The Intelligence Process

"The sequence of actions undertaken in order to produce and deliver intelligence"

What is The Intelligence Process?

The Intelligence Process is a term which refers to the group of activities which are carried out in order to get from the initiation of an intelligence tasking to its completion. Therefore, it can be defined as simply “A sequence of actions undertaken in order to produce and deliver intelligence”.

But I’ve heard a different definition?

The textbook definition of the intelligence process is “The collection and processing of information to make it relevant to or increase its relevance to decision making”.

Personally, I do not like this definition as it is overly complicated and actually ignores two very important parts of the intelligence process: the beginning (where the customer requests the intelligence), and the end (where the customer is provided with the intelligence).

The Intelligence Cycle

There are multiple iterations of the intelligence process, each which have their own specific strengths and roles.

The most well known and most frequently used interpretation of the intelligence process is known as “The Intelligence Cycle”.

The stages in this version of the intelligence process are as follows.

  • Direction; The intelligence is requested by the customer;

  • Collection; Information that can be used in the production of that intelligence is collected;

  • Processing; That information is turned into intelligence; and

  • Dissemination; The intelligence is delivered to the customer.

A diagram of the intelligence cycle depicting its constitutent parts and how they relate to each other

A diagram depicting the constituent parts of The Intelligence Cycle and how they relate to each other

Trip to Tunisia

To illustrate how this works, consider a businessman who is traveling to Tunisia in the next few weeks. Due to historical security incidents, he has some concerns for his safety to allay his fears.

He contacts a risk management agency and asks them which are the safe areas of Tunisia and which areas he should definitely avoid. This is the direction stage.

The intelligence agency researches crime, terror attacks and other security related incidents in Tunisia, looking at news reports, police statements and other intelligence reports from different agencies. This is the collection stage.

The agency then analyses this information to work out which areas are more prone to crime of terror attacks and produces a map for the customer which colour codes areas of the country to indicate how safe or dangerous they are. This is the processing stage.

Finally, the agency emails the map to the customer who can then use it to inform his decision about which areas to travel while he's in Tunisia. This is the dissemination stage.

The intelligence process is now complete.

Intelligence Activity

Unlike the term “intelligence analysis”, which is generally used to refer to any activity carried out as part of the processing stage, “intelligence activity” refers to any activity carried out at any stage of the intelligence process.

Terms used to refer to those involved in intelligence activity include.

Intelligence Actor; An individual or organisation engaged in intelligence activity. This is usually used in the context of an intelligence report, for instance “Your computer network is at risk of being breached by hostile intelligence actors”;

Intelligence Agency; An organisation that conducts intelligence activity (for instance MI5, Mossad, or the FBI);

Intelligence Agent; An individual who conducts intelligence activity for an agency (for instance a spy, analyst, or intelligence manager) and

Intelligence Practitioner; An individual who conducts intelligence activity for any reason - for instance as part of their job or as a hobby.

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