There’s two parts to this article, Part A is my blueprint for building intelligence briefs. Part B includes my hot tips for Intelligence Analysts to provide assessments in a way your audience can logically follow.
Since I launched Intelligence101 last December (12 months) I’ve seen a steady growth in readers questions, this post addresses two of my most common questions;
- Can you tell me how to write intelligence briefs?
- Are there any secrets or tips to presenting intelligence assessments?
Here’s the answers you’ve been looking for….
Part A: How to Build an Intelligence Brief
This is my process to writing intelligence briefs, think of it as a blueprint. You can use it too…it works!
First, I usually start by asking myself simple questions to frame the assessment and determine my best course of action.
- Start with the end in mind – what does the customer(s) need / want?
- How much time do I have?
- What do I already know about the topic / issue or threat?
Second, I collect as much raw reporting as possible, either open source or existing classified holdings and read as much as I can.
Reading is so important- be curious and consume it all.
I like to work from a blank word document or new power point presentation. I copy and paste as much information and reporting I can find (in the time I’ve got) and delete stuff as I read. The goal here is to summarise information and categorise it quickly.
Third, Once I’ve conducted an initial trawl of available information, I like to make notes and sort the existing information into different elements (example; stakeholders, environment, risks and threats)
Fourth, Once I establish an understanding of what information exists, if further collection is required, I consider the best source, agency or asset to support that collection and task (read: ask) them to support. While the collection phase is happening I continue my own research, I tap my own professional network for more information, and to see if anyone has worked on this before. There is no need to reinvent the wheel- try to find efficiencies where possible!
Fifth, As information becomes available, I begin to build my Intelligence brief by adding the main points, key words and assessments into my intelligence briefs. If you’re using a powerpoint slide to deliver your intelligence, I like to supplement each slide with a supporting graphic, map or illustration. (Hint: this is the analysis phase)
If your picture / image / graph or map doesn’t add value to your assessment – get rid of it.
Edit: …Oh also, clip art cheapens your brief and makes you look a little amateurish. Just saying.
Six, When you’re satisfied you’ve answered the RFI, (or your project deadline looms ominously), present your information in the information obtained, context, assessment format I explain below. This is the easiest way to brief intelligence, regardless whether it’s written in a formal product, presented to an audience or even in an email. Don’t complicate things unnecessarily.
Seven, Prior to delivery I rehearse my brief (with an audience) or I get my peers to proof my [written] work to ensure some of the common questions and there’s no glaring mistakes. It’s better for a peer / colleague to pick up an issue first than be stopped midway through a brief. Trust me, it’s easy to lose your train of thought with an off-topic question.
Tip: Focus on the quality of your content. People won’t worry if your bullet points aren’t aligned if the info is quality. Don’t spend more than 5% on the formatting, editing, cropping and adding graphics to a map trying to make your brief sexy. Good intelligence is sexy enough!
Good intelligence is sexy enough!
If you’re delivering an oral intelligence brief ensure you leave time for a rehearsal. Often rehearsals are neglected, I think they should be mandatory. If your notes don’t make sense to you- they certainly won’t make sense to anyone else! Never present without rehearsing first!
Part B: Delivering Intelligence in a Way Your Audience Can Logically Follow
Information Obtained, Context and Assessment
I was taught a simple yet very effective way of intelligence reporting. I use this every day regardless whether it’s in an email, briefing or detailed assessments. Here it is
Information Obtained – Include information relevant to the question, issue or problem your analysing. In a statement or explanation include the following information;
- At what time?
- At what location?
- What happened?
- What did the [Unit / Staff / Officers / Facility / Organisation] do?
- What’s happening next?
- Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?
Post Card Bandit Example; At 1540hrs on Thursday 14 Dec 17 an unknown criminal successfully robbed the ‘Sunshine City’ commercial bank using only a letter. Information suggests the individual handed a letter to the bank teller which stated he knew the tellers’ full name, her age, and her place of residence. The letter also stated he [the criminal] would harm her family if she did not give him the contents of her bank draw without making a scene. Fearing for her safety the bank teller complied and gave the criminal approximately $3,5000.00 before he snatched the letter back and left the bank. After the individual left the bank, the teller activated the duress alarm and the bank was locked down in accordance with its security policies. The teller has provided a description of the individual to the police onsite and believes she saw him flee in the passenger side of a black Range Rover.
Context – The information here provides context to the information above – i.e. Is this the second time this is reported? Is there a relationship etc. What other information is relevant?
- Why is this information important / relevant?
- What has happened before)?
- Is there other information about this or relevant reporting to support your assessment?
Post Card Bandit Example; On 7th November 17, the ‘Sunshine City’ post office was successfully robbed when a criminal made threats to a staff member written on a postcard. According to police reports after the incident, the individual lined up to purchase a postage stamp but insisted the staff read his post-card before he sent it. According to reports, the postcard contained threats made to the staff member and detailed her personal details such as her full name, phone number, her two children’s names and the school they attend. The criminal left the post office with $1200.00 in cash and left behind the post-card.
Assessment – This is the so What? What does it mean? Here you’re employed to make an assessment. So, make your assessment.
- How can / does it affect us?
- What is likely to happen next?
- Are their indicators or warnings to identify any courses of action?
Post Card Bandit Example; As this is the second reported incident within a month, it’s assessed this individual is responsible for both the Sunshine City bank and post office robberies. Based on the MO, it’s likely this criminal is undertaking research and preparing for each robbery by choosing a target and either following them physically or conducting a search of the victim’s social media and online profile to use information for his robberies. Due to the relatively low amount of money received in both robberies, it’s assessed the criminal is desperate in his actions, suffering financial pressures possibly from drug addiction, or more likely from loss of employment. It’s assessed the criminal is probably acting with the support of a partner, based on reports about fleeing from the passenger side of the vehicle. A criminal partner would aid the offender in the identification and surveillance of targets for future robberies. Further information about the victims online profile, their pattern of life and CCTV from the bank and post office would aid in the identification of the offender, their methods, and the vehicle used in the two robberies.
Other Resources I recommend on the topic of building / developing intelligence briefs: