Intelligence collection management

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Intelligence collection management is the process of managing and organizing the collection of intelligence information from various sources. The collection department of an intelligence organization may attempt basic validation of that which it collects, but is not intended to analyze its significance. It is a blurry line between validation and true analysis; this is often an argument in the US intelligence community, where the National Security Agency (NSA) may, in the opinion of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), try to interpret the information when such interpretation is the job of another agency.

Collection Disciplines

The major collection disciplines, some of which are more postprocessing of raw data than collection, are:

Other disciplines have aspects of both collection and analysis:

In order to break down the collection stovepipes it is necessary to increase responsibility at the highest level. If the various types of collection are not managed more coherently across the board, current problems will compound and efforts to achieve collection synergy and to improve all-source analysis will erode further.

Unique, and often highly sensitive, technologies need to be developed to keep a first-rate intelligence capability in a major power. Even small nations may have unique strengths.

At the same time, the stovepipe mentality of the IC has also led to a situation in which there is duplication and increased costs that could easily be avoided. Commonality in items now as basic as data processing remains the exception rather than the rule.

Collection Guidance

Possibly at the direction level and possibly in the collection organization, depending on the particular intelligence service, the process of collection guidance assigns the collection requirement to one or more source managers. They might order reconnaissance missions. They might provide extra budget for agent recruitment. They might do both, recognizing that they are taking away reconnaissance missions from another target.

Research in Collection Guidance

This is often an art, and sometimes an auction for resources. There is joint UK-US research on applying more formal methods. One effort is using semantic matchmaking based on ontology, a field of study originally in pure philosophy, but now finding a number of applications in intelligent searching. Specifically, the researchers map missions to capabilities of available resources [1]. They define ontology as "a set of logical axioms designed to account for the intended meaning of a vocabulary." See intelligence collection ontology for a state-of-the-art example of such research.

NATO Collection Guidance

In NATO, the questions that drive the entire collection management process are Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIR). PIRs are a component of Collection Coordination and Intelligence Requirements Management (CCIRM), focused on the collection process. They tie the intelligence effort to the operational scheme of maneuver through Decision Points (DPs). These questions, further refined into Information Requirements (IRs), enable the Collection Manager (CM) to focus assets on a defined problem. Without this synchronization with the operational plan, it would be impossible to ensure the intelligence focus is meeting the Commander's requirements and priorities [2].

Collection Discipline Selection

Once a PIR, defining the raw information to be collected, exists, then both discipline specialists and resource schedulers need to select the appropriate collection system and plan the collection mission. capabilities and limitations of our collection platforms. Even with modern technology, weather, terrain, technical capabilities and enemy counter-measures all play a part in determining the potential for successful collection. Through a detailed understanding of all available platforms, all tied to specific questions related to the PIR, the collection manager (CM) synchronizes available assets, Theatre and Corps collection, individual national capabilities, and coalition resources such as the Torrejon Space Center to maximize capabilities.

Finding Alternative Collection Disciplines

Often, despite the desirability of a discipline, the information required may not be collectable due to some mitigating circumstance. The most desirable platform may not be available. For example, weather and enemy air-defense might limit the practicality of using UAVs and fixed wing IMINT platforms. If air defense is the limitation, planners might request support from a national-level IMINT satellite. Even if a satellite will do the job, the orbits of available satellites may not be suitable for the requirement.

If weather is the issue, they might need to substitute MASINT sensors that can penetrate the weather and get at least some of the information. SIGINT might be desired, but terrain masking and technical capabilities of the available platforms might call for using a space-based or long-range sensor, or exploring if HUMINT assets might be able to provide the information. The collection manager must take these effects into consideration and advise the Commander on the degree of situational awareness available for planning and execution.

Other sources may take considerable time to collect the necessary information. MASINT depends on having built a library of signatures of normal sensor readings, such that deviations stand out. Cryptanalytic COMINT can take an unknown amount of time, with no guarantees, to gain significant entry into a cryptosystem.

Collection Support Resource Management

Having a collection platform of the right type available does not mean it will be useful, if the facilities needed to receive and reduce the information is not available. Two factors directly affect this process, the physical capability of the intelligence systems and the training and capability of the intelligence section.

Collection platforms able to collect tens of thousands of pieces of information per hour need to have receivers that can accept that volume. Today's impressive collection capability, even with greater self-generating reports, stands to quickly overwhelm inexperienced or understaffed analysts. While the CM is primarily concerned with the collection phase, the CM also needs to be aware if the analysis function for the requested system has the resources to reduce and analyze the sensor data in a useful time period.

IMINT and SIGINT ground stations may be able to accept sensor data, but are the networks and information processing systems adequate to get the data to the analysts and commanders? The biggest violator of this issue is imagery intelligence derived from UAVs and fixed wing IMINT platforms. In recent years Commanders and staffs have become accustomed to receiving quality imagery products and UAV feeds for planning and execution of their missions. On exercise this is often facilitated by high-speed fixed networks however in a mobile and fluid battle it would be nearly impossible to develop a network capable of carrying the same amount of information.

The CM must decide if an analytic report rather than the imagery itself will answer the question, and when a hard copy image or video is required, the CM must inform staff members of the cost to the IT network and HQ bandwidth.

Ultimately, Collection Management is the cornerstone upon which intelligence support to ARRC operations is built. Since the start point for the collection process is the Commander's PIRs, they serve as a critical component of the staff planning process, validating that they directly support the Commander's decision-making.

CIA Collection Guidance

Intelligence requirements are a formalism introduced after WWII. After an initial phase where the field personnel decided priorities, an interim period began in which requirements were considered "as desirable but were not thought to present any special problem. Perhaps the man in the field did, after all, need some guidance; if so, the expert in Washington had only to jot down a list of questions and all would be well."[3]

In a third phase, by the early 1950s, a consensus was established that a formal requirements structure was needed. Once that machinery was set up, however, the challenge was developing "specialized methodologies" for requirements management. Those methodologies were first felt needed against the Sino-Soviet Bloc, and the radical changes in the threat environment may make some of those methodologies inappropriate.

Requirements can be cast in terms of the analysis technique to be used, or of a proposed collection method, or on subject matter, or on source type, or on priority. Heffter's article says that not every problem is a special case, but may be a problem that is "central to the very nature of the requirements process. One cannot help feeling that too little of the best thinking of the community has gone into these central problems-into the development, in a word, of an adequate theory of requirements.

"But there is often a conspicuous hiatus" between concepts of requirements, produced at a high managerial level, "and the requirements produced on the working level. Dealing with general matters has itself become a specialty. We lack a vigorous exchange of views between generalists and specialists, requirements officers and administrators, members of all agencies, analysts in all intelligence fields, practitioners of all collection methods, which might lead at least to a clarification of ideas and at best to a solution of some common problems."[3]

The problem of priorities

The challenge is to present needs based on priorities, and then determine the best way to meet those prioritized needs based on effective use of the collection means available. Heffter's paper is centered on the management of priorities for the use of collection assets, and the three factors that need to be brought into balance are:

  • administration and system (i.e., the top-level directive);
  • intellectual discipline, involving analytical method and an appropriate [method of specifying needs in a formal way];
  • training and responsibilities of the individual intelligence officer.

"...Each of the three kinds answers a deep-felt need, has a life of its own, and plays a role of its own in the total complex of intelligence guidance." Since Heffter focused on problem of priorities, it must concern itself chiefly with the policy directives, which set overall priorities. Within that policy, :requests are also very much in the picture since priorities must govern their fulfillment."[3]

Kinds of Requirement

In the most general formulation, collection requirement as simply "a statement of information to be collected." There are several tendencies that really do not help add precision:

  • Analysts publish list of all their needs in the hope that somebody will satisfy them.
  • Theorists and administrators want a closely knit system whereby all requirements can be fed into a single machine, integrated, ranged by priorities, and allocated as directives to all parts of the collection apparatus.
  • Collectors demand specific, well-defined requests for information, keyed to their special capabilities.

These differing needs can cause friction or can complement one another. These tendencies are capable of complementing each other usefully if brought into reasonable balance, but their coexistence has more often been marked with friction.

What characterizes a requirement?

  • Need
  • Compulsion or command; stated under authority
  • Request, without the connotation of command, but a specific intelligence meaning

Request is the same as "require." Both come from the same root, along with "inquire," "question," and "query." In intelligence this meaning has again come into its own. Under this interpretation, one equal (the "customer") makes a request or puts a question to another (the collector), who fulfills or answers it as best he can.

There is a sort of honor system on both sides-with a dash of mutual suspicion.

  • The requester vouches for the validity of the requirement
  • The collector is free to reject it.
  • If he accepts it, the collector gives an implied assurance that he will do his best on it,
  • this the requester is free to doubt.

In any event the relationship is a mutual one, and in its pure form is free from compulsion. The use of direct requests appeals particularly to the collector, who finds that it provides him with more viable, collectible requirements than any other method. It sometimes appeals also to the requester-analyst, who if he finds a receptive collector is able by this means to get more requirements accepted than would be possible otherwise. Again, it is sometimes disillusioning to both, if the collector comes to feel overburdened or the analyst to feel neglected.

These three connotations of need, compulsion, and request are embodied in three kinds of collection requirement, to which we shall arbitrarily give names: the inventory of needs, addressed to the community at large and to nobody in particular; the directive, addressed by a higher to a lower echelon; and the request, addressed by a customer to a collector.

The Requirement as Inventory of Needs

Current intelligence watch centers, as well as interdisciplinary groups such as the Counterterrorism Center, can create and update requirements lists. Commercial Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software or the more powerful Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM) might be adapted, quite flexibly, to managing the workflow, with separation from the most sensitive content. No collector is directed ("required") to collect against these lists; the lists are not addressed to any single collector. CRM, ERM, and social networking software routinely help build ad hoc alliances for specific projects. Also see NATO Collection Guidance.

Simple business relationship as with CRM and ERM. Compare to semantic web and mind maps with related but different functions.

Some responsible individuals in clandestine collection (branch chiefs and station chiefs) have refused to handle the PRL's on the grounds that they are "not really requirements," i.e., they are not requests to the clandestine collector for information which only he can provide.

In most cases, however, the PRL's are selectively utilized for guidance despite their character as inventories. There are several reasons for this. Revised three times a year, they are the most up-to-date of requirements.

Their main subject, current affairs of chiefly political significance, is one which engages the interest: the inventory of needs can have great value as an instrument of analysis within the intelligence production office that originates it. The one thing it can not do is to contribute significantly to the resolution of the priorities problem.
The Requirement as Directive

At various times in intelligence history, directives for collection missions flow from the top-level interagency policy boards. They are almost always short and clearly prioritized. Directives, a word implying the exercise of authority, often come from lower managerial levels.

Directives are most practicable in the following circumstances:

  • (a) where a command relationship exists;
  • (b) where there is only one customer, or where one customer is incomparably more important than the others;
  • (c) where a single method of collection is involved, and where this method has very precise, limited, and knowable capabilities.

Technical collection methods are the most unambiguous, and priorities have real meaning because they deal with real resources that can be scheduled. HUMINT, however, is flexible but involves a much wider range of methods. In short, it combines a maximum need for direction with a minimum of the characteristics that make direction practicable.

Agencies with requirements for HUMINT also prepare lists of priorities, whose benefits include: they have established goals, provided a basis for planning, and summarize some of the most critical information needs of consumers. When most useful, these lists also are clearly prioritized.

The Requirement as Request

Most requirements fall in this category, including a large majority of those bearing requirement tracking identifiers in the community-wide numbering system administered by a central group. A request may range from a twenty-word question to fifty-page questionnaire. It may ask for a single fact or thousand related facts. Its essence is not in its form or content but in the relationship between requester and collector.

An important variant on the request is the solicited requirement. Here the request is itself requested, by the collector. The collector, possessing a capability, informs the appropriate customer of the capability and asks for specific requirements "tailored" to it. The consumer and collector then negotiate a requirement and priority. In clandestine collection, the solicited requirement is regularly used for legal travelers, for defectors and returnees, and for other sources whose capability or knowledgeability can be exploited only through detailed guidance or questioning.

The solicited requirement blends into the jointly developed requirement. Here collector and consumer work out the requirement jointly, usually on a subject of broad scope and usually on the initiative of the collector.

System and Administration

A department or agency which engages in collection primarily to satisfy its own requirements generally maintains an independent requirements system for internal use, with its own terminology, categories, and priorities, and with a single requirements office to direct its collection elements on behalf of its consumer elements. The same requirements office that performs these internal functions (or perhaps a separate branch of it) represents both the collector and the consumer elements in dealing with other agencies. See NATO Collection Guidance.

Where, as in CIA, the consumer components are dependent on many collectors and the collection components are in the service of consumers throughout the community, no such one-to-one system is possible. Each major component (collector or consumer) has its own requirements office.

Requirements offices are middlemen, and must have some understanding of the problems not only of those whom they represent but of those whom they deal with on the outside:

  • consumer requirements officers must find the best collection bargain he can for his analyst client;
  • collector requirements officers must find the best possible use for the resources he represents, while protecting them from unreasonable demands.

Informality sometimes greases the wheels. Matters of substance are regularly discussed by one requirements officer with another. Requirements offices may not see negotiated requirements until the consumer and producer agree.

Where the collection situation is such that effort on a low-priority target does not actually detract from the effort that can be made on a high-priority target, little harm can be done. Or where analyst and collector are both highly knowledgeable and responsible, the results can be excellent. But priorities are slippery.

If the collector should show no interest in a requirement marked "urgent," the requester may try proof, persuasion, or pressure. He may indeed, in anticipation of resistance, have originally indicated a relationship between his requirement and one of the Priority National Intelligence Objectives. He is almost certainly right that a relationship exists, but there may be question of its cogency. It is possible to tie a very small requirement to a very big objective. Early warning is important, but not everything described as early warning is equally important. The collector may still be unimpressed.

A committee concerned with requirements might intervene. Historically, these committees included

  • Economic Intelligence Committee
  • Scientific Intelligence Committee
  • Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee
  • Guided Missile and Astronautics Intelligence Committee.

There might be equivalent requests today from the Counterterrorist or Counterproliferation Centers. The requirements situation has many other significant systems and phenomena:

  • the special, closed requirements systems governing technical methods of collection
  • Watch Committee with its General Indicator List
  • Critical Collection Problems Committee
Discipline: Method and Language

To illustrate problems in method, we may draw once more on the experience of the top-level body. The system consists of three priorities, based on the degree to which a nation could be benefited by the achievement of an objective or harmed by the failure to achieve it.

One, which top-level committees have tried to resolve, is that two priorities simply do not provide enough span. By various devices-arranging certain related targets in an internal order of importance; describing certain targets as substitutes for others; treating targets as subordinate to "basic requirements" which are sometimes expanded into several paragraphs.

A second difficulty is that a requirement related to a given priority level is really not necessarily more important in itself than another requirement. In some cases, the reasonable choice is to concentrate on a lower-priority yet informative requirement, which is easier to satisfy than one of arbitrarily higher priority.

Still a third difficulty is that a requirement meriting a given priority in the context of total U.S. security interests does not necessarily merit the same priority in the context of a particular collection method. The economic stability of a certain friendly country may be of great importance, yet may not require clandestine collection at all, but lend itself to OSINT, possibly outsourced OSINT.

Words as objective, requirement, target, and request can be relied on to mean at least approximately the same thing to everybody. This happy state can not be attained by promulgating official glossaries, but only through continued, careful discussion of common problems by persons from all parts of the community.

The final aspect of the language question, and perhaps the most important, is the skill with which requirements themselves are expressed. What are needed here are not different words, but surer ways of communicating the essence of a matter from one mind (or set of minds) to another. There is no formula for this but a trained alertness to the perils of misunderstanding. Training is essential.

Source Sensitivity

Intelligence is taken from such extremely sensitive sources that it cannot be used without exposing the methods or persons providing such intelligence. One of the strengths of the British penetration of the German Enigma cryptosystem was that no information learned from it was ever used for operations, unless there was a plausible cover story that the Germans believed was the reason for Allied victories. If, for example, the movement of a ship was learned through Enigma COMINT, a reconnaissance aircraft was sent into the same area, and allowed to be seen by the Axis, so they thought the resulting sinking was due to IMINT. Once an adversary knows that a cryptosystem has been broken, they most often change systems immediately, cutting off a source of information. Sometimes, and perhaps this is even worse, they leave the system in place to deliver disinformation apparently from a genuine source.[4] See Handling Compartmented Information

In the context of strategic arms limitation, a different sort of sensitivity applied. Early in the discussion, the public acknowledgement of satellite photography reflected a concern that the "Soviet Union could be particularly disturbed by public recognition of this capability [satellite photography]...which it has veiled."[5] In the Soviet political context, revealing that "spies" could traverse the "Motherland" without being stopped by the Red Army, or the "Sword and Shield" of the organs of state security, was immensely threatening to the leadership.

Separating Source from Content

Early in the collection process, the specific identity of the source is removed from reports, to protect clandestine sources from being discovered. A basic model is to separate the raw material into three parts:

  1. True source identity; very closely held
  2. Pseudonyms, cryptonyms, or other identifier(s)
  3. All the reports from the source

Since the consumer will need some idea of the source quality, it is not uncommon, in the intelligence community, to have several variants on the source identifier. For the highest level, the source might be described as "a person with access to the exact words of cabinet meetings." At the next lower level of sensitivity, a more general description could be "a source with good knowledge of the discussions in cabinet meetings." Going down a level, the description gets even broader, as "a generally reliable source familiar with thinking in high levels of the government."

Ratings by the Collection Department

In US practice [6], a typical system, using the basic A-F and 1-6 conventions below, comes from (FM 2.22-3 Appendix B, Source and Information Reliability Matrix). Raw reports are typically given a two-part rating by the collection department, which also removes all precise source identification before sending the report to the analysts.

Source Rating
Code Source Rating Explanation
A Reliable No doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of complete reliability
B Usually Reliable Minor doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of valid information most of the time
C Fairly Reliable Doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
D Not Usually Reliable Significant doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
E Unreliable Lacking in authenticity, trustworthiness, and competency; history of invalid information
F Cannot Be Judged No basis exists
Information Content Rating
Code Rating Explanation
1 Confirmed Confirmed by other independent sources; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
2 Probably True Not confirmed; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
3 Possibly True Not confirmed; reasonably logical in itself; agrees with some other information on the subject
4 Doubtfully True Not confirmed; possible but not logical; no other information on the subject
5 Improbable Not confirmed; not logical in itself; contradicted by other information on the subject
6 Cannot Be Judged No basis exists

An "A" rating, for example, might mean a thoroughly trusted source, such as your own communications intelligence operation. That source might be completely reliable, but, if it intercepted a message that other intelligence proved was sent for deceptive purposes, the report reliability might be rated 5, for "known false". The report, therefore, would be A-5. It may also be appropriate to reduce the reliability of a human source if the source is reporting on a technical subject, and the expertise of the subject is unknown.

Another source might be a habitual liar, but gives just enough accurate information to be kept in use. Her trust rating would be "E", but if the report was independently confirmed, it would be rated "E-1".

Most intelligence reports are somewhere in the middle; a "B-2" is taken seriously. Sometimes, it is impossible to rate the reliability of source, most commonly from lack of experience with him, so an F-3 could be a reasonably probable report from an unknown source. An extremely trusted source might submit a report that cannot be confirmed or denied, so it would get an "A-6" rating.

Evaluating Sources

In a report rating, the source part is a composite, reflecting experience with the source's historical reporting, the source's direct knowledge of what is being reported, and the source's understanding of the subject. In like manner, technical collection means can have uncertainty that applies to a specific report, such as noting partial cloud cover obscuring a photographic image.

When a source is completely untested, "then evaluation of the information must be done solely on its own merits, independent of its origin." A primary source passes direct knowledge of an event on to the analyst. A secondary source provides information twice removed from the original event; one observer informs another, who then relays the account to the analyst. The more numerous the steps between the information and the source, the greater the opportunity for error or distortion.

Another part of source rating is proximity. A human source that participated in a conversation has the best proximity, but lower proximity if the source recounts what a participant told him was said. Was the source a direct observer of the event, or, if a human source, is he or she reporting hearsay? Technical sensors may directly view an event, or only infer it. A geophysical infrasound sensor can record the pressure wave of an explosion, but it may not be able to tell if a given explosion was due to a natural event or an industrial explosion. It may be able to tell that the explosion was not nuclear, since nuclear explosions are more concentrated in time.

If, for example, a human source that has provided reliable political information sends in a report on technical details of a missile system, the source's reliability for political matters only generally supports the likelihood that the same source understands rocket engineering. If that political expert speaks of rocket details that make no more sense than a low-budget science fiction movie, it can be wise to discount the report. This component of the source rating is known as its appropriateness.

Evaluating the information

Separately from the source evaluation is the evaluation of the substance of the report. The first factor is plausibility, indicating that the information is certain, uncertain, or impossible. Deception always must be considered for otherwise plausible information.

Based on the analyst's knowledge of the subject, is the information something that reasonably follows from other things known about the situation? This is the attribute of expectability. If traffic analysis put the headquarters of a tank unit at a given location, and IMINT revealed a tank unit at that location was doing maintenance typical of preparation for an attack, a separate COMINT report indicating that a senior armor officer was flying to that location, an attack can be expected.

In the previous example, the COMINT report has the support of traffic analysis and IMINT.

Confirming Reports

When it is difficult to evaluate a report, confirmation may be a responsibility of the analysts, the collectors, or both. In a large and complex intelligence community, this can be a tense matter. In the US, NSA is seen as a collection organization, with its reports to be analyzed by CIA and DIA. In a cooperative or small system, things can be less formal.

One classic example came from WWII, when the US Navy's cryptanalysts intercepted a message in the JN-25 Japanese naval cryptosystem, clearly related to an impending invasion of "AF". Analysts in Honolulu and Washington differed, however, if AF referred to a location in the Central Pacific or in the Aleutians. Midway Island was the likely Central Pacific target, but the US commanders needed to know where to concentrate their forces. Jason Holmes, a member of the Honolulu station, knew that Midway had to make or import its fresh water, so arranged for a message to be sent, via a secure undersea cable, to the Midway garrison. They were to radio a message, in a cryptosystem known to have been broken by the Japanese, that their desalination plant was broken. Soon afterwards, a message in JN-25 said that "AF" was short of fresh water, confirming the target was Midway. [4]


  1. Preece, Alun et al (2007), An Ontology-Based Approach to Sensor-Mission Assignment
  2. Grebe, Carl. ARRC [Allied Rapid Response Corps Intelligence Collection Management Process].
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Heffter, Clyde R., "A Fresh Look at Collection Requirements", Studies in Intelligence. Retrieved on 2007-10-29
  4. 4.0 4.1 Layton, Edwin (1985). "And I Was There": Breaking the Secrets - Pearl Harbor and Midway". William Morrow & Co. 
  5. Laird, Melvin R. (June 8, 1972). Memorandum for Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Subject: Revelation of the Fact of Satellite Reconnaissance in Connection with the Submission of Arms Limitation Agreements to Congress. Retrieved on 2007-10-02.
  6. US Department of the Army (September 2006). FM 2-22.3 (FM 34-52) Human Intelligence Collector Operations. Retrieved on 2007-10-31.