The Intelligence Cycle is a process used by Analysts to create Intelligence.
Intelligence Analysts use the Intelligence Cycle to answer Intelligence Requirements by collecting information, analysing and interpreting it, then providing assessments and recommendations.
I remember my first lesson on the subject of Intelligence. The lesson was titled; An Introduction to the Intelligence Cycle. And, as it turns out, it was a lesson which still informs my understanding of Intelligence today.
The Intelligence Cycle has provided me a strong foundation for the understanding of Intelligence Processes throughout my career…
The purpose of this article is to share with you that first lesson on the topic of the Intelligence Cycle and explain, how intelligence is made. By the end of this article, you will have an understanding what the intelligence cycle is, how the intelligence cycle works, the phases of the intelligence cycle, and how the Intelligence Cycle is applied to intelligence operations around the world.
This article is intended to be an introduction to the Intelligence Cycle. A more in-depth explanation (including all the steps of the Intelligence Cycle) is available in our ebook; Intelligence101: Essential Tradecraft for Intelligence Analysis (available here)
So, lets begin.
What is the intelligence cycle?
The Intelligence Cycle is a tool used for the creation of ‘intelligence’ which informs the planning and decisions of commanders and policy makers.
The Intelligence Cycle is comprised on four fundamental steps:
- Analysis, &
The intelligence cycle is an effective way of processing information and turning it into relevant and actionable intelligence
Phase 1 – Direction
Direction is the ‘start’ of the intelligence cycle. This phase informs the rest of the process, and defines the information gap, and intelligence requirement.
Direction is important because it gives the intelligence analyst a start point.
Each intelligence organisation will have their own unique information requirements. Put [very] simply, an information requirement refers to information we seek to know.
Direction will come in the form of either ‘standing information requirements’, or ‘specific information requirements’
- Standing information requirements are usually tied to the organisational mission and don’t often change. Sometimes referred to as ‘Enduring Intelligence Requirements’, they refer to information that continues to be important to know.
- Specific information requirements come from the requirement to know a specific piece of information. Usually used to inform a plan or deliberate action, specific information requirements are also referred to as ‘Requests For Information’ or ‘RFIs’.
Intelligence Direction will also include;
- A background to the situation and why the Intelligence is required,
- When the intelligence is required by,
- The priority of the intelligence, &
- How the intelligence is to be provided (written, oral briefing etc).
Direction identifies the commander’s information priorities. It defines the problem.
Phase 2 – Collection
Collection involves the tasking of Intelligence Sources and Agencies (link) to collect required information to satisfy the intelligence requirement.
Collection involves identifying how we get the information required.
An intelligence organization will typically have access to organic and external intelligence sources for the tasking and collection of information.
- An Organic source refers to assets which you have direct control. Such as subunits or embedded assets.
- External sources are outside of your chain of command, and usually require requests to utilise. Military Air Support, Artillery or ‘strategic assets’ such as UAV can be used to collect required information, but need to be requested, rather than directly tasked.
The next step of the collection phase is to establish an Intelligence Collection Plan.
The Intelligence Collection Plan identifies the information gap and determines which assets can collect the required information. Multiple assets can be assigned to collect the same information.
In essence, the Intelligence Collection Plan is a process to determine ‘what you need to know’ and ‘what assets will collect the information’.
Next, task your sources! Depending on your command relationship, organic assets can be tasked to collect required information directly. External assets however, y may require you (or your organization) to ‘bid’ for their support.
No intelligence collection is complete without the personal research from the analyst.
One of the biggest factors here in the ‘collection’ phase is the work of the analyst to conduct their own research into the information requirement.
The analyst is required here to do their own research, to understand the situation and issue completely.
Phase 3 – Analysis
The Analysis Phase (sometimes referred to as ‘processing’) involves the evaluation of the collected information to understand it.
Analysis is all about ‘understanding’ the information.
Analysts query the raw data and information in to draw a meaning to satisfy the information requirement.
Analysts need to understanding the problem in detail. This means knowing why the information is required, and how it will be used.
‘Intelligence Analysis’ involves problem-solving. Similar in a lot of ways to putting together a puzzle. The more information you have available, the better your understanding of a situation. This phase involves looking at all the information available, and determining it’s meaning.
The Analysis phase involves using various tools (link Analyst Tradecraft) to help draw meaning, or interpret the information collected.
The analysis phase is all about thinking about the information collected and applying different lenses to derive meaning.
The Analysis Phase concludes by drawing conclusions from the data and providing assessments in the form of advice and recommendations.
Phase 4 – Dissemination (Aka Distribution)
Dissemination is the final phase of the intelligence cycle, and is how the newly created intelligence is provided to customer and those who need to know.
The dissemination phase is all about the delivery, or presentation of the intelligence.
Dissemination refers to the way the intelligence analyst put all the intelligence and assessment together to answer the information requirement.
The ‘best method’ for the dissemination of Intelligence is the one that gets the information across effectively, and succinctly. Typically, intelligence is disseminated in two forms either written or oral briefing.
- Written Intelligence Briefs can be in the form of a text document, or presentation format. They’re disseminated to the customer and read at their discretion.
- Personally, I prefer Oral Intelligence Briefs as they provide an opportunity for the analyst to convey intelligence through a presentation, and provide greater detail through questions. Often people might not understand the information in the same way – so talking them through your analysis helps to convey meaning.
Why Do We [Intelligence Analysts] Use The Intelligence Cycle?
The intelligence cycle is universal.
The Intelligence cycle serves as a foundation stone of the intelligence analysts understanding of the intelligence process.
The intelligence cycle is ‘standard doctrine’ for intelligence analysts and used by intelligence organisations the world over.
The intelligence cycle provides an easy way to conceptualize what can sometimes be a confusing subject.
Understanding the Intelligence Cycle allows the analyst clear guidance, and a process for the creation of intelligence.
Ultimately, Intelligence Analysts use the Intelligence Cycle as an outline to answer Intelligence Requirements by collecting information, analysing and interpreting it, and providing assessments and recommendations.
Do all Intelligence Analysts use the Intelligence Cycle?
In one way or another all intelligence analysts will use ‘version’ of the intelligence cycle.
If you’re new to the world of intelligence, learn the intelligence cycle, and learn it well. The Intelligence Cycles serves as an excellent foundation for informing you about the process of Intelligence.
The Intelligence Cycle is a process used by analysts to create intelligence.
The process allows the Intelligence Analysts to identifying the customers Information Requirements, and develop an Intelligence Collection Plan to collect the information Required.
The raw information is then analyzed to provide meaning and assessments which is then disseminated to those who need to know.