence — I don’t really know what he’s thinking, probably because he’s not. Intelligence is an invaluable but often overlooked tool required for both operations and security. Today I really want to drive that point home in case anyone remains unconvinced or in case you ever need to explain its importance and relevance to navigating an uncertain future. There’s a reason why I say that building intelligence is the best use of your time right now, because it’s true. I’ll start building the case…

Last week I wrote about the need to move from situational awareness to situational understanding. For the intelligence analyst (which is you), it’s not enough to just be aware of what’s going on; we have to be able to explain the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the situation. The less we understand, the more difficult it is to provide actionable intelligence, which is our primary job. The better we understand the situation, the better intelligence we can produce. Situational understanding is the result of collecting and analyzing information, and then producing intelligence. The better our commander or decision-makers understand the situation, the better decisions they can make.

We tend to make poor decisions when we don’t have all the information, but we can make well-informed decisions when we have intelligence.

Now let’s put situational understanding in an analogy. We’re playing a football game against a rival team. We know they have good blocking, we know they can run the ball, we know they have a quarterback with a cannon for an arm, and we know they have a deep threat wide receiver. Do we really understand the situation? No, we’re really just “aware” of the tools the other team has.

If we moved past situational awareness to situational understanding, we would know what kinds of plays that team likes to run. Does the offensive coordinator like to set up play action passes? What percentage of the time does they run the ball on third and short? What kind of formations and packages do they run? Given the players on the field, what plays can we expect? Once we get into the weeds of their offense and we can begin anticipating the game play by play, then we can say that we really understand what’s going on. And when we can provide realistic expectations of the future, we’re producing intelligence. Excuse the crude analogy, but there’s quite a large difference between having general awareness in the first scenario and then being able to set up our defense appropriately because we know what play is coming next.

Now let’s apply this to conflict.

Back in April, I wrote again about the importance of the OODA Loop; both as an individual and an organization. (Be sure to read it if you haven’t already.) The earlier we Observe and the more accurately we can Orient, the better we can Decide and faster we can Act.

Information Superiority occurs when we understand the operating environment than our adversary.

Information Superiority occurs when we know more about our adversary than they know about us.

Information Superiority allows us to make better decisions faster because we have good intelligence.

And those better and faster decisions give us what’s called the “initiative” of battle where we are dictating the terms of our operations and our adversary is put on the defensive. Nine times out of ten, action beats reaction; so if we want to win a battle, have a successful operation, or win an entire war, then we absolutely must maintain the initiative, which is driven by Information Superiority.

And not only does Information Superiority enable kinetic operations like targeting, but it also better enables Information Operations. This is the “parallel war” of modern conflict: it’s not enough to just win militarily, we also have to win with strategic messaging: proving to the populace that we deserve their support, showing them that the enemy is destructive and oppressive, sending a message that gains their trust and cooperation, and that ultimately convincing them that we are fighting for their best interests. This was the root of our messaging to Iraqis and Afghans. (I only mention this because the failings of strategic messaging, especially in Afghanistan, were a direct result of trying to force a paradigm shift of “democracy” onto a population that didn’t want democracy. It was an intelligence failure and clearly shows that planners didn’t have the Information Superiority they thought they had. It also shows the absolute failures of nation-building, but I digress.)

Let’s move down a level from warfighting and conflict to community security. Is Information Superiority during an emergency still important? Absolutely. Operation Urban Charger, our efforts to battle track the Ferguson riots, produced actionable intelligence. We knew what law enforcement was doing, we knew what rioters were doing, and in most cases we knew generally where these violent activities were unfolding. That’s the kind of intelligence we want to provide for our families and neighborhood during an emergency, because it allows us to make better decisions about our safety and security.

Likewise, if you or someone you know has a “bug out” plan, Information Superiority becomes of the utmost importance. I hear from folks very frequently that, if the worst happens, they plan to bug out to their cabin in the woods or to their ranch, which is three or more hours away. At an average of 60MPH, let’s call that 180 miles. Not only is that a three hour drive under normal circumstances, but that’s 180 miles of things that could make your journey more difficult. Not knowing what’s around the bend, not knowing the conditions of the town ahead which you have to travel through, not knowing if x, y, or z or some unforeseen events are going to negatively affect you 90 miles into your 180 mile drive sounds pretty daunting. If that were me, I would be thinking very deeply about how I could gain Information Superiority for that trip.

On that note, a police scanner would be a must-have for me. When I take long trips, for instance, I hook up my Uniden Home Patrol II (review) and plug in the GPS antenna so as I’m driving down the road, that police scanner is loading the frequencies for the current jurisdiction(s). (The great thing about the Uniden Home Patrol II is that it comes pre-loaded with every emergency services frequency in the U.S. and Canada. Combined with the GPS antenna, the scanner will update the channels for my current location. Once I drive out of range, it will stop scanning those channels and then load the new location-based channels and continue scanning. It’s really a marvel of technology.)

I’m working on two new videos for the training course: the first video is how I set up my Uniden Home Patrol II to do the things I mentioned above (and more), and the second is a lesson on route planning, in case you have to travel during an emergency.

I hope this post gets you thinking about the necessity of intelligence. We aren’t James Bond, and we don’t need NSA capabilities in order to produce intelligence during an emergency. Ultimately, I want to relay that we can produce good intelligence that will help keep our families safer and more secure.

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. I have observed most team members struggle with the OODA Loop for multiple reasons. 1. Information overload. Too much information daily so they ignore 98% and remain on the same plan and expect to reach their goal, or there is really no plan. 2. Out-of-The-Box Thinking promoted in pop culture so let’s do something different that may not lead to success just because it’s different. 3. Logic Required. It doesn’t feel right or I don’t feel like doing it, so I’ll do nothing. 4. Understanding History – Recognizing the repeated behavior of colleagues & opponents and then employing approaches that are repeatedly successful or have a higher probability of success given the circumstances. Nobody is a student of failure and how to avoid it. Everybody is a cheerleader of success when they see it, but few know why success was achieved, even if they just got lucky.

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