In this blog, Fivecast’s Director of Tradecraft, Matt Rossiter, draws on his 20+ year’s experience in National Security and Law Enforcement to delve into the fundamentals of intelligence analysis and explore how technology advancements are challenging the notion that intelligence analysis is not an exact science.
I have a question. It’s an intelligence question.
- Manager says: “What’s your intelligence question?”
- Cue blank stare from analyst.
- Manager rages: “Then WHY are you collecting ALL THIS DATA?”
Sound familiar? If, like me, you’re up the back of the class, sheepishly, half-raising your hand; don’t worry, we’ve all been there (even if your peers aren’t so quick to admit it!). You receive the brief, then race off to collect as much data as possible about your target, but forget to stop and ask the most important questions:
WHY am I collecting all this data?
What’s my mission here?
Next thing you know, you’re bogged down, overwhelmed by sifting through the sheer volume of data that came back.
So, do you have an intelligence question?
Let’s explore a broad example. Intelligence “Risk” is a concept that gets thrown around a lot. Clients consuming intelligence reports often don’t realize that “Risk”, as a concept, breaks down in a number of ways.
One common way is to consider RISK as the product of THREAT and HARM. These sub-concepts also break down. So let’s delve into THREAT.
Depending on the model you adopt, THREAT can break down into the components of CAPABILITY and INTENT.
Now you have THREAT broken into the component parts, it’s a good time to assign your intelligence questions. For example:
CAPABILITY: Does the target have access to firearms?
INTENT: Does the target want to mount an attack?
Taking these simple steps early in an investigation puts you in a position to assign clear intelligence questions to the data you collect. This in turn pushes you to collect data to meet a clear purpose – answer these clear intelligence questions to achieve the intelligence mission.
It also ensures your investigation is narrow and targeted enough that you only collect data that is relevant to the question and mitigates the chance of over-reaching by collecting beyond your mission.
We’ve all heard the ‘more experienced’ intelligence practitioners amongst us say – “intelligence analysis is not an exact science”.
Well, in the past this was certainly true…..
But more recently, my view of that statement has changed. We now have technology that genuinely challenges that notion. Sure, technology isn’t going to replace the human element any time soon, but we’re certainly on a trajectory where that’s a realistic end-game.
Right now, what technology can offer is consistent, repeatable, automated (and semi-autonomous) frameworks to tame the tsunami of data that drowns analysts and makes us all feel like the task of intelligence analysis is overwhelming. Technology like the Fivecast ONYX risk detector framework allows you to establish targeted collection of Surface, Deep, and Dark Web content, with automated and user-trainable assessment features powered by AI and machine learning that sift deep into the data to detect the answers to your intelligence questions.
The key to taming the data tsunami is as simple as my opening statement: having a question. More importantly, knowing when to ask the right intelligence question and applying that insight to guide advanced open-source intelligence technology features to do the heavy lifting for you.
With open-source intelligence solutions like Fivecast ONYX, intelligence analysis becomes a much more exact science!
This is just a simple example. The concept of risk is broad and applied in remarkably different ways across the intelligence disciplines, but with early consideration of the WHY, any intelligence problem can be broken down into a series of questions with clear answers.
Your intelligence collection, achieved through powerful tools like Fivecast ONYX, becomes direct, faster, more efficient, and tailored to meet your intelligence mission.