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Information & Intelligence


The words data, information – and intelligence are often used interchangeably. However, information is not intelligence until it has undergone a specific process before it may be identified as intelligence. Information consists of several bits of data that, when combined and viewed together with relevant background knowledge, can be used to produce intelligence. This intelligence informs the actions and decisions of the interested party.

Information + evaluation = intelligence. We’ll look at the evaluation of intelligence in more detail later in this post.

Application of intelligence throughout history

Intelligence gathering has existed for centuries. The Chinese Military General Sun Tzu – head of the Chinese army (fifth century) wrote The Art of War, documenting strategies and tactics used during military operations. Tzu used spies to gather information about his adversary’s movements, habits, tactical abilities, and weaknesses. He then analysed this information – turning information into actionable intelligence. By understanding his enemy, Tzu was able to build tactical military operations with which he used to defeat his enemies.

NB: There is some debate about who Sun Tzu was, who he worked for, how many battles he had fought in, and which battles he had fought in. Nevertheless, the book entitled The Art of War is a fascinating read.

The ancient Egyptians frequently deployed spies domestically to weed out government critics and their sympathisers. Spies were frequently used internationally (espionage) to gather intelligence on their rivels Greece and Rome. The Egyptians would gather information about other nations to determine viability of conquering those regions. What was their military strength? What military tactics would they use? Which countries could be exploited for slave labour? Who were their allies? The ancient Egyptians were among the first civilisations to invent cryptography – developing codes and encrypted messages. Greece and Rome used spies much in the same way as the adversaries.

We are familiar with the intelligence gathering tactics by the military and government nations during war I and World War II. MI5 and MI6 (formerly known as UK’s secret service) protect the UK against threats both foreign and domestic. A significant part of their operations involves gathering information both overtly and covertly. Similarly, law enforcement has specialist trained officers who gather information. In the UK, the use of covert intelligence gathering is regulated by law – The Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) controls and regulates surveillance and other means of information gathering and the disclosure of information which public bodies employ to carry out their operations. Intelligence and investigation agencies; whilst not bound by the same laws as government bodies, they do use RIPA as a template of ethical, lawful and moral investigative practice.

In the US, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) heads national security and much like other countries, other partners gather intelligence including but not limited to, law enforcement, DEA, FBI and Boarder Force.

Categories of intelligence

Sources of intelligence are broken down into several categories. Some of these categories include (but not limited to):

  • HUMINT – Human Intelligence
  • SIGINT – Signals Intelligence
    • ELINT – Electronics Intelligence
    • COMINT – Communications Intelligence
    • FISINT – Foreign Instrumentation Signals Intelligence
  • OSINT – Open-Source Intelligence
  • IMINT – Imagery Intelligence
  • GEOINT – Geospatial Intelligence
  • MASINT – Measurement and Signals Intelligence
  • TECHINT – Technical Intelligence

Intelligence cycle

Information + evaluation = intelligence

Planning: Establish what information is required, where this information may be accessed from, how it will be accessed and when it will be accessed. What tools, tactics and strategies may be required? What strategies are in place to mitigate harm to self and others? How will the data be stored?

Collection: Implement information collection methods as per planning.

Processing: Collation, validation, and evaluation of data to confirm its usefulness and relevance dictated by the 3 x 5 x 2 rule (broadly speaking. Some collection methods require different initiatives to validate information).

Analysis and production: Compile the intelligence report. What does the information mean? What elements of the data is relevant/irrelevant and why? Note this in your report. What picture is emerging from the information? What is the impact of the intelligence?

Dissemination and feedback: In the right format, to the right hands, at the right time, and through the right channels/medium. Is the report properly formatted? Does the report need to be sanitised – do sensitive elements need to be redacted, for example, the name of an informant? Has the report been shared in a secure, encrypted manner?

To recap, information/data is not intelligence until it has undergone analysis using the intelligence cycle.

Information and Intelligence Presentation

Define Intelligence