Intelligence (information gathering)

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See also: Intelligence cycle management

Intelligence, in the context of information gathering, refers to a wide range of techniques for picking and prioritizing the subjects of interest, collecting and validating raw information, and inferring meaning by analyzing (ideally) multiple sources of information on a given subject. Once the analytical results are available, they must be disseminated to the people that need it.

In a military, law enforcement, business, and national intelligence process, some of the means of collection, and possibly analysis, may be secret, for if the opponent knew the methods were in use, that person or organization could take precautions against them. Therefore, there is a delicate balance between the number of people that receive the analyzed material, and the risk of revealing "sources and methods". The discipline of counterintelligence focuses on protecting one's own sensitive information, not just one's intelligence processes, from an opponent.

Intelligence collection

While methods and their selection are discussed, at length, in intelligence collection management and discipline-specific models of technique, the major categories are:

  • Human-source intelligence (HUMINT): Information collected from humans, including interrogation, documents, and willing cooperation; the latter includes such things as scouts and diplomats as well as spies
  • Signals intelligence (SIGINT): Information collected from deliberate signals, including human-understandable (e.g., radio messages and captured encrypted documents) and machine-to-machine (e.g., radar analysis)
  • Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT): Information extracted from inadvertent signals, environmental disturbances (e.g., acoustic noise, chemical emissions, magnetic fields)
  • Imagery intelligence (IMINT): Information generically from picture-taking, although it extends to exact placement of the images with respect to location (geospatial intelligence GEOINT) and the analysis of non-image components of the picture (e.g., heat or color; MASINT disciplines such as spectroscopic MASINT)
  • Open source intelligence (OSINT): Information obtained from published or broadcast sources; verified OSINT (V-OSINT) confirms it with non-public methods
  • Financial intelligence (FININT): Information obtained from formal and informal financial transactions, analysis of expenditures, etc.
  • Technical intelligence (TECHINT): Information obtained from the detailed engineering analysis of captured, purchased, or stolen equipment and supplies
  • Economic intelligence (ECONINT): a clearly strategic rather than tactical discipline, often based on econometric modeling coupled with observations, this assesses the enemy's overall production and mobilization capability
  • Scientific and technical intelligence (S&TI): using expert assessment of both OSINT and other information on the basic and advanced research of a potential adversary, to predict long-term capabilities

Counterintelligence is a related discipline that attempts to defeat the process of collection; it overlaps but is subtly different from deception, where one creates information to be collected but that will give the wrong impression. William Colby complained of James Jesus Angleton "Indeed, we seemed to be putting more emphasis on the KGB as the CIA's adversary than on the Soviet Union as the United States' enemy." [1] The term "wilderness of mirrors" occurs again and again in the intelligence literature, referring to how intelligence can be paralyzed by overemphasizing a counterespionage assumption that all information is deception.

Clandestine human-source intelligence operational techniques may be needed to place technical sensors in denied areas. For example, CIA clandestine personnel were tasked to install SIGINT and MASINT (including weather) sensors behind the Iron Curtain. [2]. The National Security Archive said that in 1987, CIA created "... a new Office for Special Projects. Concerned not with satellites, but with emplaced sensors – sensors that could be placed in a fixed location to collect signals intelligence or measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) about a specific target." Such sensors had been used to monitor Chinese missile tests, Soviet laser activity, military movements, and foreign nuclear programs. The office was established to bring together scientists from the DS&T’s Office of SIGINT Operations, who designed such systems, with operators from the Directorate of Operations, who were responsible for transporting the devices to their clandestine locations and installing them."

Intelligence analysis: models

Broadly speaking, there are four major paradigms for intelligence analysis:

  1. Social and experimental science with hypothesis testing, first formulated by Sherman Kent, [3], elaborated into specifying requirements[4] and analytic techniques. It includes, as introduced by Dick Heuer, examining cognitive traps for intelligence analysis based on knowledge of error in the social sciences.[5]

  2. Social science with philosophical and ideological assessment of intentions, based on understanding of the actors rather than specific knowledge. Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt, make sophisticated, as he points out that the classical social science do not routinely deal with the deliberate deception faced by intelligence analysts, and cite counterintelligence as absolutely vital to reliable analysis. [6] Following this argument, they show that counterintelligence is inherent to the intelligence cycle.This makes a firm distinction from social science, where the sources are not deliberately trying to deceive; deception is an advanced doctrine with many nations. [7] Another difference from social science is that the adversary may try to overload the analyst, making the signal-to-noise ratio infeasible for structured analysis.[8]

    Pessimistic "red teaming" considers the enemy not thinking by one's own assumptions.[9] This sort of red teaming can, however, be overwhelmed if one's own ideology convinces analysts that the enemy must be up to something, for which there is no evidence.

  3. Law, where the "is it possible" comes into play: Vice President Dick Cheney stated a guiding policy shortly after the 9-11 Attacks:

    if there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction — and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time — the United States must now act as if it were a certainty.[10]

  4. Engineering, where the emphasis is on capability rather than assessment. Another aspect of "red teaming" is to do pessimistic analysis of what the enemy could do had he perfect knowledge of one's own systems. [11] A classic example of where Paradigm 2 failed is Douglas MacArthur's belief that while the Chinese could intervene in the Korean War, they would not do so.


  1. William Colby, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA, Simon & Schuster, 1978 p. 245, quoted in Shulsky, p. 175
  2. Central Intelligence Agency (1965), Organization chart, mission and functions of the Office of Special Projects. Retrieved on 2007-10-07
  3. Kent, Sherman (1947 (2000 reprint)). Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. Princeton Univ Press. 
  4. Davis, Jack. Occasional Papers: Volume 1, Number 5: Sherman Kent and the Profession of Intelligence Analysis. The Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis.
  5. Heuer, Richards J. Jr. (1999). Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Chapter 2. Perception: Why Can't We See What Is There To Be Seen?. History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved on 2007-10-29.
  6. Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt (2002), Silent Warfare: Understanding the world of intelligence (Third ed.), Potomac Books, ISBN 1574883453, pp. 171-172
  7. Smith, Charles L. (Spring 1988). "Soviet Maskirovko". Airpower Journal.
  8. Luttwak, Edward (1997). Coup D'Etat: A Practical Handbook. Harvard University Press. 
  9. Timothy G. Malone, Reagan E. Schaupp (Summer, 2002), "The "Red Team": forging a well-conceived contingency plan", Aerospace Power Journal
  10. Ron Suskind (2006), The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of its Enemies Since 9/11, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 9780743271097, p. 62
  11. Bryan Brumley (31 August 1986), "'Red Team' Gets Into Soviet Frame of Mind in 'Star Wars' Planning", Associated Press