Intelligence is the refined product resulting from the analysis of gathered information. Without the analysis process raw data has limited use to the end user. In most cases, the end user needs refined, “actionable intelligence”, to make a decision. Decision making becomes significantly harder when the end user has to try to figure out what is important or what the information provided means. The job of the analyst is wade though all of data, find the relevant information, figure out what it all means, and produce a product that captures the processed intelligence in a usable format for the end user.
This entire process is called the Intelligence Cycle. Although the exact wording may differ, it is the same for the military, national intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and businesses. Phase one is direction, where the end user would let the analyst know what they are looking for or planning, i.e. “I need to know if there are any emerging terrorist threats to the National Capital Region.” The next phase is collection; the information gathering phase. Information can take many forms such as satellite or other imagery, human sources, technical such as SIGINT, and others. For the analyst, this is like writing a research paper; the more legitimate and relevant sources you have, the better you can refine the final product. The next phase is processing the collected information, followed by the analysis and production phase. Analysis and production are where the collected information is analyzed and turned into a finished intelligence product. The final phase is dissemination. Though some products qualify as finished intelligence but are not forwarded to the end user because they are too broad or narrow to meet their needs. To qualify as “actionable intelligence”, the analysis must be specific enough for the end user to make a decision or take action, i.e. indications of a clear threat that would lead to implementing heightened security measures.
To ensure you are providing the end user with what they need and not overloading them with superfluous data, an analyst should follow a few simple rules. First: follow the intelligence cycle, because the direction phase includes feedback form the end user on previous products. Second: always provide the bottom-line up front. Get to the point then provide the supporting details of your analysis. Executive summaries are a great example of this. They provide a concentrated version of the final intelligence with an option to read more if required. Finally, understanding that analysis is never 100%, provide probability and level of confidence in the final product. When analysis leads to multiple possible outcomes, I brief the most dangerous and most probable opposition courses of action in that order.
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