Why Developing Local Intelligence Is the Best Use of Your Time Right Now – Forward Observer Shop

Why Developing Local Intelligence Is the Best Use of Your Time Right Now

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu

The value of the intelligence isn’t complex. Whether you read the free articles on this site, you subscribe and watch the lectures and read the weekly intelligence reporting, or you attend one of the SHTF Intelligence classes, you’re learning how to collect and analyze intelligence information. And those are skills that make you a very valuable member of a preparedness group or community security team.

SHTF could range from a slow descent into the Third World to grid-down or hard tyranny, or anything in between. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that, but what I’m here to tell folks is that we need to understand the threats and implications for any of the given scenarios. If we don’t understand the “who, what, when, where and why” of the battlespace, which may end up being our neighborhoods, then our ability to survive is going to suffer.

This may not be a popular point to make, but I’ll make it anyway: intelligence is absolutely the most important way to spend your time right now. More important than medical, more important than communications, more important than tactical. At least in the beginning, everyone needs to begin with the work of intelligence and I’ll tell you why.

By front loading all these skills before intelligence, in a worst-case scenario you’re going to be reacting to threats that you don’t understand or don’t know about. If you’re going to prepare a defense, wouldn’t it first be prudent to understand what threats were most or more likely, and which were least or less likely?

What’s happening now in most places is that Americans are gearing up to play a football game, but they have no idea how good the opposing quarterback or receivers or linebackers are. In most cases, they don’t even know what team they’ll be playing against. Tactical, medical and communications training are all learning how to pass, catch, and tackle. You must be able to do all three of those if you’re going to win.  There’s no way around them; they are critical to victory. If both teams can pass, catch and tackle, then it’s just a competition to see who can do those things the best. You either need to be the best at all three of those things, or understand how you can exploit the opposing team. If you can’t be the best passers, catchers and tacklers, then your only hope of victory is through exploiting your opponents’ weaknesses.  And that’s really where intelligence comes in — exploiting the enemy’s vulnerabilities while not being exploited yourself — and that’s what enables smaller forces to defeat larger ones.

So if you’re playing in the championship – i.e., one shot to win it or lose it – isn’t it prudent to do a little research on who you’re going to be playing and how the crowd is going to affect the ball game? If we want to talk in Army language, what dictates our training plan? The Mission Essential Task List (METL). What’s the METL based on? The mission. What’s the mission based on? The threat. And nothing but the work of intelligence discovers threats and allows us to understand them.

The same goes for buying tactical or communications gear. Unless you understand your mission requirements, you’re much more likely to be buying gear and equipment you don’t need and that you’ll never use. But if we first understand what we’ll be doing with a rifle, then we can refine our requirements and select a rifle that fits our needs. It’s all mission dependent.

What happens inside the Intelligence Cycle dictates the entirety of the mission. The last thing anyone should be doing is making decisions on the mission without first understanding the “why” behind mission planning. It’s like training without a standard. You’re not going to go out and do medical, communications, or tactical training without first identifying some learning objective, just like we shouldn’t be training to play a game without first understanding who we’re playing against.

The fact of the matter is that we do a bang up job in the SHTF Intelligence course of getting students prepared to not only be their group or area’s intelligence officer, but also to survey the operating environment and begin producing some actionable and predictive intelligence to aid emergency preparedness.  Then we can train for likely scenarios we face in the future.

The threat analysis we teach gives students an understanding of who they’re likely to encounter in the battlespace, their numbers, capabilities, intent, etc. There’s a ton of work that we can begin doing now that will pay large dividends when training in the tactical, comms, and medical arenas.  And the thing is, most folks not only don’t understand the actual threats (even though they have some ‘concept’ of the threat, i.e., there is one), but they also don’t understand how the populace is going to affect their activities. In these low intensity conflicts, because the people are part of the battlespace, we have to be prepared to fight a parallel war of influence among the populace.  The people, our neighbors, are the eyes and ears of either you or your adversary, and they can make or break your security by providing you intelligence information or providing information about you to your enemy.  In every single guerrilla conflict, the populace has had a say in the outcome. If you don’t understand the human terrain, then you’re preparing yourself to fail.

One large problem is that folks are preparing “for an enemy.” Well, what do we know about that enemy, and how did we come to that conclusion? Most humans think through what are called ‘heuristics’. They’re mental shortcuts humans take because a) the problem is too complex and mentally painful, or b) a decision must be made quickly (e.g., out of fear). This is illustrated by the problem, 17×24=?. Most people reading this will either see how much work is involved and not make an effort to answer it, or do some loose math and provide an estimate.

We inherited this way of thinking (heuristics) from our paleolithic ancestors who didn’t have time to do threat analysis. They observed what they thought was a threat and ran, either saving their lives from danger or running away from nothing. For them, in the end, it was better to be inaccurate and safe than precise and sorry.

In the intelligence world, that’s a very bad way to do business. The less we know up front about a threat or the battlespace, the worse our decision making is going to be. So the first thing we can do is start lining up streams of intelligence information. That’s a great first step, and I talk about it in great detail during the course, however, that alone is just one part of our effort.

Another benefit of this course is learning some structural methods to analyze intelligence information. We get some information — great. How do we know that it’s true? In many cases, we don’t, and we’re very likely to encounter lots of these informational gray areas during a SHTF scenario. What I teach is how to judge a piece of information in a way that gives the student a good understanding of how likely or unlikely it is to be true.

We’re more likely than not going to be making lots of decisions on information we just received, so doesn’t it make sense to learn about how we can quickly judge the veracity of information and the merits of its sources?

If I had to describe the SHTF Intelligence course in three sentences (along with the webinars in the Members Area), it’s this:

1. I guide students through the work (collection and analysis) we need to be doing pre-SHTF in order to understand the threats and the operating environment.

2. I guide students through the process of setting up a small but effective intelligence team that directs collection of intelligence information and the analysis required in order to produce timely and relevant intelligence so that decision makers can make well-informed and time-sensitive decisions.

3. After this course, students are much better prepared because they understand the threat environment, they can articulate the mission and mission requirements, and they can begin preparing for facing known or suspected threats that they’re likely to encounter.

And before anyone says, “Well, Culper said that tactical, medical and comms are unimportant,” that’s not at all what I’m saying. All three of those are extremely important, however, I’d refer everyone to the parable of the wise and foolish builders…

Building your house on sand is like fighting without understanding the enemy (it’s the old adage of not picking a fight with someone you don’t know). Building your house on rock is like understanding threats and their capabilities, and identifying the training your team needs to exploit and destroy the enemy. Most folks in this climate are building their houses on sand. Local intelligence doesn’t require a life-long commitment, and a little due diligence can go a long way in understanding the threat environment in our area. That’s why I recommend doing some local intelligence work first, and then begin buying gear and training for the most likely scenarios.

Always Out Front,
Samuel Culper

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. 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. Looters came out after hurricane Jean (or Frances) into my mobile home park. 100 to 200 armed national guard were taking cars of single men off the road going into Ft. Pierce from the south at the same time. After previously reading a few free FO articles about intelligence gathering the first thing after hurricane Matthew (when my roads cleared) I drove out onto US1 traveling 5 miles to the north, 5 miles west and 5 miles south to check on the gathering of men. I will never be looking out my window watching looters go by and not be prepared as I was during Jean and Frances.

  2. Good one…. Well written….
    Our adversaries are many, all with their own agenda.
    Study and use the differences to your advantage.

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